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.
Why do non-Catholics want so desperately for the Catholic Church to change its teachings?
It’s fascinating, the amount of emotion at least some non-Catholics seem to have about Catholic teaching. I can tell you that when I was in the anti-God period of my life, I did not give one whit what any church taught. I paid them the ultimate diss of not giving a care.
But from what I’ve seen on this blog, there are a large number of people who claim to be atheist or some what-not version of what I was in my anti-God period, who appear to think about Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular, 24/7. They appear to be, in a word, obsessed with the minutiae of Catholic teaching.
If you doubt this, go to some of the atheist blogs. All they ever talk about is God, Christian teaching, and the Bible.
There are a few issues in particulate that really rev their engines. They are:
- Who gets to take communion in Catholic Churches (which they insist, even while they debate this endlessly, is just a superstition and a wafer.)
- Why the Church won’t affirm gay marriage.
- Why the Church won’t say it’s ok for them kill people they want to kill (the unborn, the elderly, disabled, etc.)
When someone confronts them with the obvious inconsistency implied in their obsessive demands that a Church they claim is a stupid cult alter teachings that they claim are based on a myth, they start denouncing Catholics for using their rights as American citizens to vote and advocate according to their consciences.
It’s as if it offends them that Catholics have the same rights to vote, free assembly and to petition their government as other citizens. I suppose it’s true that it does offend them. Because one takeaway I get from reading the comments from most (not all, there are a couple of clear exceptions) of these people is that they are, at base, bullies.
I also think that the core reason they keep coming around here to drop off their load of insults (most of the truly insulting ones never see the light of day on this blog) is that they are either mental on some level, or, whether they will admit it or not, they are God haunted people who desperately want what the Church offers, which is peace with God, eternal life and a spiritual home. It’s just that they can’t bring themselves to go to God on God’s terms. They want Him — meaning His Church — to come to them on their terms.
These are people who refuse to be forgiven for their sins. What they want is to have the Almighty ratify their sins. They are obsessed with finding, not absolution, but vindication, from a Church they claim they believe is a fraud.
However, that’s just my reaction. Yours may be different. I’m going to throw this open for discussion.
Why do you think nonbelievers are so obsessed with the Catholic Church?
Rumors aside, it appears that Pope Francis is not going to overturn the 2,000-year-old Church teaching on the sanctity of Holy Matrimony.
The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller published an article in the Vatican newspaper, putting that story to rest.
Archbishop Muller writes that marriage is indissoluble as is testified in both Scripture and Tradition.
Is the communion burger in poor taste?
When I first saw that headline, (in which, I guess, the pun was intended) I was dumbfounded. I still don’t have a lot to say, except that we live in a post Christian world, and this is part of our new reality. Obviously, this restaurant does not care if Christians forego eating there, but I certainly hope that Christians will forego eating there.
When those two get together, you just know the result is going to be interesting.
And it was.
There’s lots to read, and you can find it here. I want to focus on one aspect of that free-ranging discussion: Katrina’s conversion story.
Kat came to Jesus by way of art. Imagine this: A seven-year-old who spends a lot of time in museums (already it’s getting unusual) spies Memling’s painting, The Last judgement. She’s small enough that her eye-view is of the bottom of the painting. She’s nose to canvas with the lost souls in hell. The prospect convinced her that hell was real.
Sam’s response, “You found God in hell?”
That sounds like a reasonable question to those of us who’ve never been converted by art. I mean, how does that track?
Here, according to Kat herself is how:
If Hell is real then it stands to reason that God was real. Simple as that. Why do atheist struggle so? Their arrogance to dismiss their first instinct… that child voice plainly stating a fact as fact. There’s nothing intellectual about “well, duh!” which is what happened when I saw Hell. Well, duh! God is real.
She goes on to add, “Landscapes showed me God is kind.”
Katrina is not the only person I know of who was converted by art. Peter Hitchens related an almost identical conversion experience in his book The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith (which I recommend) and then later in this interview. Peter Hitchens, who is the brother of the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, found God by studying Rogier van der Weyden’s The Last Judgement.
Hitchens was an adult at the time of his conversion. He described it this way:
… I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of hell. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation … They were me, and people I knew.
Do you recognize the Power at work in both these stories? Hint: It’s not the power of great art, although the power of great art is certainly real.
This is the Holy Spirit, at work in two souls, calling them to Jesus. These stories illustrate the single most powerful truth of conversion that I know: God meets us where we are. He is not too proud to accept us through any route to Him we find. In the Person of the Holy Spirit, He will call to us and reach out to us along any path that we will walk to Him.
The fact that God meets us where we are has other facets to it besides His willingness to come to us through a painting or a sermon or the guilt we feel for our sins.
