• The painting “The Good Shepherd,” shown above is by Bernhard Plickhorst, a German painter and graphic artist, 1825-1907. Good Shepherd Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Easter in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

    Every year, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church’s liturgy presents to us the figure of Jesus, the “Good Shepherd.” The Gospel reading is taken from the tenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. This coming Sunday, the passage is John 10: 11-18. I wish to reflect in this column on this Gospel passage in which Jesus identifies Himself as the “good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.”

    In the early Church, the figure of Christ as the Good Shepherd was a prominent image. This image is seen often in early Christian art. Clearly, it had great meaning for the early Christians since it often appeared, painted or sculpted, in the catacombs and on sarcophagi and baptismal fonts. Clearly, our ancestors in the Christian faith were moved by this image of Jesus. These effigies by the first generations of Christians show us that the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd was an image of faith that touched their hearts in a special way.

    Already in the Old Testament, the figure of the shepherd was an image for God. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel spoke of God as the shepherd of the people of Israel. The people were referred to as the Lord’s flock. There is a particularly moving reflection on God as shepherd of His people in the famous Psalm 23 which begins: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” In this beautiful psalm, the author writes that he lacks nothing as long as the shepherd is with him. He speaks of letting God, his shepherd, lead him to safe pastures: He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

    It is significant that Jesus applies this image of God as the shepherd to Himself. Jesus revealed an aspect of the Good Shepherd’s love that had not been revealed in the Old Testament when He said that a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. These words were confirmed during Christ’s passion. Jesus laid down His life on the cross. He did so with love and He did so freely. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Our Lord says: This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. Jesus offered Himself up on the cross to redeem humanity, to save every individual person. He did so with love, in union with His Father’s love for us.

    There are other aspects of the shepherd that Jesus teaches us. He says: I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me. This is wonderful and consoling news. Jesus knows each of us. He knows our name. We are not anonymous persons to Him. We are not just part of a multitude or crowd. We are each individually known and loved. Saint Paul grasped this when he wrote: Christ loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

    Jesus not only says that He knows His sheep; He also says that His sheep know Him. The knowledge is mutual. The more we know Christ, the more we trust Him and love Him.

    In speaking of Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus contrasts this with the mercenary (a hireling) whose sheep are not his own. When this hired shepherd sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away. Jesus says: This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. The Good Shepherd, in contrast, defends His sheep. He goes so far as to lay down His life for the sheep.

    There are still mercenaries in the world who run away when a wolf comes. They do not really care about the sheep at all. Unfortunately, there are wolves who seek to devour the sheep. There are those who sow hatred, malice, doubt, and confusion. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, defends us from these things. With the light of His divine word and the grace He gives in the sacraments, Christ forms our minds and strengthens our wills. He protects us.

    In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus also speaks of other sheep that do not belong to this fold. He says: These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. Jesus desires to increase His flock. The Good Shepherd wants all people to know Him, love Him, and follow Him. These words of Our Lord remind us of the Church’s evangelizing mission. We should not ignore or neglect those who do not belong to the fold: those who do not yet know the Gospel, those who have abandoned it, or even those who are its adversaries.

    As we reflect this Sunday on Jesus, the Good Shepherd, it is also good to reflect on our call to imitate the Good Shepherd. I naturally think first of bishops and priests who are configured to Christ, the Good Shepherd, by ordination. We are called to shepherd our people with the heart of Christ, to know our people, to lead them, to feed them, to love them, indeed to lay down our life for them. I also think of parents and their vocation to exercise the functions of the Good Shepherd with regard to their children.

    By virtue of Baptism, every Christian is called to be “a good shepherd” in the environment where he or she lives: in the family, at work, in the community. I think, for example, of those who care for the sick and the suffering. There are many opportunities to be “good shepherds” in society, through works of mercy and compassion. And there is the mission of evangelization: sharing the Gospel with those who do not belong to the sheepfold of the Church.

    I conclude with the following words of Saint John Paul II: What a blessing it is to know Christ, the Good Shepherd, to know Him as the Redeemer who laid down His life for the sheep, to know Him as the Risen Lord, the source of everlasting joy and life. What a blessing it is to know the Good Shepherd and to believe in Him. This gift of faith is the greatest blessing we could ever receive in life.

