Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jesus in Gethsemane

Way back in 2014 and over a thousand posts ago, we started working our way, scene by scene and verse by verse, through St. Mark's Gospel. We are now towards the end in Chapter 14. Bernard van Orely's (1492 ~ 1591) painting Christ in Gethsemane helps us to see and understand. 

32 When they reached a place called Gethsemane, he said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.' 33 And he took Peter and James and John with him. 34 Horror and dismay came over him, and he said to them, 'My heart is ready to break with grief; stop here, and stay awake.' 35 Then he went forward a little, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. 36 'Abba, Father,' he said, 'all things are possible to thee; take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.' 
37 He came back and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, 'Asleep, Simon? Were you not able to keep awake for one hour? 38 Stay awake, all of you; and pray that you may be spared the test: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' 39 Once more he went away and prayed. 40 On his return he found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know how to answer him.
41 The third time he came and said to them, 'Still sleeping? Still taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed to sinful men. 42 Up, let us go forward! My betrayer is  upon us.'
43 Suddenly, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared, and with him was a crowd armed with swords and cudgels, sent by the chief priests lawyers, and elders. 44 Now the traitor had agreed with them upon a signal: 'The one I kiss is your man; seize him and get him safely away.' 45 When he reached the spot, he stepped forward at once and said, to Jesus, 'Rabbi', and kissed him. 46 Then they seized him and held him fast.
47 One of the party drew is sword, and struck at the High Priest's servant, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus spoke: 'Do you take me for a bandit, that you have come out with swords and cudgels to arrest me? 49 Day after day I was within  your reach as I taught in the temple, and you did not lay hands on me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled. 50 Then the disciples all deserted him and ran away. 
51 Among those following was a young man with nothing on but a linen cloth. 52 They tried to seize him; but he slipped out of the linen cloth and ran away naked.' (Mark 14:32-52)

Verse 34: We are told that Jesus is overcome with horror and dismay. What depth of human depravity and sin was revealed to him then? What did Jesus see? Our killing, our lies, our criminality, our cruelty and hatred, our greed, our explosive and burning destruction...

Verse 35: Jesus has thrown himself down on the ground. The word Gethsemane means olive press. Jesus is pressed or crushed by the inner knowledge of his approaching death and the why of his suffering. 

Verse 33: Peter, James and John have gone with Jesus because he has invited them, but they have fallen asleep. 

Verse 37-42: The apostles are not only sleeping but they are sound asleep. Five verses to describe their sleep and the frustration of Jesus! Maybe too much wine. But it is much more than physical sleep. St. Thomas More said of England, "England would have slept through the Sermon on the Mount." And our country?

Verse 43: The word suddenly seems to be important - we are being shaken awake. It is a ridiculous scene, an armed crowd coming after Jesus with swords and clubs. Who do they think they are coming to arrest that they need weapons? Talk about ignorance! And notice the men from religious headquarters (chief priests, lawyers and elders) have not come in person, but have sent a posse to do their dirty work. I wonder how much money crossed the table.

Verse 44-46: The kiss. The expression of deepest affection and love has been twisted into a sign of betrayal and death. And why did they need a signal in the first place? Maybe just because it was dark. But I might suggest because they have never even seen Jesus before, let alone listened to him. They grab hold of Jesus and don't let go of him. Little do they know Jesus would not run away. 

Verse 47: The scene turns bloody and violent. We have such an inclination to violence. Even a soccer game can become violent and injurious. We don't understand that violence solves nothing. We even make it our entertainment. Violence is our go-to solution. Jesus won't have it; he heals the ear. He heals our hearing. We haven't heard - we refuse to hear and accept the teaching of Jesus which forbids blood-letting violence. 

Verses 48-49: Jesus knows what's up. In so many words he says to them: With all your weapons, you're treating me like a bandit." And we're supposed to remember when Jesus drove out of the temple all those who made money selling animals for sacrifice. He called them bandits. And he drew the contrast: You were in the temple to make money; I was there to teach people about God.

Verse 49: We're not told which scripture verse is being fulfilled, but it is enough for us to know that what is happening in this scene, and the subsequent trial and suffering, is willed by God.

Verse 50: The disciples deserted Jesus and ran away. It is a sad scene. It happens still, of course. A whole nation can run away from Jesus.

Verses 51-52: Finally, there is this mysterious guy who is wrapped in a linen cloth. Scholars have lots to say about who he is. I have my own idea. I think he is a symbol of any of us who have been baptized, and who fearfully run away into the darkness naked, having dropped or slipped out of our baptismal clothing.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Awesome Seeds

I didn't do well in elementary school because I was out the window. That tendency to be looking outside caught up with me in fourth grade when we had to master multiplication and division tables. Everyday was an utter pit-in-the-stomach-nerve-wracking-depressive hell. Once a week we had finger-nail inspection: hands flat out on our desks and she'd say publicly: "Stephen, stop biting your nails." And I'd think: "I'd be able to stop biting my nails if you'd throw out your flash cards."

