Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Message of the Garden

Lastly, we must also pay attention to the content of Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives. Jesus says: “Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want” (Mk 14:36). The natural will of the man Jesus recoils in fear before the enormity of the matter. He asks to be spared. Yet as the Son, he places this human will into the Father’s will: not I, but you.

In this way he transformed the stance of Adam, the primordial human sin, and thus heals humanity. The stance of Adam was: not what you, O God, have desired; rather, I myself want to be a god. This pride is the real essence of sin. We think we are free and truly ourselves only if we follow our own will. God appears as the opposite of our freedom. We need to be free of him – so we think – and only then will we be free. This is the fundamental rebellion present throughout history and the fundamental lie which perverts life. When human beings set themselves against God, they set themselves against the truth of their own being and consequently do not become free, but alienated from themselves.

We are free only if we stand in the truth of our being, if we are united to God. Then we become truly “like God” – not by resisting God, eliminating him, or denying him. In his anguished prayer on the Mount of Olives, Jesus resolved the false opposition between obedience and freedom, and opened the path to freedom. Let us ask the Lord to draw us into this “yes” to God’s will, and in this way to make us truly free. Amen.

Homily, Holy Thursday, 2012

Reflection – So here we come to the heart of the matter, the very nub and essence of Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane and what it signifies for us. On a certain level it is obvious and well-familiar to us: “Not my will, but thy will be done, O Lord.” We all know that’s what Jesus prayed in the Garden; every child raised in a church-going family knows that.

But the Pope is contemplating with us the deep implications of this prayer of Jesus. And the implications do indeed go deep, deep, deep. There is the very heart of the Trinity being expressed here, the total union of being, of divine essence of Father and Son, which is at the very heart of the Godhead, which transcends and confounds all our human efforts to put words to it.

Right away, though, we see that at the very heart and summit of reality is not autonomy and self-assertion, but union in love, a union of wills. What in Madonna House we call sobornost – a unity of mind and heart in love. This is the Central Reality of all realities.

But we are made in the image and likeness of this Reality, and specifically made in the image of the Son who receives everything from the Father and can do nothing of his own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing (John 5: 19).

So then, our life can only truly consist in obedience. Our own divine ascent, our ascent to transcendent and glorious eternal life and splendor, can only happen when we obey God. Real freedom is to burst forth from the bounds of our human striving and its limits to live in the divine sphere, to love as God loves, to live as God lives, a life that can only be received, never achieved, but which God wants to give each one of us. That’s why He came, why He sweated blood in the garden and died on the Cross, after all.

Now, many people choose not to go this route. Many choose to remain in their human limits, their human level of being. And I would never say that we are doomed to hellfire if we do so. But let us not pretend that by doing so we are choosing to remain free or becoming freer. It is a diminishment of our being, not an expansion, that we choose.

Obedience to God (an obedience that, and I realize this is painful and contested by many, is mediated to us by obedience to the Church) is the path to freedom, to liberation, and to the deep truth of our humanity and our individual dignity and meaning. And this is the message Christ brings to us in the Garden of Gethsemane, kneeling to us on the hard stones, shivering with fear, sweating blood.

It is our own obedience, which may reduce us to such a state, such an abasement, such a travail of body and spirit, that becomes the exodus road, the path through the Red Sea, the gate of heaven. And it is Jesus who not only shows us this way but meets us on it, to draw us along and make it possible by his grace and his Spirit for us to follow Him to the end.


  1. Father Denis,
    Please forgive me, I am really trying to get this, it is not my intension to be offensive or contribute to the division- I am really trying to get this-
    The obedience that Jesus models for us, calls us to....It is hard to understand. Looking for help, I read St Thomas...and what I understand him to say is that true obedience is a balance between the twin errors of defeat and excess-which are disobedience and false obedience ( only authority is my conscience verses only authority is my superior) So, don,t we need everything to help us to be obedient...the head and the body and our own souls? Can you help me with this?

    1. Sorry to be slow responding to this - I'm a bit swamped these days. I totally agree with what you say here (and good old St. Thomas, hurray!). It seems to me that the idea is out there somehow that if we obey the Church on these controverted matters, we are somehow violating our own consciences or surrendering the use of our intellect. This seems strange to me, somehow, this idea.
      I guess it just doesn't occur to me that to trust the Church (and let's remember that on the controverted moral questions, the Church is simply repeating the teachings it has taught over a 2000 year period)and act in accordance with its teachings means that a)I shut off my brain or b)I am violating my inner soul. I guess where I am coming from is that I understand my relationship to the Church to be second only, and intimately bound up with, my relationship with Christ Himself. So... for me, every other relationship and choice is in fact subordinated first to Christ and then to the Church...
      I don't know - I'm grappling for words to describe something that seems so clear to me. I, too, don't want to contribute to the division or offend anyone needlessly. Does that help at all?


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