    Posted on April 21, 2015, to:

  • A national firestorm erupted after Governor Pence signed into law the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Indiana’s RFRA, supported by the Indiana Bishops, was modeled after the 1993 federal RFRA law and its counterparts that have been adopted in 19 other states. Without getting into the technicalities of the laws, they basically prevent the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless there is a “compelling government interest” and unless such restriction of religious freedom is “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

    The federal RFRA law has protected religious freedom, especially that of religious minorities, for over two decades. The federal and state RFRA laws have not been used as tools for discrimination. The RFRA laws, including the Indiana law, do not give people of faith a blank check to discriminate against anyone. In fact, they are meant to protect people against discrimination, in particular, people of faith whose rights to follow their deeply held religious beliefs are increasingly attacked today.

    The anger that was expressed in the intense campaign against Indiana’s RFRA law was focused on the issue of discrimination against homosexuals. It is important to state from the start our Catholic teaching that opposes every sign of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Our Indiana Catholic Conference would have opposed the Indiana RFRA law if it would promote such discrimination.

    I think the crux of the matter has to do with same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church and many other people of faith oppose the redefinition of marriage, not as discrimination against homosexual persons, but because of our belief, founded on reason and faith, that male-female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. The very nature of marriage, as established by our Creator, is a union between one man and one woman. Should we not have the freedom to uphold this perennial teaching of the Church, a teaching affirmed throughout history and cultures, which has only recently been rejected by many in our society? Advocates for gay marriage are winning the debate as they frame the issue cleverly as “marriage equality,” rather than focusing on the deeper question of the nature and meaning of marriage.

    The vocal and strident opponents of Indiana’s RFRA raise the issue of discrimination against homosexual persons. As I mentioned, RFRA is not a blank check for bigotry. There are other laws that protect people from discrimination. RFRA does not provide immunity to discrimination claims. But the real issue seems to me to be about same-sex marriage. Would Indiana’s RFRA, prior to the changes enacted after the national uproar, have allowed businesses and others to deny services for a same-sex wedding? Would this be justified? Should a business owner be compelled to be involved in a ceremony that he or she believes to be against the divine and natural law? I expect this will be an ongoing debate. Opposition to gay marriage is viewed by many as bigotry. Some have even lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. Religious liberty has become subjugated to what some claim to be “civil rights.” But they seem to forget that religious freedom is a civil right.

    Where does the Catholic Church stand? I think it is important to recall the important teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Religious Liberty. It declares that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all people should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his or her convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his or her convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in associations with others. The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right.” The Council further teaches that “the exercise of this right cannot be interfered with as long as the just requirements of public order are observed.”

    The Church believes and teaches that the right to religious freedom is founded on the very dignity of the human person. It is not an “absolute” right in that there are “due limits” and “just requirements of public order.” It seems to me that the RFRA laws are in accord with this teaching of the Church. They seek to protect our religious liberty, while also allowing for exceptions when it comes to a “compelling government interest,” since the Church also speaks of “due limits.” The “common good” would be such a limit. How to apply all this to the present debate? It does not seem justifiable to me to compel believers in authentic marriage to seemingly condone “same-sex marriage” any more than it is justifiable for anyone to unjustly discriminate against persons with same-sex attraction. In other words, not cooperating with same-sex marriage is not unjust discrimination. Not respecting the genuine human rights of homosexual persons would be unjust discrimination.

    I think we should be concerned about the changes made by our Indiana lawmakers to the state RFRA. Our legislators and governor were under intense pressure to make these changes. The attacks from opponents were unfair and relentless. The well-orchestrated opposition included not only LGBT activists, but also major corporations, and even the NCAA, threatening retaliation for enacting the law. The hastily enacted changes calmed the storm. I worry about the possible repercussions for religious liberty. Continued vigilance is needed.

    I fear that there will be a continual erosion of religious liberty in our country. I think, for example, of the HHS mandate which is still being fought to defend our freedom not to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization in our health care plans. I think also of the present attack on religious freedom in Washington, D.C. The Council of the District of Columbia recently passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA) and the Human Rights Amendment ACT (HRAA). RHNDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of “reproductive health decisions” even if those decisions conflict with the organization’s beliefs. For example, it does not allow religious and faith-based groups to ensure that their employees uphold their teachings. HRAA would repeal the “Armstrong Amendment,” which protected the freedom of religious schools not to fund or provide facilities to those who violate the schools’ beliefs about marriage and human sexuality. I don’t expect these attacks to end. That’s why we need RFRA, on both the federal and state levels. We must continue to strive to uphold and protect religious freedom, founded on the dignity of every human person.

