At Gethsemane

 

Gethsemane is far more than the physical garden where Jesus prayed the night He was taken.

Gethsemane is a place in the human heart, a destination we all reach. Some of us will go there many times in our lives.

Gethsemane is what I call The Alone. It is that stripped-bare moment when the pretenses and self lies that sustain us in our illusion of invincibility and significance are taken from us. Gethsemane is the realization that we are alone in a way that the glad-handing niceties of human interaction hide from us.

Emotions such as loneliness and even despair are trivialities when contrasted with the stark solitary helplessness of The Alone. It is a stunning thing to look into the eyes of another human being and see satan looking back at you. It is a soul-scouring reality to face the insignificance we really are to other people.

That is Gethsemane, and it is what Jesus faced for you. And for me.

Can you not wait with me one hour? He asked the disciples, and the question vibrates with the isolating aloneness that prompted it.

He had to face the awfulness of what was coming without human succor or understanding. When they came, when Judas struck Him to the heart with a kiss of betrayal, when He looked into the pitiless eyes of Satan, staring at him from another human face, He was alone.

That was Christ’s Gethsemane. Our Gethsemane, even though it will differ, is in some ways like it.

My friend Linda Caswell is director of All Things New, a ministry that shelters and redeems women who have been trafficked and prostituted. These women know The Alone, not as an event or passage, but as the whole of their lives. They have inhabited The Alone the way you and I inhabit our jobs, families and lives, because it has been their lives.

Most of these women have had very few positive contacts with people of faith. They avoid churches because the men who have bought them are also in the churches. Their only safety is in Jesus, but they do not understand that at first.

When Linda shows them the movie that Mel Gibson made, The Passion of the Christ, it inevitably breaks through the hard shell of their defenses. Women who do not understand the Gospels as anything but a lie told by lying liars who buy and sell them break down and sob uncontrollably when they see Jesus humiliated, beaten, tortured and disregarded.

This Jesus, the One who prayed “let this cup pass” in Gethsemane, they understand. And by the miracle of the grace of the cross, they believe that this Jesus understands them.

Their lives, which have been an unending Gethsemane, open to this Brother God who was beaten, tortured, humiliated and disregarded as they have been.

Because He understands. Because He does not disregard them. Because He is the only One who can go with them into The Alone of their personal Gethsemanes.

Jesus Christ suffered for us to redeem us from our sins, from the things we’ve done. He also suffered to redeem us from the things that have been done to us. In this cruel world, the things that are done to us can cut deeper and leave us less able to see the Divine than our sins.

We put people outside the bright circles of acceptability that we draw around ourselves and those we deem worthy. We cast them into the hell of unending Gethsemane where no one keeps vigil with them and no one cares that they are alone.

Only Jesus, Who has been there, can penetrate The Alone of our lives. He is the One, the only One, who can draw people back from the man-made abyss of life lived in The Alone where we cast so many of the people that He died to save.

It is important to remember this at all times, but especially today when we re-enact the Last Supper. Jesus was becoming Christ on this night when He gave us the Eucharist and the servant priesthood. He was teaching us how to love with a love that passes all human understanding and how to live the life of the Kingdom in this world. He was showing us that even in our Gethsemane, even in the deepest pit of The Alone, we are never alone, for He is always there.

And he will keep watch with us, not just for an hour, but for the whole of this life and into the one beyond.

 

Pope Francis: March 29-30 Will Be a Day of Reconciliation

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Pope Francis has set aside this coming Friday as “24 hours for the Lord.”

He is hoping that local parishes will offer special opportunities for prayer and the sacrament of confession. I’m going to try to take advantage of this call for prayer and reconciliation as best I can. Hopefully, many Public Catholic readers will do the same.

We are living in times where our faith is challenged and attacked by the larger culture. If we are going to stand for Christ and not fail, we need to pray and keep ourselves spiritually clean.

