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.

 

Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 3

St

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18

This is day 3 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.

Meditate today on Our Lord as He prayed and suffered in Gethsemane.

Allow yourself to consider the Alone. By the Alone, I mean the isolation and utter desolation that a person feels when they are at the mercy of satan’s disciples in this world. 

Unlike us, Jesus did not have the luxury of fooling Himself into thinking things would be alright. He knew beyond hope the horrors that were coming.

But just like us, he wanted and needed companionship, and witnesses.

Jesus was human at Gethsemane. He didn’t go away to pray alone. Instead, he took Peter, John and James with Him. My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, He told them. Stay here and keep watch with me. 

Jesus was human that night. He saw with His God eyes what was coming, the “cup” he would have to drink for us, and He recoiled with human horror. 

He prayed that God would spare Him the agonies ahead. He sweated blood in His distress.

And, His human self longed for the comfort of other people. Keep watch with me, He asked. 

And, like we fail Him when He is crucified again today in His Persecuted Church, the disciples failed Him then. 

Keep watch with me, was all He asked of them. Stay awake. Pray. Be my friends and give me the comfort of your active presence in my agony. 

But every time He paused in His prayers to go to them, He found them asleep. Can you not watch with me for one hour? He asked them. 

The forsaken aloneness of that question echoes down the centuries to us today. Jesus was standing on the edge of the abyss. He was looking forward into that time when He would be at the mercy of satan; completely, utterly and absolutely. Unto death. 

He was looking into the Alone. 

It is a terrible thing to look into another person’s eyes and see satan looking back at you. It is a depth of horror that only those who have been there can understand to be helpless and utterly alone in that moment, to know that there is nothing you can do to save yourself. That is the Alone. And it is what Jesus was facing. 

It was His Passion. 

And it is the Passion of persecuted Christians, everywhere. 

The persecutors of Christians are satan’s disciples in this world. As such, they are capable of descending into ever deeper pits of depravity. There is no bottom for those who have given themselves over to satan, whether they know they have given themselves to satan, or not. 

They are the apostles of the darkness, and like their master, they hate the light of Christ. Like him, they will not stop until the darkness they crave rules this world in an eternal night. 

This is the same satan who tempted Him at Gethsemane. Who came at Him through His wholly human horror of suffering, death, shame and humiliation. This is the same satan Who tried to get Him to turn His back on us and step aside from the oncoming sacrifice at Calvary. 

My heart is sorrowful and troubled … My soul is overwhelmed … to the point of death.

That is our Wholly Human Lord facing His hour of greatest temptation. All He asked of His friends was to bear witness; to watch and pray … with me for one hour.  

But they could not do even that much. 

In the end, He went into the Alone alone. Our Wholly God Lord and Savior allowed Himself to be stripped completely of His Godhead and lead away like a lamb to the slaughter. He endured the deepest pit of taking on our sins so that He could save us from those sins. 

He became Wholly Human to save us from our fallen humanity. May your will be done, he prayed

He was tempted like we are with the recoiling horror of the pit. He was sorrowful and troubled to the point of death. He sweat blood and entreated heaven to spare Him what was coming. 

He was human at Gethsemane. 

And He was alone in His humanness. He battled satan in that garden and faced down the temptation to turn aside from the agonies ahead. 

He is alone again in the hearts of our persecuted brothers and sisters all around the globe. He faces the Alone again with them as they face it. 

The question now, as it was then, is can we watch with him one hour? 

Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 3. Please pray it and ask others to join you.

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender
of the Church of Jesus Christ,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.
Guard with special care our Holy Father,
the Pope, and our bishops, priests,
all our religious and lay people,
and especially the children.

Saint Michael,
watch over us during life,
defend us against the assaults of the demon,
and assist us especially at the hour of death.
Help us achieve the happiness
of beholding God face to face
for all eternity.

Amen.

Saint Michael,
intercede for me with God
in all my necessities,
especially

for the conversion of the world, 
that from pole to pole, 
dateline to dateline, 
all will call out Jesus' name. 

Obtain for me a favourable outcome
in the matter I recommend to you.
Mighty prince of the heavenly host,
and victor over rebellious spirits,
remember me for I am weak and sinful
and so prone to pride and ambition.
Be for me, I pray,
my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty,
and above all do not forsake me
in my last struggle with the powers of evil.