    Posted on April 8, 2015, to:

  • The artist Titian (1490-1576) offers this rendition of the Resurrection which dates between
    1542 and 1544.

    As we celebrate Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, we sing again with joy “Alleluia.” God has given joy to the world through the Resurrection of His Son. And so, at Mass on Easter Sunday, we sing in the Responsorial Psalm: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad (Psalm 118, v. 24). We can say with Saint Paul: Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15: 54-55).

    Last Thursday, I flew to Philadelphia to celebrate the Funeral Mass of a dear friend, a religious sister who taught me at Lebanon Catholic High School. Her name was Sister Joan Melley, a Sister of Saint Joseph. We have stayed in touch through the years. When I was 15 years old, she was one of the few people in whom I confided that I was discerning the call to the priesthood. She was a joyful and deeply spiritual woman, very popular with her students because of her warmth and love. I was grateful to be able to celebrate her funeral. I related in the funeral homily how she helped me to overcome the fear of public speaking when I had to give speeches as a student council leader in high school. More importantly, her love for Christ and her joy in following Him was contagious! She was a very positive influence in my life and in my discernment of the priesthood.

    Last week, I thought about how Sister Joan was a witness to the words of Pope Francis: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Our Holy Father is inviting all of us to spread this joy. He says: Let us feel the joy of being Christian! We believe in the Risen One who conquered evil and death. Let us have the courage to “come out of ourselves” to take this joy and this light to all the places of our life!

    At Easter, it is good to reflect on our call to bring the joy of our faith to others. This is what attracts others to Christ and to the Church. To have this joy in our hearts, we must allow ourselves to be illuminated by Christ’s resurrection, to be filled with the hope of eternal life, and to know the One who has risen from the dead. He makes Himself known to us in so many ways: in Sacred Scripture, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and in the lives of those who love us. And He makes Himself known to us in the silence of our prayer.

    Our faith is meaningless without the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Our faith is founded on His death and resurrection. Through faith and Baptism, we are able to experience the power of His resurrection. And so when we have problems and worries, when we experience sadness or grief, we are not overwhelmed. The love of Christ sustains us. The Lord Jesus is alive and with us, always giving us hope. We only need to invite Him into our hearts and He gives us strength. This is the joy of being Christian — the Lord is always with us with His mercy and love. As Pope Francis says: Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew.

    I extend to all of you, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, a blessed and happy Easter. I pray that the Risen Lord blesses you with joy and hope. I also pray that as missionary disciples of the Risen Jesus, you will spread the joy of Easter and the joy of the Gospel to all.

    May our Blessed Mother, whose deep sorrow on Good Friday was turned into great joy on Easter Sunday, pray for us. In the Easter season, we pray the following Marian antiphon called the Regina Coeli:

    Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia.

    The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia.

    Has risen as He said, alleluia.

    Pray for us to God, alleluia.

    Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia!

    For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

    Posted on March 31, 2015, to:

  • The Easter Triduum:
    The days of the Easter Triduum are the heart of the liturgical year. The Church invites us to share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. I invite you to participate in the beautiful liturgies of the Easter Triduum in your parish churches or in our cathedrals. The Triduum begins with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and ends with Evening Prayer (Vespers) on Easter Sunday.

    Holy Thursday Mass
    of the Lord’s Supper

    At this evening Mass, we commemorate the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood. At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated the sacrifice of His death the next day. He changed the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, giving us the awesome gift of the sacrament of the Eucharist. He gave to the apostles the power to “do this in memory of me,” thus instituting the ministerial priesthood.

    At the Holy Thursday Mass, we not only hear the Gospel of the washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus, this action is also re-enacted in many parishes. In this gesture, Jesus bequeathed His love to us as a new law. This act of humility, which anticipated His supreme sacrifice on Calvary, is an example for us of our call to serve others with the love and humility of Jesus.

