The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden

Passion 14

“Then going out Jesus went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not undergo the test.’

After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.’ Luke 22, 39-46


The Passionists remember The Prayer of Our Lord in the Garden in their liturgical calendar on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time of prayer for the church. St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century preacher and founder of the Passionists, spent many years during Lent preaching in the poor towns of the Tuscan Maremma, trying to awaken “those who sit in darkness…through the trumpet of God’s word.” He insisted, though, it couldn’t be done without prayer.

Where can we learn to pray at this time? Surely, on the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion. He prayed in the dark olive grove while his disciples, who would soon abandon him, slept a short distance away. The executioners had not yet come, no scourging, no thorns, no nails had touched him, but here in the dark, Jesus faced death in all its many forms.

Wouldn’t he see before him the awful death by crucifixion, which a criminal faced, a traitor’s death? The Romans publicized that kind of death to frighten and keep order. As a stark warning they crucified their victims outside the city gate. The execution place was chosen for all to see.

But Jesus faced other forms of death too. He faced the prophet’s question: “Have I toiled in vain?” The sleeping disciples nearby, the towns that forgot the healing signs he worked, the powerful enemies who sought to destroy him and rejected his teaching. “Have I toiled in vain? Have I failed, have I accomplished anything ?”

Jesus does not pray in many words or set forms. “Father,” he prays to God who cares from him.

“Let this cup pass from me,” he prays from his fears and hopes. “Not my will but yours be done,” he gives himself into his Father’s hands.

His fears are real, so real that “his sweat becomes like blood falling to the ground.” St. Vincent Strambi says Jesus’ bloody sweat is “the voice of his heart, proclaiming his great love and sorrow.”

“An angel came to strengthen him.” God hears and cares and strengthens. “Pray, persevere in prayer.”





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Following Jesus Christ in Lent

Lent 1

Lent is coming. Let’s follow Jesus like those disciples in our picture above. One way to do it is by reflecting on the lenten scriptural readings recommended for the Sundays and weekdays till Easter. They’re the basic book for lenten reading.

On the 1st Sunday of Lent, this coming Sunday, Luke’s gospel takes us to the Jordan River where Jesus is led into a deserted place by the Spirit and tempted for 40 days after his baptism. Our journey  begins  in a desert. Readings from Luke’s Gospel lead us through the Sundays of Lent this year.

The weekday gospels for the first three weeks of lent are mostly from Matthew’s Gospel, the early church’s favorite gospel for catechesis during Lent. They bring us to Galilee where Jesus began his ministry. Most are from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks “the words of eternal life.”  (Matthew 5-7) Be faithful to prayer and you will grow in wisdom, Jesus says.  ( Tuesday and Thursday, 1st week of Lent)  Love your neighbor, even your enemies and “the least,” whom we easily overlook. ( Monday, Friday, Saturday, 1st week of Lent)

Peter’s confession at Caesaria Phillipi is the highpoint of the first part of Matthew’s gospel. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter says to Jesus. “You have the words of everlasting life.” Lent invites us to join him in that same confession.

But can we possibly love and believe that way, so lofty and challenging? We’re rather weak disciples. The reading for Saturday after Ash Wednesday reminds us, though, that Jesus doesn’t call perfect disciples. He called  Matthew the tax collector and people like him–not very good keepers of the law. Outsiders and sinners like them welcome us to the lenten season. (Luke 5, 27-32)

Matthew’s gospel takes us up the Mount of the Beatitudes. Like most sacred writers, Matthew likes mountains. You see the distance more clearly from them. On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we go up to the Mount of the Transfiguration to glimpse the  glory found ahead.

By the 4th week of Lent,  we arrive  in the Holy City, Jerusalem, to the temple mount and  then the Mount of Calvary. Starting with the 4th week most of the weekday lenten gospels will be from the Gospel of John. I’ll say something about them before we get there.

You can follow the lenten readings online here.

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5th Sunday C Deep Waters


To listen to the audio for today’s homily, select the audio file below:

I usually go out fishing a couple of times a year at the Jersey Shore with a friend of mine who has a boat equipped with radar that tracks fish. I notice, though, he also has some old maps he has marked where the fish usually are; he also looks around to check where the party boats are. They’re the fishermen who are out there day after day and night after night. They make their living off the sea and so if they aren’t catching anything, nobody is.

In our gospel, Peter and his friends are professional fishermen, night and day, everyday fishermen. If they don’t know the waters, nobody does. One recent archeological investigation on the Sea of Galilee, at Magdala on its northwestern shore, close to Capernaum where Peter docked his boats, seems to confirm that at the time of Jesus, the fishing industry in Galilee was quite sophisticated. They had elaborate methods for storing and preserving fish in order to bring them to market at the right time. They had developed a dark blue netting for night fishing. They were good at it.

And so, when Peter tells Jesus, “We have worked hard all night and caught nothing,” he’s a professional talking. Experience is behind him; reason and human skill are behind him. “But at your word I will lower the nets.” Because he accepts the word of Jesus he gets a reward bigger than he could ever expect– a catch so great that their boats were in danger of sinking.

Later on in Mark’s gospel, Jesus asks Peter: “Who do people say I am?” “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers. But when Jesus goes on to say he will be arrested and put to death and rise again, Peter doesn’t want to hear it. That’s not reasonable. “Don’t think about that,” he says. And Jesus calls him Satan. “You’re not thinking like God, you’re thinking like human beings do.”

