Question: On the solemnity of the Annunciation, I wondered about Mary’s “yes” and her choice to agree to or refuse God’s request. Did she really have a choice? She was conceived without original sin, therefore was she not predestined by God to be the mother of his Son? If she really had a choice, would she have been born without original sin? And what of Judas? Jesus had to be betrayed by one of his disciples to suffer and redeem the world. I believe Judas was also pre-destined by God to play his part in the redemption of humankind, and I believe, if I ever get to heaven, I will see him sitting with Jesus for having accepted his role.
— Jeannine Aucoin, Henniker, New Hampshire
Answer: Your examples presuppose that God, knowing beforehand what we will do, therefore forces us to do it. But this supposition is wrong. One can imagine that we mere humans may know what is going to happen before it does, but see that our knowledge does not rob the participants of freedom.
Suppose you are sitting on a hill and see below that two trains are heading toward each other on the same track. Your knowing what is about to happen does not remove the freedom of the engineers. They continue to act freely even though you know what will soon happen.
God’s knowledge is surely more sweeping. But the truth remains that we are not pre-programmed or forced to do what God knows we will do. Rather we act freely, and God, who lives outside of time and sees the whole sweep of time at once, has merely set forth his plans in accord with his knowledge of what we will do.
Mary freely said “Yes,” and Judas freely said, “No.” God, not forcing but knowing their free choices from all eternity, set his plans in accordance with that.
As for your belief that Judas is in heaven, it may be a bit optimistic. The Church does not declare that any particular person is in hell. However, regarding Judas, Jesus said, “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:24).
It is hard to imagine Jesus saying of any human person who makes it to heaven that it would be better never to have been born.
The more likely biblical judgment on Judas is that he died in sin and despaired of God’s mercy on God’s terms. You are free to hope for a different outcome for him. And while the story of Judas does generate some sympathy by many today, the judgment belongs to God.
Question: In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that John the Baptist is the greatest among those born of women. Aren’t both Mary and Jesus greater than John, and weren’t they both born of women?
— Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado
Answer: But Jesus adds, “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11). And in this way, Jesus indicates the power of grace to sanctify over any natural virtue. Privileged though the Jewish people of the Old Covenant were (and John was the greatest among them), God’s grace in the New Covenant offers true forgiveness of sin and the power to become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).
Jesus and Mary, while unique on their own and possessed of special qualities, are also of the New Covenant. As such, they are “greater” than John the Baptist in many ways.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.