    At the end of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition. We are invited to spend some time in adoration before the Eucharist on Holy Thursday night. Some of the faithful visit different churches to pray in adoration on Holy Thursday night. This pious tradition is encouraged on the night of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. On the first Holy Thursday night, the disciples fell asleep in the garden, leaving Our Lord alone in His agony. We visit Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, not wanting to leave Him alone at this time.

    Good Friday

    On Good Friday, the Church commemorates the events between Christ’s condemnation to death and His crucifixion. Good Friday is a day of penance, fasting, and prayer. It is a day for us to meditate upon the sufferings of Our Lord, upon the evil and sin that oppresses humanity, and upon the salvation brought about by the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus.

    The Church does not celebrate Mass on Good Friday. Instead, we gather in a special service to commemorate Our Lord’s Passion and Death. At this service every year, we hear Saint John’s account of the Passion. At this service, we address to God a long “prayer of the faithful” which includes all the needs of the Church and of the world. We then venerate or adore the cross. The liturgy ends with the reception of Holy Communion consecrated and reserved from the night before.

    Besides the Good Friday liturgy, in many places there are other expressions of popular devotions on Good Friday that are approved and encouraged by the Church. Stations of the Cross and penitential processions, for example, help us to interiorize the mystery of the Cross.

    Easter Vigil

    Holy Saturday is a day of great silence in which we are invited to wait in prayer, interiorly recollected, for the great event of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

    The solemn Easter Vigil begins at nightfall on Holy Saturday. It begins with the blessing of the new fire and the lighting of the paschal candle which symbolizes Christ our light and the light of the world. The great proclamation of the “Exsultet” rings out joyfully, followed by many Scripture readings tracing salvation history, culminating in the singing of joyful alleluias and the Gospel of the Resurrection of Jesus.

    At the heart of the Easter Vigil is the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. Those who have journeyed in preparation through the catechumenate receive the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and then join the community in the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

    The Easter Vigil is called “the mother of all vigils.” The proclamation of the Resurrection scatters the darkness of the night. We celebrate the victory of Jesus who conquered sin and death. This is not only a past event. It is a present reality. Christ’s love continues to defeat sin and death. This happens in the life of His Body, the Church, in our lives as His redeemed brothers and sisters.

    I encourage all to participate in the liturgies of the Easter Triduum and to relive the great mystery of our salvation through these rites of the Church. May you have a spiritually enriching celebration of Holy Week! May these celebrations deepen our conversion to Christ and our communion with Him in His Body, the Church!

    Jay Caponigro, director of Community Engagement at Notre Dame and facilitator for the Faculty Steering Committee with WEI, said, “We need to make sure we are offering rigorous academic courses that are at the standard of Notre Dame and Holy Cross, so if students want to apply to another institution when they leave the program to complete their bachelor’s degree, that they are prepared and have gotten the best academic training they could.”

    WEI became a reality when representatives from Bard College in New York, an institution that has achieved tremendous success in prison education, contacted Notre Dame to inquire about the potential interest of expanding to Indiana. Their program, which just honored its 12th class of graduates, recently welcomed Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York as commencement speaker. There he told the men, “I salute you this graduation morning because you have learned not only the lessons of books, library, classroom and professors, but the most sublime lesson of them all: that the essence of life, the core of living, is found within the human person, not without.”

    He further emphasized the importance of lifelong learning beginning at an early age, saying, “A solid education is perhaps the most valuable gift we can (and must) provide our young people. Better schools mean less poverty, violence, crime … and prisons!”

    Notre Dame and Holy Cross were immediately supportive of the Westville endeavor and, with support from BPI, were able to move forward and create the infrastructure required for a sustainable initiative. The IDOC has also been an essential partner of the program, though since budget cuts in 2011 has been unable to financially support publically funded college degree-granting programs.

    Holy Cross President Brother John Paige indicated that the schools were quick to jump on board because the program so aptly fits the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross. “As our constitutions indicate, we have a preferential option for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. I see the Westville program as a systematic way that specifically fulfills our mission of education by serving one of the most marginalized groups in our society, namely prisoners, whom the culture often says we should lock up and then throw away the key. This initiative dovetails beautifully with Catholic social teaching and makes for a great partnership with BPI in their pursuit of social justice and also with the state, which has been willing to accommodate our efforts.”

