Gethsemane 2020

Thursday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. We’ll celebrate the institution of the first Eucharist and the Lord’s entry into Gethsemane. For many, this time of quarantine feels a bit like our own Gethsemane. We’re cut off from what we’re used to. The news is overwhelmingly bad. The number of cases continue to grow by the thousands. In Gethsemane, Jesus was left alone to take on the weight of the world.

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for hours. I live in New England where we have the world’s best doctor’s and hospitals. Medicine and medical research will eventually get a handle on this disease, but prayer will help those doctors and researchers, whether they know it or not, and it will carry us through this.

The Fathers at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy have been putting a lot of encouragement on Facebook. Something that I’ve had to have drilled into my head by them, as well as Pope Francis himself is that God is merciful and understand the circumstances. Before Mass was suspended and churches were closed, I realized I had to go to confession. Then I couldn’t. God had to use several voices to convince me that I was forgiven because I really am sorry and intend to go to confession As soon as I can.

When I first joined the Carmelites, I was naturally curious, and I already knew a little about Saint Therese of Liseux, so last year, my mom and I listened to her autobiography in the car. After that it was like she wouldn’t leave me alone. She kept dropping quotes on my Facebook page, or I would accidentally find references to her in searches of completely different topics. At my clothing ceremony, the congratulation cards my community members gave me all had her picture on them.

In some ways, Saint Therese reminds me of myself. She’s playful and innocent, but also stubborn in her faith. On Saturday I came across another quote. She said that it is obviously grace when we receive the sacraments, but it can also be a source of grace when we can’t. I’ve had to think about it, but I think she’s right. Not being able to receive the sacraments means having to trust the Lord more, and to appreciate the sacraments more. You can’t miss what you’ve always had easy access to.

God doesn’t let bad things happen for no reason. When bad things happen, it’s usually because He can bring some greater good(s) out of them. I wondered what good(s) could possibly come from a pandemic. That had me stumped. Bishop Robert Barron had some insight into this. It’s hard to know if there’s an “umbrella” good for all of humanity in this, and if there is, it might be unrecognizable for a while. It is easier to see personal goods that have come of this. For me, the goods aren’t even difficult to see. There are really several goods that have come of this for me.

1. I’ve learned that God’s mercy and love are even deeper than I previously understood or believed.

2. Since I gave up shows and movies for Lent, I’ve had a lot more time to read. Granted, I’m reading a ridiculous fantasy story, but I enjoy reading, and I often lament that I don’t have enough time to. Really I do, but I end up watching Netflix instead.

3. I’ve come to better appreciate things I took for granted before: my health, takeout, going to the studio, Saturday night Netflix party with my friend, etc.

4. I know more clearly what I really want. When Mass got suspended, I said to the Lord, “I don’t even want Heaven; I just want You.” It seemed weird saying that, and I second-guessed myself. I’ve been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the priests at the National Shrine at 3:00 every day, and they have the Eucharist exposed. I realized that for half an hour every day, I can at least see Him, and I realized that this in itself is His Mercy. Yesterday, it came to me again, and I realized that if Heaven was an empty room with just Him in it, then that is sincerely what I want.

5. I’ve actually been able to talk to my extended family more than I did before. Since we started our virtual book club, I’ve been talking to my aunt, two cousins, and my grandmother once a week, and because we’re using Zoom, I can actually see their faces instead of just reading texts.

6. I’ve been seeing people use social media to connect with each other and make each other laugh instead of pointing fingers and spewing political nonsense.

When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He asked His Father, “Take this cup from me.” I’ve been asking the Lord for the same thing. God could have sent lightning bolts from heaven and zapped all of Jesus’ enemies so He wouldn’t have to endure the Cross. Jesus Himself said He could summon an army of angels to defend Him. Instead, the Father allowed the Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers to exercise their free will, and Jesus allowed them to do this to Him so that humanity could be returned to right-relationship with God.

This is our Gethsemane, and probably for a multitude of reasons, the Lord is allowing it. That is not a reason to stop praying. Prayer keeps us connected to our God, and while it might not bring an immediate end to the pandemic, it can help individuals, it can help us in smaller, personal ways, and it will bring this to an eventual end. I’m convinced of that.