From Catholic News Agency:

.- During his Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis announced that March 29-30 would be “24 hours for the Lord,” during which people can find special opportunities for prayer and the sacrament of confession.

“Next Friday and Saturday we will live a special moment of penance, called ‘24 hours for the Lord.’ It will begin with a (liturgical) Celebration in the Basilica of St. Peter’s (on) Friday afternoon, then in the evening and night some churches in the center of Rome will be open for prayer and confessions,” he explained to the crowds in St. Peter’s square on March 23.

“It will be – we could call it -  a celebration of forgiveness, which will happen also in many dioceses and parishes of of the world.”

The Holy Father then noted that “the forgiveness that the Lord gives us” should make us “celebrate like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who when the son returned home, had a party, forgetting all his sins.”

Book Review: Doing for the Least of These for Lent

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To join the conversation about Mercy in the City, or order a copy, go here

Lent in the legislature is always a problem.

The Lenten season falls at a time of year when the legislative calendar is so full that I feel like I’m being drug by a runaway horse. There’s not much time for more than going to mass and snatches of hurried prayer that don’t connect up to anything resembling a coherent Lenten practice. It’s all about tired, over-stimulated hanging in there. Lent gets washed away in all this busyness.

Every stopover at mass is a sudden downshift to a slower rhythm. It is so different from the break-neck pace of the rest of the day that it jars more than soothes. Prayers at night and in the morning require an act of will; otherwise I’ll daydream through the words as I say them.

My Lent has thus been more a time of confusion than spiritual and moral clarity. In fact, there have been a number of years when I decided that doing the best I could on my job in the face of whatever came was my Lent.

Reading Mercy in the City inspired me to be more intentional about how I do Lent in the legislature. The book’s author, Kerry Weber, is a twenty-something who decided to give up the usual sweets for Lent and then added a resolution to perform each of the Corporal Works of Mercy during Lent, as well.

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. Feed the hungry.
  2. Give drink to the thirsty.
  3. Clothe the naked.
  4. Shelter the homeless.
  5. Visit the sick.
  6. Visit the imprisoned.
  7. Bury the dead.

That’s a tall order for a twenty-something with a full-time job and a dating life, but she managed to get it done. Her journey through the seven Works of Mercy is an illuminating read. Miss Weber learned a lot about other people as she handed out food, spent the night at a homeless shelter and visited with prisoners at San Quentin. Instead of just going through the list of Works and checking them off, she made an effort to learn from the people themselves, to see their humanity and their individuality.

This can be difficult. I’ve never done anything like this for Lent, but I have done some of these things at other times in my life. I can tell you that the sick throw up on you, the hungry gripe about the food you serve them and prisoners often go back to their old ways once they are free.

And yet, there is nothing in Jesus’ words equating Himself with these people that gives us the freedom of turning away from them. If you have done it for the least of these, you have done it for me, He says to us. There isn’t any wiggle room in that statement for an out based on the exterior ugliness of the people you are trying to help. I imagine there were First Century four-flushers and manipulators just as there are today. But Our Lord didn’t say a word about refusing to help people because they can be jerks.

He tells us that whatever we do for them in His name will not be lost. And whenever we turn our backs on the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, or imprisoned among us, we will be held accountable as if we had turned our backs on Him.

That’s a heavy kind of instruction. It should weigh on our hearts, and not just during Lent. We will be judged by how we treat the “least of these.” All our Amen-saying is for nothing if we don’t help those who can’t help themselves. More to the point, each and every one of us began life as someone who could not help themselves, and if we live long enough, we will be people who can’t help ourselves again. That is the human condition.

The pitiless among us want to solve these problems by killing those who need help. Just pick up the needle or use the vacuum aspirator and be done with them. But Jesus tells us clearly and without equivocation that we are called to something more than that.

The same God Who authored all life, tells us to honor life by caring for one another, especially when it’s not easy and it costs us something.