    The benefits of this program for both those earning their degree and for society at large have been transformative. Caponigro said, “Of those who have earned degrees through BPI, the recidivism rate, the amount of people who go back into jail, is just 3 percent. That is what we are aiming to do; we want people to understand that they have alternatives and futures if they participate in this program.”

    Holy Cross Brother Jesus Alonso, director for educational outreach, further spoke about the program’s life-changing effects. He remarked, “None of the men who have taken part in the Westville program have returned to prison and conduct issues for these men are also significantly decreased. The inmates are happy to have this opportunity to grow in knowledge and those who operate the prisons are pleased to witness this improvement in behavior. It is for these and many other reasons that the leaders of this program are committed to its long term growth.”

    Alesha Seroczynski, Ph.D., WEI director of College Operations provided specifics on how she envisions this growth to occur. “We currently have 32 men participating in the program, with two earning their associate’s (degree) this spring. Over the next five years we are hoping to expand our enrollment to fill our dorm of 102 beds. Long term, we are hoping to include as many as 200 men in our program, but even reaching 100 students would make this one of the top college prison programs in the nation.”

    This program has provided many men with a new start and the ability to make positive improvements to their life. To summarize the fundamental importance of WEI, Caponigro emphasized, “The mission of Holy Cross and Notre Dame is to educate the heart and mind. In Westville, we want to bring that same spirit to the table. We do this by showing that we are truly about helping these men realize their fullest potential as children of God.”

    Posted on March 24, 2015, to:

  • As we approach Holy Week, I invite you to reflect on the sorrowful mystery of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. In the second reading this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we read: In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:7-9). This passage recalls the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane.

    Often in our devotion to the passion of Christ, we consider the physical aspect of Jesus’ suffering. We meditate on His scourging at the pillar and His crowning with thorns. We think about the physical pain He suffered carrying the cross, the pain He felt being stripped of His garments, the excruciating pain of being nailed to the cross. These sufferings remind us of the horrible physical torment Jesus underwent for love of us. Reflecting on these aspects of the passion moves our hearts, helps us to appreciate the depth of God’s love for us. They also provide us with a feeling of Christ’s union with us when we experience physical pain and illness. But I’d like to reflect with you on the interior or spiritual aspect of Jesus’ passion which had its culminating moment in Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane.

    This important episode in the mystery of Christ’s passion is described in all four Gospels as well as the mention in this Sunday’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews. I believe that, together with Jesus hanging on the cross, the mystery of the agony in the garden is the most profound mystery to contemplate in the whole story of the passion, in the event of our redemption. There in the garden, Jesus Himself expressed in words the intensity of His agony: my soul is sorrowful even to death. Or another translation: My soul is ready to die with sorrow. The evangelists tell us that Jesus was greatly distressed and troubled.  This was Jesus’ spiritual agony, something even more painful than His physical agony.

    What was happening in Gethsemane? What was the torment going on inside Jesus?  Some of the great mystic saints describe a similar experience, what Saint John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul.” Our soul can be filled with great sorrow, fear, even desperation when God allows us to see clearly our own sinfulness. But Jesus was without sin. Yet, he experienced the terrible horror of sin since He was about to carry all the sins of mankind. He had not committed them, but He bore them. In the first letter of Peter, we read: He Himself bore our sins in His body. Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians that for our sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians that Christ became a curse for us. Jesus is the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah who bears the sins of the world. Isaiah wrote: It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured … he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole.

    The Gethsemane experience was Jesus’ anticipation of bearing the guilt of all the sins of human history as if it were His own. I imagine that Jesus in His human nature experienced the natural fear of his impending suffering and death, but I think His agony in the garden was something more painful. It was the burden of the mystery of the world’s sin which lay on His heart. He was about to carry the awful burden of the world’s sin. This suffering of Jesus was the greatest suffering ever endured in the history of the human race. In Gethsemane, every sin in human history, past and future, were present in mystery: from the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of Cain, the sins of infidelity of the chosen people, the sins of the people of the new Israel as well, the sins of us all. Our Lord carried all this iniquity as if it were His own.

