Day 11: With Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

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29 Mar 2020

With Jesus in the Desert’ is an online retreat that has been developed for people who are in social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been designed to run for 14 days, but may be adapted and run as needed.

If you have someone to contact in any way during the retreat to speak about what is happening in your retreat and your day, that could be very helpful. Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia can put people in touch with experienced spiritual directors for one-to-one spiritual direction using online platforms such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. For enquiries, please contact (02) 9488 4597.

1. Preparation for prayer

Sit or lie comfortably, aware of any tension in neck and shoulders, hands, tightness in the chest and muscles. Allow them to relax. Look around the room and house that are your desert, through the window at the world now closed to you. Allow God to enter the room and your life

2. What do you want?

In a few words or an image, can you express how you are right now? How would you like God to be for you today? Ask God to open your mind and heart to what God wants to give you today.

3. Prayer to introduce day’s theme

Dearest Lord, over the days of this retreat I have witnessed your care for others, I have felt your love for me. I can see in my life that we have a history together (which you can see more clearly than me!). What I ask for today from you is the gift of trust; the trust that you had in your Father. May I trust you to stay with me and to help me face my fears and failures. With this gift I can overcome all things. Amen.

4. Readings

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. Grief and anguish came over him, and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went a little farther on, threw himself face downward on the ground, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want.” Then he returned to the three disciples and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, “How is it that you three were not able to keep watch with me for even one hour? Keep watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Once more Jesus went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” He returned once more and found the disciples asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. Again Jesus left them, went away, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then he returned to the disciples and said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look! The hour has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the power of sinners. Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!” (Matthew 26: 36 – 46 NRSV)

Psalm 91 (NRSV)

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
 who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,[a]
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
 my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
 and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
 and under his wings you will find refuge;
 his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
 or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
 or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
 ten thousand at your right hand,
 but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
 and see the punishment of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,[b]
 the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you,
 no scourge come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
 to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
 the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

Those who love me, I will deliver;
 I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
 I will be with them in trouble,
 I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
 and show them my salvation.

5. Reflection

In the Garden of Olives, after having celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus confronts his worst fears head on – “The Son of Man will be handed over …” He grapples with them, admitting his weakness. This is not a once off event – he has to go through it again and again that night before he finally surrenders, and conquers. He surrenders his avoidance of pain and loss, he surrenders to the forces of violence poised over him; he conquers his natural inclination to flee and his desire that his future be different to what is will be. He surrenders his life and dreams into the Father’s hands; he conquers any weakening of trust in God.

Jesus is alone in this struggle. He draws three of his friends to his side, but they cannot stay awake. They cannot face reality. It is too hard for them. Yet he berates them only gently.

The Psalm expresses the prayer of a person who is also in difficulty and who trusts in God. The psalmist is convinced that God will act on his behalf. However, we might question his position that God will save him from disaster and pain and death. That is the lesson that Jesus taught us: he allowed for the possibility that he (the son of God) might indeed die at the hands of his enemies, and he still believed that ultimately (perhaps on the Last Day) God would put things right. Jesus could only do his best – act with utter integrity to his last breath – what God would do Jesus left entirely in God’s hands.

Are you now – after this extended time of self-isolation – feeling almost crushed in spirit? Are you imagining that all your efforts will have no good fruit? Do you feel painfully alone even with some company? Are you struggling to let go of fantasies of release and freedom and happiness as you have known it before? This is your Gethsemane. This is your moment of self-gift to the Father. And Jesus – alive, risen, conquering – is with you. He has opened the way through death into the presence of the Father. He will make up what you can’t do because he has already made up that difference.

Jesus is not asleep. Nor are the saints and your beloved deceased who look over you. In their loving company, tell God exactly what you feel. Allow your body to express it. Tell God what you desire above all else – to act in love and trust through all that lies ahead.

7. Concluding prayer of thanks and praying for other people affected.

Father, I thank you for Jesus, and for so many others, who show me that you are to be trusted, that you do save us when we call on you. Help me to accept that I cannot determine my future, of the future of those I love. Keep me always in the company of Jesus so that as I suffer as he did, so will I also be raised to life with him. Amen.

8. Reflection on prayer

Spend a few minutes looking back at your prayer. Don’t try to judge whether it was a success or a failure – no attempt to pray is a failure. But recall the places where your heart was stirred – by love, anger, anxiety, and other feelings. Hold those moments out to God. If it is helpful, write them down.


Day 11 – Evening Prayer

1. Become aware of God’s presence.

Look back on the events of this day of self-isolation in the company of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to help you see as God sees.

2. Pay attention to your feelings.

The Spirit of God works in the movements of our hearts. Run through the day like a video camera. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? Where are these feelings coming from? What is God saying through these feelings? Do they say something about what matters deeply to you?

3. Choose one time when you have felt strongly and live it again.

Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that has struck you: a feeling of love, boredom, irritation, tranquillity or hatred etc. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something, apparently insignificant, but one which touched your heart, such as seeing a flock of galahs turning into the sun. Allow your response to the feeling to flow spontaneously from your heart— whether you feel gratitude, regret, joy or anger.

4. Look toward tomorrow.

Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges of another day in isolation. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey another day in isolation. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope and good humour.

5. End with a conversation with Jesus.

Ask for healing, ask his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Say thanks for the gift of your life and for the gift of the people who love you and those whom you live.

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