VATICAN CITY — Everyone is capable of betraying Jesus as Judas did, but no one should make the mistake of doubting God's mercy and willingness to forgive, the papal preacher said.
Though Jesus knows well what is "unfolding in his disciple's heart, he doesn't expose it, he wants to give him the possibility, until the very end, of backing out" and repenting, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion.
Pope Francis presided at the April 18 service in St. Peter's Basilica commemorating Christ's death on the cross.
The pope began the rite after a silent procession down the central nave. Then he lay prostrate on the floor before the main altar in silent prayer, a sign of adoration and penance.
Later, the pope and thousands of faithful stood as three deacons and the Sistine Chapel Choir chanted the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John.
Following tradition, the homily was delivered by Father Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household.
Focusing on the role of Judas, the Capuchin priest said the narrative of a person doing evil for "30 pieces of silver" keeps repeating itself throughout history.
As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and mammon," the false deity of wealth, the preacher said.
The "god" of money creates "an alternative spiritual universe" where virtues are turned upside down, where faith, hope and love do not come from God, but from money, he said.
Instead of believing "Everything is possible to one who has faith," as Jesus said, people believe "Everything is possible to the one who has money."
He said money is involved in all of today's social ills, including the illicit drug trade, women pushed into prostitution, children snatched for their organs, the mafia, political corruption, the sale of weapons and the ongoing financial crisis.
"Isn't it just as scandalous that some people collect salaries and pensions that are 100 times greater than those of the people who work under them?" he asked.
People should ask themselves whether they have bit of Judas inside them, since "you can also betray Jesus for other kinds of rewards," Father Cantalamessa said.
"Whoever betrays his wife or her husband betrays Jesus," he said, and the same goes for government leaders who betray the public or anyone who betrays his or her conscience.
Such betrayals are worse because they happened after Christ's death and resurrection; Judas didn't know Jesus was really the son of God, while "we do."
"Jesus never abandoned Judas," but Judas abandoned all hope when he hanged himself in remorse for contributing to the death of an innocent man.
Peter betrayed Jesus, too, but when he finally felt remorse, "he had faith in the mercy of Christ. Judas did not."
"Judas' greatest sin wasn't having betrayed Jesus, but having doubted his mercy," he said.
If anyone feels guilty for having wronged Jesus, he must not "imitate (Judas) in his lack of faith in forgiveness." The sacrament of reconciliation guarantees the penitent Christ's mercy, he said.
"It is nice to experience Jesus as a teacher, as Lord, but it is even more wonderful to experience him as the savior," who reaches out to sinners, touches those who suffer, and says, "Be made clean."