    Jesus’ torment was caused also by the experience of abandonment, not only by his friends, but by His heavenly Father. God has an infinite hatred of sin, so the nearness of sin naturally brought also the experience of the distance of God. In the garden, Jesus experienced in His human nature this abandonment. Again, perhaps we find this experience among human beings most dramatic in the descriptions of the mystic saints and the dark night of the soul. Yet, we all can experience this distance of God at different times in our lives and we know how troubling it is. It is a feeling of desolation and abandonment. But Jesus’ experience of this was something infinitely more painful. Perhaps it is best captured in our Lord’s cry from the cross: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? or Why have you forsaken me? Not only had Jesus experienced the abandonment of His human companions, the apostles, but even more difficult, separation from His Father. Isn’t this the principal effect of sin? Jesus took upon Himself the principal effect of sin which was abandonment. Jesus’ cry was one of abandonment, but not despair. The soul that despairs never cries to God.

    In the midst of His agony in the garden, Jesus prayed. He said: My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. … This prayer of our Lord reveals the depth of His torment and anguish. When we face suffering, we also pray that God will take it away. But even more importantly, after making that prayer, Jesus adds: yet not what I will, but what you will. The Gethsemane experience reached its climax and resolution in those words of Jesus. This is Jesus’ fiat. We often reflect on Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation: I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let is be done to me according to your word. This is Jesus’ fiat in the midst of agony. This is Jesus’ act of obedience to the will of His Father. As Mary consented to the incarnation, Jesus utters the fiat of the redemption. The divine Son freely consented with His human will. The salvation of us all really rests on this fiat of Jesus.

    The letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered. In Gethsemane, Jesus obeyed His Father’s will. He said yes to the passion, to dying for the sins of the human race, to drinking the cup of suffering and death. He said yes to fulfilling in Himself the destiny of the Suffering Servant of God foretold by Isaiah. In the darkness of the agony, He said yes to God even when His Father seemed so far from Him. And this is what has brought about our redemption. Saint Paul wrote to the Romans: For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous. Of course, this all came to pass on Good Friday, when the sacrifice of Jesus was consummated on the cross. But on Holy Thursday, He accepted in His human will that the Father’s will be done. He freely embraced in His human heart the Father’s love for us. Out of love for His Father and for all people, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted His passion and death.

    The Gethsemane experience did not end in defeat but in victory. Jesus’ soul descended into the abyss. He descended into hell for us but He never lost His filial trust in God, whom He continued to call Abba, my Father, Papa. His absolute obedience destroyed sin and its power. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that He was truly heard because of His reverence, that is to say, because of His obedience. This obedience has brought blessings to the whole human race. Through his obedience, all are made righteous, Saint Paul says.

    We are called to imitate the fiat of Jesus in the garden, His obedience to the Father. When we find this difficult, as it often can be, we can fall on our knees beside Jesus in Gethsemane and He will teach us how to obey. Obedience to God should be the daily fabric of our lives as Christians. We must seek to obey the Lord and we do so every time we say no to sin and yes to grace. There is no activity in our lives that cannot be transformed into an act of loving obedience to the Father. Jesus obeyed God His Father in the midst of the most terrible darkness of the soul. And, as Hebrews tells us, His prayer was heard because of His reverence.

    Jesus is our model for doing God’s will and nowhere is this seen more dramatically than in His experience of the passion, especially his agony in the garden, and his prayer in the midst of that agony: nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. His complete trust and his obedience, even in the terrible experience of abandonment, is the model for us.

    At different times in our life, we may find it easy to pray with Jesus: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. It is much more difficult to pray from our hearts the second half of His prayer: nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. But with the Lord’s grace, we can pray those words. With His grace, we can be obedient. With His grace, we can share in the mystery of His redemptive suffering. With His grace, we can be partners in the paschal mystery. With His grace, we can follow in His footsteps from Gethsemane to Calvary, knowing that Calvary is not the end, rather the empty tomb is, glorification in heaven is. We see this in Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, who because of her sinlessness and her complete union with her Son in His redemptive suffering, was assumed body and soul into heaven. Like Mary, our true joy is found in sharing in the destiny of Jesus. The Gethsemane experience ends not in defeat but in victory.

     

    Posted on March 17, 2015, to: