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Tumultuous Processions, Lonely Prayers

Introducing Hope for the Journey, a new series of brief meditations by Fr. George and Fr. Javier. You can view the complete series here and join the discussion on Facebook.

The Church of All Nations in Jerusalem is a sight to behold. Designed by the famed Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, the ceiling is a bright, starry canopy: a mosaic of the night’s sky, commemorating the time that Jesus’ spent praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. 

Should you decide to stop by, you’ll find yourself surrounded by pilgrims from all over the world, elbow-to-elbow as they jostle their way to the church doors. The line out the door makes for a tumultuous procession of sorts.

By the time I made it to the Church of All Nations, I’d already grown tired of the endless crowds at pilgrimage sites. I was disheartened by the inevitably commercial nature of tourism, even while on pilgrimage—even though I understood, in theory, that our presence signaled a much-needed boost to the economy (especially for the many who depend on it for their livelihood). Exploring Jerusalem’s complex religious and sociopolitical history is hard enough without getting pushed out of the way for someone’s photograph!

And yet, when I walked into that church and looked up, I had one of those rare moments you long for in a pilgrimage: surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt at peace. Even if only for a moment, I was engulfed in a strange kind of solitude.

The Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, May 2017

I doubt that Jesus experienced peaceful solitude on the night before his betrayal, but the fact of the matter is that he was alone: already betrayed by one of his closest friends, soon to be abandoned by the rest of his companions. In our current experience of physical isolation, therefore, I wonder if Holy Week has something new to offer us this year: a rare opportunity to reflect on the kind of loneliness that Jesus felt that night in the Garden. A glimpse of his presence with us, even now—not in spite of the fact that we are isolated, but precisely in the moments when we feel most desperately so.

Jesus expresses his longing to be with us precisely by joining us in our loneliness—by stepping humbly and bravely into the moments when humanity is most despairing.

Thank God for that. Thank God for a love well-acquainted with loneliness and despair—especially in times like this.

— Fr. Javier

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