Tuesday July 23, 2019
7:29 am
Bishop Hying

Life’s Gethsemane moments can lead us into a limitless expanse of absolute trust in the Father

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on October 7, 2018

 

      The challenges of these past weeks have drawn me to a deeper life of prayer and a greater trust in the Lord. I have often knelt before the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral at night, embraced by the wordless darkness that is nevertheless filled with an inexpressible Presence and tenderness. In the silence of the Eucharistic Christ, I find a peace that demands no cheap grace or superficial consolation. The fact that God says nothing as I kneel before him is the only answer that I seek.

      The culmination of Jesus’ life lies in the terrifying agony he experienced in Gethsemane, an Aramaic word that means “olive press.” Just as the choicest of olives were crushed beneath the cold, hard stones of an ancient press, so, too, the life of Christ would be crushed under the horror of the crucifixion.  

      The destruction of the olives produced the most delectable of oils; the crucifixion of Christ releases mercy and salvation upon the world. In the radical loneliness of the garden, Jesus comes face-to-face with the will of his Father and his own mysterious destiny - the overwhelming suffering of the cross.

      Until Gethsemane, the Son had seemingly done the will of the Father without too much struggle. The kenosis of the Incarnation, the obedience he offered as a child to Mary and Joseph, the proclamation of the Good News, the exhausting days of healing, teaching, forgiving and blessing, the opposition of the Pharisees and religious leaders certainly cost Jesus his time, energy, love and compassion. 

      However, he accomplished all of it through his divine power and merciful goodness, with great success and popular acclaim.  The cross was something else altogether.

      Facing the Passion, Jesus is powerless, vulnerable, mortal and not in control. He experiences ridicule, rejection, torture, betrayal and calumny. He does not seek to save himself or even defend himself against the false accusations and vile insults hurled at him.  In the darkness of the cross, the Son of God is asked to embrace his own destruction, to accept what makes no sense, to surrender to a terrifying darkness, which is both undeserved and all-embracing. 

      His surrender to the will of the Father in this context is a radical and total handing over of self which defies comprehension.

      We all have our Gethsemane moments, those dark and awful times when we do not understand what is happening to us, feel no hopeful comfort, do not sense the nearness of God and are overwhelmed by a strangling sense of powerlessness. Grief, death, illness, bankruptcy, divorce, betrayal and depression are harsh realities which can pull the hope and life right out of us. 

      In such trying times, all we can do is put ourselves into the Father’s hands and lovingly trust that he will mercifully sustain and carry us through every dark night of the soul. Knowing that Jesus has felt our fear, known our pain, struggled before the cross, sweated blood before his arrest gives me great consolation in the dark valley of death.

      In the latter years of my parents’ marriage, as they embraced old age and faced death, they could sit comfortably for hours in the same room and not exchange a word. Such silence was not distressing or awkward because it was filled with a lifetime of love shared, faith lived, sufferings faced and God revealed. They shared a relationship too deep for words, rooted in a confidence that did not need the constant reassurance of chatter to sustain its character and vitality.

      The older I get, that is the way I feel about prayer. 

      I no longer expect prayer to pump me up, make me feel good or resolve all of my problems. Like my parents, I find myself moving ever deeper into a wordless relationship with God which finds more nourishment in darkness and silence than the noisy distraction of words and activity. 

      I still love the Mass as the center of everything and communal prayer still sustains me, but I rely less and less on how I feel or what is happening on the surface. A great thought from St. Irenaeus comes to mind here.  “God gives us this time here on earth so that he and us can become increasingly comfortable with each other.” The Gethsemane moments can either make or break us. They can crush us beneath the unyielding stone of the olive press or they can lead us into a limitless expanse of absolute trust in the Father. When life pushes us up against the wall and there is no way out, all we can do is lay on the ground of the garden, next to the Lord and hand ourselves over to a mystery which defies all rational understanding. 

      In the times I have tried to do this, in the midst of grief and darkness, I have come to feel and know the love of the Lord reaching out to me. It is a tempered love, one that has drunk the chalice of suffering to the dregs. It is a powerful love, one that has passed through the fiery crucible and come out on the other side. It is the love of the Sacred Heart, wounded, bleeding, wrapped in thorns, broken open, so expansive within that there is room for all of us in its embrace.

 

       + Donald J. Hying

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