Skip to Content
Search Icon

Prayers for Judas

On the field of blood.

As I lie awake at night—struggling to clear my mind and talk to God—at times Judas Iscariot will appear. He is a walking horror, a total embodiment of every sin and offense to God.

And yet when his pale, sickly visage enters my mind, it is not hate that I feel for him or scorn or fear. I feel a sorrow fall over my heart as my eyes water and my heart begins to beat louder in my chest. I find myself contemplating Judas Iscariot with the utmost misery. I am filled with a naive, perhaps misguided sense of pity.

I ask myself whether these feelings could be dangerous. Was this not the man who betrayed my Savior? Did not Christ himself declare it would have been better for him that he had never been born at all? Who has any business feeling sorry for such a man?

The nature of Judas’s betrayal has always been the subject of debate. It’s impossible to say what Judas’s motivations truly were. Money? Anger? Power? Sorrow? Envy? Politics? The reason does not matter, of course, but our lack of understanding makes it even harder to accept the reality of his offenses.

My soul is assaulted with mournful reflections on the biblical scenes of the betrayer’s last days—the passages that describe the final moments of his life are short. But each word contains a crushing weight. “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood,” Judas cries as he flings his ill-gotten silver on the ground before the high priests. I can feel the heat of his face as it becomes flushed. I can feel the strain behind his eyelids as he tries in vain to fight his inevitable sobbing. My ears are filled with the clatter of the silver as it hits the temple floor. The metal discs clang and ding as they roll and bounce, prolonging the sound of his futile attempt to take it back—to take all of it back.

I can hear the priests mocking him, refusing to take back the money as they respond to his pleas: “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” I am there with Judas as he dashes out of the temple, snot running down his nose and tears blinding him. I feel the heaving in his chest as it dawns on him that the whole world, the cosmos—the entire created order—is crashing around him.

The rope is coarse and dirty. The field is vast and empty, a grim place of nothingness. How lonely he must have been, climbing up that tree—lonely in a most profound sense, a loneliness that, God willing, none of us will ever have to suffer. It was a solitude so intense that he believed he had not even the Lord to comfort him.

Can you imagine yourself in such a place? Can you, for even a minute, bear to contemplate what it would mean to be alone and hated to the point that you believe not even God will hear your apology?

Desperation to justify or defend the Judas has led many down the road to gnostic fantasy. The apocryphal Gospel of Judas claims that Judas was privy to Jesus Christ’s ultimate mission. It goes on to propose that Judas was not a betrayer, but a servant of God. The second-century text not only erases the sins of Judas, but casts him in a heroic light. It raises God’s lowest creation to esteem. It’s a devilishly tempting belief for those foolish enough to give it quarter, the retroactive redemption of the man who sold the world.

But this twisted notion of the Lord keeping secrets, let alone the Gospel of Judas’s incoherent upheaval of God’s divinely revealed nature, fills me with a deep disgust. The disgust is not directed at Judas, who certainly did not write the screed. It’s a disgust at the pseudonymous author who exploits him.

Judas was a wretch who hung himself in a field for what he had done. Why drag his name further through the mud of history by putting heresies into his mouth and leading inquiring minds away from Christ? Is this not a betrayal in the same vein as that for which he took his own life, twisting the knife in the back of a man long dead?

The Catholic Church has no canon of the damned. While saints are proclaimed and recorded if their eternal salvation is made known to us, there is no telling who has entered through those gates beyond which hope is nonexistent. Many have used this cloud of unknowing to justify heresy, a stubborn universalism that proudly declares hell empty and all men eventually saved through God’s unending grace. It would be a comforting thought if Christ had not made it clear that hell is real and occupied. Instead, with the reality of the sheep and goats spelled out for us in scripture, universal salvation becomes a sort of sick joke, a shot of morphine amid the terrors of eternity.

The gap in my understanding of hell does, however, leave me without consolation. We as Catholics are instructed to pray for the dead. We pray for the dead weekly, some of us daily, as we hope that those who come after us will pray for our souls. Prayers for those in hell are useless, as there is nothing that can be done for them once they have crossed the threshold, and every part of my being is convinced of the clear implication that Judas Iscariot is deep in hell, beyond my or anyone’s help.

But I cannot bring myself to spit on and kick the man who cried out and tried so desperately to return his silver. He is out there somewhere beyond my view. Had he been able to foresee it, the fate from which he is likely suffering is one that would have made his loneliness in the field blood seem enviable by comparison.

Still, until I die and either meet him or separate from him forever, I cannot know. At night I pray to Christ, beg beyond reason or logic, that Judas somehow, some way, found grace and was made new again. I pray for Judas.