But there were two things wonderfully redemptive of fourth grade: every day after lunch the overhead fluorescent lights were turned out and the teacher would read Stuart Little or Charlotte's Web to us. I was mesmerized and felt sad when she'd mark the page and close the book. And then one day, janitors brought in two long lunch tables and set them up in the middle of the room. Pushing our desks closer to each other to make space for the mystery unfolding - so began weeks of learning about plant propagation. 

We placed bean seeds in glass jars which were lined with wet paper towels; the seeds suspended for our observations. We all brought in small bags of soil from home and planted more beans in our cut down half-pint milk containers (1950's recycling!) Cuttings from geranium and snake plants were rooted in large trays of wet yellow sand. A huge avocado seed was suspended with tooth picks over a glass of water. We cut up potatoes and planted the eyes in soil. Best of all we planted pole string-beans in huge buckets of soil and made stick tepees for their support. The seeds grew and even flowered. It was all too wonderful: studying seeds and roots; and I was hooked.

In the late 19th century, Celia Thaxter wrote An Island Garden in which she wrote: "The very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it to me something beautiful. I always do it with a joy that is largely mixed with awe." 

Seeds are awesome miracles of transformation and evolution: this tiny thing packed with potential, color, fragrance, food and delight. The awe is intensified when (with larger seeds anyway) you see the ground start to crack or heave up just before the new plant emerges and the tightly packed leaves unfold to light and air.

I just read the introduction to a gardener's autobiography that says we should just appreciate plants for themselves and be done with any kind of parable or symbolism for our own living. I don't necessarily agree with that. Why can't we do both, if without too much of a stretch the connections come to mind. When God made us, we were first put in a garden (kind of planted ourselves) surely for our delight, but also that we might learn about God and ourselves. Maybe some people just don't believe in God and they don't like anything that suggests otherwise.

So yeah, seeds are awesome as they sprout, and God wants us to emerge and open up as well. God wants our transformation. Indeed, real living is about transformation. God wants us to realize who we are and what we have within us to become.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Intercessions ~ Eleventh Sunday in Ordinaarly Time

We pray for the world's fathers today,/ asking courage,/ strength and safety for their families./ Give new clarity, direction and resolve to fathers who are failing their families,/ and peace to those who are away from their children./ We pray to the Lord.

In the Gospel today,/ Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of God using parables./ May we learn the method of God's Kingdom rule:/ that it is a kingdom of mercy,/ compassion,/ justice,/ love and peace./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the world where life is feeling chaotic,/ where leaders are failing their people,/ where fresh divisions and threats arise./ We ask for selfless leaders of good heart./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday is World Refugee Day./ We pray for the millions around the world who are displaced,/ fleeing death and catastrophe./ May the safe nations be creative and generous in helping them in their desperation./ We pray to the Lord.

Thursday is the Feast of St. Aloysius* Gonzaga,/ the patron saint of young people./ Grant to young people the rights to which they are entitled:/ physical protection,/ food,/ nurturing,/ health care,/ freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the sick,/ the disabled,/ the wounded,/ the fragile and those who are weakened by age or neglect./ We ask blessings for care-givers,/ helpers and rescuers./ For our families and loved ones,/ mindful of those struggling with troubles and problems./ We pray to the Lord.

*Aloysius: Al-Oh-Wish-Us

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A friend visited Rome

A friend text-ed early Saturday morning that he and his daughter were in Rome. I wrote back that he might visit the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) and "Up front, under the main altar, there is a tiny chapel housing the relic of the crib of Bethlehem. Pray for the children of the world there." 

Here we can see it above the little grotto altar. Notice there is a kneeler and a small wooden chair behind the rope. We can imagine our own visit: the place is quiet, no other visitors; so we are left to ourselves and the intimacy of our prayer. Imagine going behind the rope and sitting there, awake and attentive.

O Jesus, I pray
for the children I know,
even the grown-up children,
and for grandchildren
and great-grand children,
nieces and nephews
and the children around me at Mass.

But the many others too.
Have pity, 
have mercy, O Jesus,
that any of us might ever ever handily say
for the plight of children:
Of course, it's just terrible...just awful...
Oh, what a shame...
Might I feel something of their terror,
some upset,
some holy anger,
a prophet's just-anger.

Forgive us, Jesus, 
as we get more upset over over-ripe strawberries,
angered having to walk too far in the parking lot,
grieved when when the weather ruins our day,
than over the news of the children
thrown away,
sent away,
blown away,
withered away.

By your Bethlehem bed,
over which your mother sang,
restore us
who have lost our sense of outrage for the 
neglect of the planet's children.

The sociologist said:
"It's charity-exhaustion; not to worry."


But Kierkegaard said:
"The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays."

That's me Jesus!
That's us, Jesus!

Before I leave this so lovely chapel,
the manger where
Mother Mary placed you,
no room in the inn,
give me some new idea,
shed some Bethlehem light -
what I might do
for the most vulnerable of your children.
Even just one.