One of these facets is that He does not ask us to get perfect first. Too many times, people who are trying to bring people to God focus on the other person’s need to change.
The truth is, you don’t need to change to come to God. All you need to do is say “yes” to Him. The changing part comes later, and it will be through a changed heart and converted spirit. As I’ve said, God doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do.
But at the beginning, all you have to do is open your heart — or in the case of Katrina Fernandez and Peter Hitchens and others like them, their eyes — and say yes to what is right in front of you. There is no one right way to come to Jesus. Jesus Himself is the Right way.
Kat and I both experienced another, second, conversion. This one was to the Catholic Church. In the usual Kat fashion, her experience was sudden, a bit defiant and absolute. Mine was gentle and insistent. But despite the differences, it was the same for both of us.
Kat attended a communion service in a church where they offered communion, which I would wager they regarded as a “symbol,” in the form of grape juice and oyster crackers. Kat, being Kat, rebelled. She knew. Knew right then without any dissembling that this was not the real deal. She also knew that there was a real deal out there somewhere and that she wanted it. Here’s how she describes it:
It was Easter Sunday and the pastor wanted to “do communion” and wanted to try something a little different so he had us all line up to come to the “altar” and receive a shot glass containing grape juice and a packet of oyster crackers. And God said “NO!” I immediately knew this aping display was not the real thing. I grabbed my son under my arm and got up and left.
She was, in short, called to the Church by the Eucharist.
Welcome home Kat, so was I. Only for me it was an almost constant call from Christ in the Eucharist. He called me for years to Himself in the Eucharist. When I finally found Him there, I experienced the healing of the woman who reached out and touched His garment.
That same healing is there for anyone, anytime, in all the Catholic Churches of all the world. Conversion, real conversion, is a one-way street. Once you’ve found it, you know it’s real and you can never walk away from it. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is real. Life in Christ is a living reality.
I love conversion stories when they’re told by people with authentic hearts. Every single one of them exposes a truth of God’s love for us and His simplicity in dealing with us.
Conversion stories are always elemental stories of birth. They relate the dynamics of how a soul is born from eternal death into eternal life. And just like that first biological birth, they happen to each one of us individually. Because we are each unique and wonderful enough that the God Who made everything, everywhere, accepts us as the old hymn says, Just as We Are.
Click here throughout the Year of Faith, as the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com invites Catholics of every age and stripe to share what they are gleaning and carrying away from this gift of timely focus.
I didn’t pay much attention to Pope John Paul II before I converted.
To be honest, I pretty much bought the attitude of the secular media that the Pope was just another politician, pushing his agenda. I did not understand the papacy as a religious institution so much as I thought of it as a political power.
JP2 changed that.
I came into the Church because the Eucharist called me. It was a hunger for Jesus that would not let me rest until I acceded to it. I did not anticipate the radical change that the graces of the sacraments would have on my soul. No one told me that I would experience what amounted to a conversion within a conversion or that the writings of certain Catholic thinkers would change my understanding of what it means to be human.
I found the call of the Eucharist irresistible. But I still struggled with questions of all sorts. Those questions led me to read the Encyclicals to John Paul II which, in turn, led to a reevaluation of the Papacy itself.
What he wrote was not the thinking of a politician. It was the thinking of a shepherd.
When I read that Vatican officials have approved a second miracle granted through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, I didn’t find it surprising. So far as I am concerned, JP2 had already worked a miracle on me back when he was alive.
.- Theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have approved a second miracle granted through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, moving him closer to being declared a saint.
“The proclamation of his sainthood needs only the approval of the commission of cardinals and bishops and the final signature of Pope Francis,” Italian news agency ANSA reported June 18.
Before Blessed John Paul II can be canonized, the Congregation must formally approve the miracle and present it to Pope Francis. Pope Francis would then promulgate and celebrate the canonization.
… ANSA speculates that Pope Francis might canonize him on Oct. 20.
“Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you have no life in you … Whoever drinks of my blood and eats of my flesh remains in me and I am in them … the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
This teaching was so hard that many people stopped following Him because of it. Afterwards, He turned to the the disciples and asked if they were going to leave Him, too.
This prompted Peter to reply “Where else would we go? You alone have the words that lead to eternal life.”
This teaching is just as true today as if was then.
Pope Francis led the Corpus Christi procession on foot this week. Remember, he is 77 years old. Here is a video of the procession with a summary of his homily.
This scriptural meditation on the Real Presence might as well have been written by me. I’ve thought many of the same thoughts Dona Cory Gibson shares here.
This is a Eucharistic flash mob. I wonder what the response to this would be in one of our malls; or on the Mall in Washington DC, or any number of public places.
Here in Oklahoma, we have so few Catholics, it might just lead to confused stares and dome scratching from all the Southern Baptists.