It will soon be Lent and I have been reading Characters of the Passion by the late Fulton J Sheen, first published in 1947 and now reissued by Angelico Press. The ‘characters’ Sheen analyses are Peter, Judas, Pilate, Herod, Claudia (Pilate’s wife) and Herodias; in his inimitable style he conveys much wisdom such as, writing of Peter, “The most interesting drama in all the world is the drama of the human soul”. Only a priest, accustomed to the sublime sacrament of Confession, will truly know the truth of this statement. And, alluding to another portentous incident, he remarks “The crowing of the cock was such a childish thing. But God can use the most insignificant things in the world as the channel of His grace.”

Of Judas, Sheen observes, “It is not enough to be disgusted with sin. We must also be repentant.” Judas was appalled by his betrayal – but it led to self-hatred rather than redemptive sorrow. Of Herod, we learn that “Thus do people who have no religion become addicts of superstition” – demonstrated in our own times when both science and superstition fill the vacuum left by the retreat of Christianity. And why did Our Lord refuse to speak to Herod? “Because the conscience of Herod was dead….Probably the worst punishment God can visit upon a soul us to leave it alone” – in its own hellish isolation,

And making a fascination comparison between Claudia and Herodias, Sheen reminds us that “Everyone in life has at least one great moment to come to God.” (The legendary later life of Claudia has been finely fictionalised in The Wife of Pilate, a story by Gertrud von le Fort (Ignatius); I don’t think anyone has tried to imagine the fate of Herodias.)

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