Jesus said that to be His, we would have to take up our crosses and follow Him. Easter couldn’t have happened without The Agony in the Garden. In Gethsemane, Jesus was scared, He was lonely, and He was terribly sad. To varying degrees, I think these are things we’re all feeling right now. This Sunday, Easter will still liturgically be celebrated, and we have to find ways to celebrate at home because Jesus is still risen. We don’t know exactly how long our Gethsemane will last, whether it’s weeks or months, but at the end of this, we will go back to the studio, back to the gym, back to the salon for a much needed haircut, back to school, back to work, back to each others’ houses, back to the movies, and we will go back to church.

I think Saint Therese is right in saying that there is a grace in this. In Gethsemane, an angel came to comfort Jesus. We’re not alone because He’s still here to comfort us. He doesn’t abandon His friends. Trust Him, and use this time. Slow down, pray, and look for greater goods. I’ll leave you with this:

The Ascension

I’ve had a weird couple of days. Yesterday my epilepsy was acting up, so I couldn’t work on my book. Today is the feast of the Ascension of the Lord in the Catholic Church, so I went to Mass with my mom at noon, and then we ran a couple errands and got lunch. Thus, I haven’t got anything done today so far, either. I realized something about this yesterday, however.

I know from experience that doing certain things on the computer exacerbates my symptoms. Given that both my work and many of the things I enjoy doing involve a computer or my Kindle, I quickly ran out of things to do. I prayed a lot, and played guitar for a while, then just lurked in my bed and listened to music. I quickly went from bored, to depressed, to angry.

I prayed some more, and man, did I let God have it. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to say anything. I was confused and angry about why this was allowed to happen, but I still trusted him. I don’t get his plan, and yesterday, I really didn’t like it, but it hit me while I was praying that I was so angry because I was unable to do what I assumed he wanted me to do. I assumed that he wanted me to work on my book, like I do most days. Really, I think he wanted me to pray yesterday, and that’s what I did. Beyond that, though I was angry because I wasn’t getting done what needed to get done. This was interfering with my schedule.

When I wake up in the morning, I usually entertain some inane thought or another, then after realizing that I’m actually conscious, I say “Good morning” because I know the Lord is with me. After getting dressed, my second prayer is, “I have a plan for today, but if yours is different, we’ll go with yours.” I think yesterday might have been God’s way of saying, “Sometimes our plans aren’t going to be the same, and sometimes you’re not going to like mine.”

Despite being angry because I wasn’t able to do much yesterday, I was grateful that I was still able to process language. I could think straight, and I could speak. What I realized yesterday is that I value my ability to work too highly. As I said earlier, today is the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Our priest emphasized the fact that Jesus ascended to Heaven in human form, thus drastically elevating the dignity of human nature. My value is not dependent on whether or not I am capable of doing anything.

There’s a Mercy Me song that I like called “Even If.” A few lines from that song go as follows:

They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain
Well good thing, a little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose to leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

This became my anthem yesterday. My epilepsy is usually little more than a fleeting inconvenience. It usually doesn’t cause me problems for more than a few minutes. I won’t pretend that yesterday didn’t suck because it did. It royally sucked. Last night, though, my symptoms finally started going away, and I was able to read for a while before going to bed. I’m actually glad Jesus didn’t say anything while I was freaking out. I just needed him to let me cry, and he knew that.

I had to go to the mall with my mom this afternoon to get a chain for my cousin and chocolate for my friend. My cousin was just confirmed, and I got him a medal, but the chain isn’t long enough. I got my friend chocolate because her birthday is on Saturday, and we’re going to see the Avengers tonight to celebrate. There’s a very odd store at the mall. It’s odd because it’s a Catholic store in a place you would not expect to find anything Catholic. I ended up buying myself a medal with an image of Saint Faustina on one side, and the Divine Mercy image on the other. I also got myself a piece of caramel chocolate. The fact of the matter is, God’s goodness got me through yesterday, and today has been infinitely better.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!