Mercy in the City is a well-written, entertaining look at one young woman’s attempt to do the seven Corporal Works of Mercy for Lent. If you read it, it will give a lot to think about and may inspire you to do the same thing yourself, which makes it excellent Lenten reading.

The Tomb

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As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

The worst crime in history

The worst crime in history was committed by:

A cowardly politician

A group of corrupt priests

A mob of good citizens who yelled

“Crucify Him!”

And soldiers who were just doing their jobs.

We were all there.

 

See mother, I am making all things new

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Stations of the Cross in Honor of Persecuted Middle Eastern Christians

In solidarity with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, this is Wa Habibi, sung to the Stations of Cross in Arabic by Fairouz.

 

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Pope Francis Washes Feet of Young Inmates, Including Two Young Women

I would guess that the feet washing controversy is settled now.

It appears that Jesus meant the priesthood is to serve all human beings. Or, at least, that’s the message I take away from the simple act that Pope Francis performed at the Casal del Marmo today.

After delivering what sounds like a very clear homily in which he explained the meaning of what he was about to do, he washed the feet of 12 young inmates, two of them female and two Muslims. “I do this with my heart,” he told them before washing their feet.

This reminds me of a line from the movie The Quiet Man in which the bride asked one of her friends, “What manner of man have I married?”

“I’m thinking a far better man than you know, Mary Kate,” the friend answered.

I believe that Pope Francis is a far better man than many of us know.

As for the inclusion of women in today’s foot washing, all I can say is Thank you Papa. 

I. Am. So. Glad. 

From NBC News, (emphases mine):

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ROME – Since he was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has proved many times over that he wants to break away from clerical privilege, come down from St. Peter’s throne and act as a humble servant of the faithful.

And on Holy Thursday he reinforced the idea that he will champion social outcasts and the poor by washing the feet of a dozen young inmates in a juvenile detention center …

… The group of 12 young people who had their feet washed and kissed by the pope included two young women – the first time a pope included females in the rite. The ceremony has traditionally been limited to men, since all of Jesus’ apostles were men.

The young people were aged between 16 and 21 and chosen from different nationalities and religious backgrounds – including two Muslims, according to a Vatican spokesman.   

“It is a gesture of humility and service,” Father Tom Rosica, a Vatican Press Office spokesperson, said before the ceremony.

It teaches that liberation and new life are won not in presiding over multitudes from royal thrones nor by the quantity of bloody sacrifices offered on temple altars, but by walking with the lowly and poor and serving them as a foot-washer along the journey,” he added …

…Speaking to about 1,600 priests who packed St. Peter’s Basilica for Mass on Thursday morning, Francis talked about the need to concentrate on the people they are ministering to.

“We need to go out, then, in order to experience our own anointing (as priests)… to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters,” he said. (Read the rest here.)

Pope Francis, Holy Thursday and Us

For I was in prison, and you visited me.

Pope Francis will wash the feet of incarcerated young people tonight. Some of them have no faith. Others are Muslim. Many of them did not even know who the Pope was when they first heard he was coming.

Many Catholics, particularly those in prison ministry, are overjoyed by this act. But there are others who find it off-putting, even a bit scandalous. They expect the Pope to wash the feet of other priests, or at least other men, who are Catholic, Christian and probably important. I’ve read comments emphasizing that the young people whose feet the Holy Father will wash are nondescript boys and girls, many of whom are of no faith or Muslim.  They are people who won’t even appreciate the honor they are receiving.

But the Pope is only doing what Jesus did. He is seeking out those who are lost. It appears that this deep equality of all humanity that Our Lord lived and taught is as scandalous to some of us today as it was 2,000 years ago. But a failure to live this will kill the Church. We are not meant to be a closed-off, self-congratulatory faith that despises rather than serves those Jesus died to save.

People didn’t “appreciate” the honor of having God made flesh walking among them 2,000 years ago. The drama of Holy Week is a re-enactement of just how profoundly they didn’t appreciate it. Not even His own disciples really appreciated the honor they were receiving. No one, except His mother, understood what was happening.

