Sunday, September 20, 2020

Do We Need to Prepare for a Gethsemane Moment?

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:36–39)


There’s an old saying (it’s been attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, among others) that goes, “We must pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us.” While it can be misinterpreted in a Pelagian sense, it means that we must rely on God to grant us what we need and work for it, trusting Him to strengthen us in cooperating with His will. Sometimes the good which God wills can be spectacular like the Walls of Jericho. At other times, it can be difficult to see, like Christians living during the Roman persecution must have struggled with why things were going that way.


In difficult times like this past year, there is a lot to be fearful about. Some of these are international (like coronavirus). Others are local, like the Presidential Elections and the open seat on the Supreme Court. We worry about them because the consequences can be serious. However, I think in modern times, we tend to forget that the Christian life can involve suffering. We (especially in the West) are tempted to think that we shouldn’t be experiencing injustice or suffering at all. If we do, somebody—other than us—is to blame for it, and it wouldn’t have happened if they had acted as we thought best.


We shouldn’t be surprised that injustice and suffering happen. The recent and ongoing persecution of Christians in the Middle East shows that we never know if one of us will be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith. We don’t know if our own nation might take a turn for the worse in terms of government harassment or mob violence over our values. 


We especially shouldn’t be surprised because one article of our Christian Faith involves the bloody execution of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As He warned us, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). It is unreasonable to expect our life as Christians to be free of troubles. This is not a call to be passive in the face of injustice. Rather, we are called to carry out the Great Commission despite the troubles that come our way. Nor is this an argument that because our treatment is not as bad as it is in other countries, we are not treated unjustly.


What it does mean is we ought to approach whatever hardships that come by following the example of Jesus in Gethsemane. Yes, it is natural to avoid suffering. We legitimately pray to be delivered from evil in the Lord’s Prayer after all. But, if it turns out that we cannot avoid suffering, then we should pray for the grace to accept God’s will and endure as we carry out His work here on Earth. 

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