This week I had the privilege of celebrating the life of a long time parishioner. The funeral liturgy calls for reflection, appreciation and thanksgiving. As we encounter death, we are confronted with what is of real and lasting value. Death, like no other reality, challenges us to take an honest look at the authenticity of our own life. Death challenges us, forces us to us to be gut honest and so face our deepest reality. Because of this, each and every encounter with death leaves us changed. The change may not appear to be earth shattering, but never the less, changed has happened. Death forces us to do that what we much prefer not to do. We do not want to look deep within and face what is revealed. As one person wrote,"human beings can only stand so much reality ". " A life not reflected has no meaning", 'Life not reflected on, is as useless as buried treasure", are two more of my favorite sayings. Then there is what the Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote,"It takes reckless courage to journey into the depths of who we really are." We have to ask then, for that courageous honesty which will allow us to journey beyond our fears into an ever deepening intimacy with our Beloved. Intimacy comes from the two Latin words “in timor", which means into fear. There is no intimacy unless fear is faced honestly. We cannot face fear alone, it will chew us up. What we need is faith. Remember “Fear knocked on the door, faith answered”, “There was no one there". We need examples of people, who had to face their fears. Some were able to journey through their deepest anxiety. Others were not. All on reflection, have a wisdom to impart .
Jesus, was totally human, as well as totally divine. We can make the mistake of placing so much emphasis on His divinity, we lose sight of how authentically human he was. St. Paul, "He was like unto us in all things, except sin". The depths of His humanity is revealed, to us, the many excruciating moments of His Passion. The Garden of Olives, (Gethsename ) is not just a place within a city. It is a reality to be discovered and embraced within each one of us. All that has been written in the Gospels about the events in the garden, I suggest, is not given for our edification, but to be a source of encouragement. Encouragement for us when we have to endure our own Garden moments. We have had them, are having and will have them until our final agony, death. Jesus, as a rabbi, was familiar with what The Suffering Servant of Isaiah, was to endure. He asks His Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him. Then we have His faith response to upcoming passion, "not my will but Your will be done". Does this finish the suffering? Luke in his Gospel points out that Jesus broke into a sweat of blood. Each and every one of us CAN sweat blood. This happens at the very pinnacle of anxiety. (Google “sweat of blood"). Many people make Holy Hours. It is what we can do to show solidarity with Jesus in His hour of agony. I came across the following, written by Karl Rahner.
"You want to continue your sufferings in me for my own salvation and that of the whole world, and for the glory of Your Father. By my suffering and agony, You want to fill up what is wanting in Your sufferings for Your body, which is the Church. And so, I shall receive in my life again and again a share in Your agony in the Garden of Olives, a very small share, but nevertheless a real one. My "holy hours", those hours when I honor Your agony in the Garden of Olives, will be made in the truest sense NOT during the peaceful hours of these pious devotions here in church. My real "holy hours” are those hours when sufferings of body and soul come to overwhelm me. Those hours when God hands me the chalice of suffering. Those hours when I weep for my sins. Those hours when I call out to You Father, O Jesus, and do not seem to be heard. Those hours when faith becomes agonizingly difficult, hope seems to give way to despair, and love seems to have died in my heart. They are the real "holy hours” in my life, those hours when Your grace working in my heart draws me mysteriously into Your agony in the garden. When those hours come upon me O Lord, have mercy on me. When Your agony in the Garden of Olives overshadows my life, stand by my side. Give me the grace to realize that those holy hours of Yours are a grace, that they are hours of Your life, of your agony in the Garden of Olives......Give me then the grace to say "yes, yes" to even the most bitter hours, "yeah" to everything that happens in those hours. Even if my lips stammer out words of prayer which ring as lies in my lifeless heart.....You have taken hold of the most hidden depths of our soul, the innermost center of our being. You have transformed and glorified it; You have made it holy and divine"
The depths of meaning of these words will not come to us by just reading them just once or twice. We will have to read and reflect on them again and again. Especially in time of fear, anxiety, deep concern and moments of absolute powerlessness. Times and place we visit many, many times in our lives. For some, it is sporadic, for others it is a life-long reality. Through it all, we will never suffer alone. Our Suffering Good Shepherd, who first suffered all, is now suffering in us, through us and in us. As we suffer through our Gethsename moments we must keep before us, this is the mysterious road that leads to the certainty of the Resurrection and new life.
May you use these days of the Week we call Holy, to embrace all that abhors, disgusts and frightens you. Bring all to the loving, merciful, healing, soothing, pain relieving, love of gracious Father God. This is the place where Easter 2012 will be celebrated.