As he did on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asks Peter to go beyond human thinking. When God speaks and reveals things we have to go beyond our reasonableness and calculations.

Peter is not the only one who has to go beyond human thinking. We’re also asked to do that too, if we want to be people of faith. In our 2nd reading today the Apostle Paul asks us to believe.

“Brothers and sisters,

I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins

in accordance with the Scriptures;

that he was buried;

that he was raised on the third day

in accordance with the Scriptures;

that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Last of all, as to one abnormally born,

he appeared to me, and

so we preach and so you believed.”

Paul wants his hearers to believe in God, the creator of this world. This world did not just happen. Jesus Christ is God’s Son, born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and rose again.

We’re called to follow him, to be with him, to be his companions, his friends, to listen to his words, to hope in his promises, to love others as he has loved us.

“Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” That’s what we do when we come to Mass. This is the deep water where we lower our nets to catch those graces God wishes to give us. Surprising graces, more than we imagine, greater than we could expect. This is the sea where believers are blessed.











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Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ


The Passionists celebrate their titular feast, The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, before the Lenten and Easter seasons begin.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (5th century) speaks of this mystery in a catechetical sermon he gave in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built over  Calvary and the Tomb from which Jesus rose from the dead.

“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. Yet still, how many blind people are left in the world! Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of the countless numbers who die because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to all those now still starving in ignorance.

“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of humanity!”

The miracles the saint mentions– some happened in Jerusalem where he preached – were wonderful, but only a few were touched by them. The Passion of Jesus touches all. “A book of life, it teaches the way to life and communicates life,” St Vincent Strambi writes, “the one who reads this book day and night is blessed.”

The Passion of Jesus is before us as a “sea of suffering,” St. Paul of the Cross writes, but it is also a “sea of love.” There we discover that “God loves us, for Christ died for us when we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5,8) God is the “God of compassion, Creator and Redeemer of us all, who sent your only Son into this world to die that we might live.” (Opening prayer for the feast)

In the Passion of Jesus we find the love of God and we also discover our sins and what hinders us from knowing and following him.

So many are unmindful of the love of Jesus, St. Paul of the Cross writes. They’re like people living in a swamp, an image probably suggested by the swamp lands of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy where Paul ministered for much of his life. “We must awaken them from their sad state. We must send them quickly zealous workers, truly poor in spirit and detached from every creature, that by the trumpet of God’s word they might, through the holy Passion of Christ, awaken those who ‘sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

The charism and mission of the Passionists are proclaimed in this feast.


Almighty God,

awaken within us a spirit of prayer.

Give us devotion to the Passion of your Son

and the grace of fostering it in others

by our preaching and example,

and we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.







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Friday Thoughts: To Preach

Saint Bruno, Houdon

Saint Bruno, Founder of the Carthusians, Statue by Antoine Houdon (1767)


“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority…”

—Acts 1:7


If the Lord returns this very second, well then, are not “…the ends of the earth” where we currently stand?

May we pray for the mercy and grace that we ourselves be truly converted to Christ, for if all the world were to focus on that, then all the world would be set “on fire”.

To truly “preach” the Gospel is to be truly transfigured. For it is the power of His glory, in us, around us, despite us, that brings others to Christ.

A single man standing absolutely still—but who has Christ truly within him—brings more healing and peace to all the world than an army of men continually running around the globe glorifying themselves in His most sacred name.

For redemption is always by His power, for His glory, and within His Kingdom.

It is HIS Church. May we approach Him in our absolute nothingness, for that is all that we truly possess.

Men come and go, keep your eyes on Christ. The world turns, the Cross stands still.


—Howard Hain

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Looking Out The Window in the Morning



Each morning I look out my window at the world at hand–a world in the morning light, no longer in darkness. The experience of light after darkness is often found in our morning and evening hymns to describe God’s presence. In the Old Testament, after the darkness, “God saw light and said it was good.” In the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is called “the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into this world.”

Before television and radio weather reports, usually everyone just looked out the window. Why not make looking out the window in the morning an act of faith?

St. Gregory of Agrigentum says Jesus used light to describe his presence in our  world.

“ ‘I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark: he will have the light of life.’ And again: ‘This is the judgement, that light has come into the world.’ He used the light of the sun, which we see with our eyes, to promise the Sun of justice.

“ That Sun is sweet indeed for those found worthy to be taught by him and to see him with their own eyes just like any other man. He is not just any man, he is also  true God, and this is why he made the blind see, the lame walk,  the deaf hear, this is why he cleansed the leper and called the dead back to life.”

The everyday sun promises the Sun that enlightens everyone.


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Wisdom Enough

Do we have enough wisdom to make our way in life? According to St.  Ephrem, we have more than enough. Christ, the Wisdom and Power of God, has come.

The trouble is that often enough we want more wisdom than we need or can take in. We want to know it all.  Drawing on God’s wisdom, St. Ephrem says, is like drinking from a great spring of water. You can only drink one mouthful at a time. The spring is never exhausted, but you can’t drink it all. That’s not the way we’re built.

But we want to know it all, and so we become dissatisfied with the wisdom we have at the moment, or think there is nothing more to draw on.

This is not just a problem affecting only our spiritual life; we see it in our world today with all its needs and challenges. One temptation is to throw up our hands and say we can do nothing; another is to think we can solve our problems with one sweeping action.

Keep drinking from the spring, St. Ephrem says:
“What you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to take in at another if only you persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to aborb as time goes on.”


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