Holy Thursday drives us back to the night when He was taken, to the moment when He gave us the Eucharist and instituted the priesthood. But He did not give us a priesthood created for palaces and fine things. It was and is and will always be a servant priesthood. It is priesthood of the kind that goes to prisons and washes the feet of young people who do not understand the meaning of what is happening any more than Peter did on that night in the Upper Room. When it ceases to be that, it ceases to be a priesthood of Christ and becomes a priesthood for itself.

The foot washing is a sign signifying that these young people — and all of us along with them — are children of the living God. It is a living memorial of the servant priesthood Jesus instituted in the upper room 2,000 years ago. If Christ The Lord could go down on his knees before a group of itinerant fishermen and tax collectors and wash their feet, why shouldn’t the Pope do the same for a group of incarcerated young people?

If the Son of God can submit to betrayal, false arrest, verbal abuse, beating, mockery, and a hideously painful, lingering death, then what makes us think that we’re so special?

When Jesus was asked questions similar to the ones that have been raised by those who oppose the Holy Father’s plans to go to the prison tonight, He answered them with a simple statement. The Son of Man came to save and seek the lost. I think He’s saying the same thing to us today and that Pope Francis is His voice.

At last, I get to meet someone who says he is my father!

One of the young people said that when they heard of the Pope’s plans. That statement, speaking as it does of a young person who has most likely led an unloved life, breaks my heart. It also fills me with gratitude that he or she can feel that way about our Holy Father. I am in awe of a Church whose leader can wield the power of a Pope yet move to touch and heal ones such as these. Only a Church whose true head is Christ Jesus could do that.

Two thousand years and counting, and the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and hope marches on to the ends of the earth.

Waiting for the Father

“At last, I shall get to meet someone who says he is my father!” 

The Holy Father is teaching us evangelization by doing it. That was the opinion of a virtual friend of mine after reading this press release. I couldn’t agree more.

From the Vatican website:

2013-03-27 L’Osservatore Romano

Forty-nine young people, the inmates of the Roman borstal, Casal del Marmo, are preparing to receive an extraordinary gift. Pope Francis will go there in the afternoon of Holy Thursday, 28 March, to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. A joyful atmosphere of expectation pervades the institute. Such an important visit had certainly not been on the cards. Above all, there had been no expectation of so suddenly touching the heart of the Pope whom they do not yet know. “The young people’s enthusiasm”, Liana Giambartolomei, the principal, told us, “must be linked to the very fact that they feel they will be playing the lead on a historic day. Moreover, this is exactly what Pope Francis wanted. He expressly asked us to make sure that there were no other young people here. He wants to be certain that they know he is coming solely for them, because he loves them, he carries them in his heart and considers them important, very important”. A Caritas worker in the penal institute says that one of them, having heard the news, exclaimed: “At last I shall get to meet someone who says he is my father!”.

Fr Greco, the chaplain, does not conceal the fact that he was somewhat perplexed, at least to start with, “because”, he told our paper, “only eight of our residents are Italian: six boys and two girls. The others are all foreigners. And most of them are Muslim. Then there are some who have no religious belief at all. Therefore many of them don’t even know who the Pope is. For this reason too, it was far from easy to explain to them the importance of the Pope’s visit”. “A young Neapolitan”, the chaplain confided, “who has been here for a while came to my help. He gathered them all together, to try to make them understand above all what the Pope’s act, which is an act of love for them, actually meant. I was upset for a moment by the first looks, that were either blank or only faintly curious about my enthusiasm. Then our friend broke the silence with that most classic of Neapolitan expressions: “Maronna mia, o Papa accà!” [good heavens! The Pope here!] and he ran his hand through his hair, his face betraying emotions mingled with happiness. At that very instant all the others, seeing his amazement, realized that it must really be something very special and began to question me. Little by little, I saw their enthusiasm growing.


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