Today we honour the memory of Blessed Adrian Fortescue who was one of the few virtuous relatives of Anne Boleyn. While he was a student in Oxford he was attracted by the Dominicans and was enrolled in the Order as a lay member. There is no evidence that he took part in politics or plots and he lived quietly in Devon with his family. On a whim Henry VIII had him arrested. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, which declared Henry the “Supreme Head of the Church in England” he was condemned for treason. Blessed Adrian was beheaded on 9th July 1539. He was beatified in 1895 by Pope Leo XIII.
Whenever Scripture lists the twelve Apostles, Judas Iscariot is placed at the end as the one “who betrayed Jesus.” Imagine being remembered for all time as the chosen apostle who betrayed the Son of Man.
Judas was among those who went out and performed miracles at Our Lord’s command. He had seen and heard everything that the other eleven disciples saw and heard. And it’s not as if Judas was the only apostle to have sinned. All of them ran away when Our Lord was arrested, and Peter went on to deny that he even knew Jesus.
So why did Peter go on to lead the Church, while Judas hanged himself? Well, I think part of the answer comes in the way Peter responded to his sin compared to the way Judas did. When Peter realised what he had done, he broke down and wept tears of repentance. And as he prayed for divine mercy, he began to understand how deeply Our Lord loved him and had forgiven him. In contrast, when Judas realised that he had betrayed an innocent man, he couldn’t get past the guilt and self-hatred to embrace God’s mercy. He couldn’t believe that God would ever forgive him. He simply couldn’t get past the overwhelming guilt which led him to such despair.
And so, what’s the lesson in this for us? Well, like Peter and Judas we are sinners. We have all betrayed the Lord at various times in our lives. Like St. Peter we admit our sin when the Holy Spirit shines his light on it, and we seek God’s forgiveness in repentance. Once we confess our sins, we are forgiven, no matter how great the sin we have committed. In fact, there is nothing in all of creation that is so big or so horrible that it can separate us from God’s unconditional love and mercy. There is no need for lingering guilt or shame—and certainly no need to despair for our lives. God knows our weakness but he loves us anyway.