Amen.
 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 2 
Novena for the Persecuted Church, Day 1

Remember: Thou Art Dust

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth … 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …

I am going to die.

You are going to die.

Public Catholic has enough regular readers that it is a statistical certainty that at least one of us, perhaps more, will die this year.

Our souls, as the Scriptures say, will be required of us.

We have unbelievers who post on this board who tell us that nothing awaits us when we close our eyes on this world, that we will simply drift into the nothingness of non-existence, go back to the dust from which we came, and cease.

Our ending, according to them, will be our end.

But this, quite simply, is not true. I doubt very much that the nonbelievers who say it actually believe it. They use it as a ruse to hide behind when dealing with the existential miseries that their bankrupt philosophy imposes on them. It is an odd and sad outlook on life that finds its comfort in a studied hope for annihilation.

The truth is, there is no death for us. We are immortal beings who will live on past our bodies. Most of us sense this in a deep and incontrovertible way that can either comfort or torment us, depending on what we do with this innate knowledge of our own natures.

God is real. I have felt and known Him. I experienced His Presence in my life as an inpouring of love that I neither expected or sought.

But — and this is something that so frightens unbelievers that they invariably become angry when you say it — the devil and his evil are also real. It is not fashionable to say that. I’ve had members of the clergy chide me and tease me for believing it. But I do not doubt the reality of a malicious personality that hates the light and craves annihilation. I have felt his presence, too.

“If you eat of the fruit, you will not die” he told the woman, and like all really effective lies, this one was partial truth. You will not die … today. That was the truth of it. Turn your back on God. Defy Him. Do your own thing. And you will not die … today.

God lies, Satan told the woman, just as he tells us today. God lies to you when He says “Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery or covet.” He doesn’t mean it when He says “Put no other gods before Me.”

He lies. Because he doesn’t want you to have the pretty things of this world, to be able to enjoy the sexual pleasures He created for you, to live as you choose with your own free and preeminent will. He lies, and you are a fool for listening to Him.

Because you are not dust. You are the Lord of creation, the master of your fate, the god of your own life. There is nothing to fear because there is nothing that matters. At the end of our days, there is nothing but nothing. We stop. And we rot. We are carrion meat that walks for a time. So we should, again as the Scriptures say, eat, drink and be merry.

Like all effective lies, this one contains a bit of truth mixed in with the untruth. “Eat and you will not die … today.”

“Ignore God now and there will be no reckoning … today.”

Because you are dust, and you will die, regardless of how you live. You can run ten miles a day and your heart will still stop at some unknown time in your future. You can eat spinach and beans and forego fast food and steak, but your arteries will still cease to pump blood on some day you don’t know yet.

You can break every moral precept in the Scriptures, and you will not die … today. You will live for a time and you may even appear to triumph over those who do not indulge their darker natures as you do. There will be no reckoning … today.

But God is real. He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him and live life His way. He lets us choose. He sets before us every day life and death, and He lets us freely choose which of these we want.

That is what Lent is about. It isn’t a matter of giving up candy or foregoing wine for forty days. It is not about wearing ashes on our foreheads like religious jewelry or meatless Fridays.

Lent is about conversion. It is about renewal by means of awareness that we need to be renewed. The penances of Lent are signposts to guide us to a knowledge that we are but dust and we have sinned, but that we are also immortal beings who will one day stand before the God Who made us.

Lent is a time of turning again to the roots of our being. It is going back to the garden and acknowledging that we too “are naked and ashamed” before God. We, too are, to paraphrase St Peter, “sinful men and women.” But instead of crying out as Peter did, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We can say, “come close to me Lord, for I am your broken child.”

The difference is the cross. The difference between despair and trust is the certain knowledge that we are bought at a terrible price and we do not have to be masters of our own fate. We do not have to feel our way blindly through life with no idea of what is right and wrong. We do not have to die an eternal death. We can have life, and have it abundantly. Because of the cross.

Lent is a time of penance and reflection in which we take an honest look at ourselves and our tawdry righteousness. Lent is for turning back to the One who can save us from ourselves. We are preparing to go to the cross where we will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity, united in our sinfulness and our great need of Him and His redemption.

Lent is not about giving up candy and meatless Fridays. It is rather our gentle foretaste of Gethsemane.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X