Thursday, March 20, 2008

In Gethsemane

Today being Holy Thursday, the churches are full for the traditional Visita Iglesia. Right after the Commemoration of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist in the late afternoon, the Host is escorted to the Altar of Repose, usually a small altar on the side of the church that's bedecked with flowers and lights. A vigil through midnight follows, remembering the suffering of Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.

Tonight I did my own little vigil at our parish. Not too long, only for about fifteen minutes. There's a Filipino tradition whereby the devout visit seven churches on Holy Thursday evening (and a superstition whereby a "wish" will be granted if one does so); but I think that keeping it to only one enhances the solemnity.

Kneeling in front of the altar, what first came to mind in prayer were the thousand and one concerns of life: career, romance, family, future plans. It's pure instinct how we start of with prayers of petition. But then I caught myself: surely, on a night like this there are more worthy subjects to meditate upon.

And so my thoughts turn to Christ in the garden. It's just after the Passover meal and He's led his apostles to Gethsemane for a night of prayer. For the apostles, there is the inexplicable air of despondency and gloom; but of course, He knows. Tonight is the night when one of His own will betray Him.

In Gethsemane, He carries the weight of the world on His shoulders. This is the burden and the choice: to see the divine plan through, or to give in to the terror of His human impulses and escape. To escape! To live!

On that night, did He see each and everyone of us in His vision? As God, He would not deal in mere generalities, some nebulous idea of humanity in need of salvation; as God, the conception would be perfect and complete, down to the minutest fiber of each individual being. After all, it is we who hung in the balance.

Following Catholic theology, if the Holy Eucharist that I see in the Altar of Repose is the real presence of Jesus Christ, then it stands to reason that it is the same Jesus Christ who kneels in agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Using speculative fictional terms, the Holy Eucharist is the physical manifestation of a fixed point that exists throughout eternity.

And so, yes, I would like to think that I am part of that vision in the garden of Gethsemane on that night: insignificant, imperfect, and sinful me, part of the billion billion souls that are hanging in the balance, whose outcome depends on that decision. "Father, if you will, let this cup pass from me...."

With that, I realize that it's a little ashamed to be bringing the thousand and one usual trivialities on a night like this.

1 comment:

  1. One thing I love about the Catholic Church is that it really is "catholic"...."universal".
    Although there are certain regional differences in rituals, the basic Truth is commemorated world-wide.
    I wish that we here in my small city could have the Via Crucis like in Philippines....but we have to accommodate our Protestant brothers.
    Take care.