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Holy Land Pilgrimage

Entering the Darkness of Christ

January 6, 2023

     Part of pilgrimage is visiting sites that you greatly anticipated and being surprised at how little they touch or affect you. Conversely, you also encounter sites you perhaps did not even think about that are surprisingly impactful and meaningful. One of these for me was visiting the church at Gethsemane. Built by a famous Italian architect, it is a stunningly beautiful church with an amazing facade and high vaulted ceilings painted in gold.
     But there are many beautiful churches here. What made this one special was an architectural choice that conveyed the mood of the setting: darkness. The church is very dimly lit, so that when one enters they immediately recall the verse from John’s Gospel that begins the Passion narrative: “And it was night” (John 13:30). This is a church dedicated to the darkness of Jesus, when he was so abandoned, isolated, and mentally distressed that he sweat blood and begged the Father to save him from his Passion. There is a slab of rock that is the traditional site where this took place, and it is directly before the altar of the church. This is the one significantly lit part of the church, drawing all eyes and attention to contemplate Christ in his darkness.
     Often, we know that God is with us when times are good; it is easy to feel God’s presence when prayer comes easily and we are full of joy. But what about periods of not just mere difficulty, but true spiritual darkness? When we feel abandoned and isolated from God and doubt God’s love for us, his plan, and even his very existence?

     Anyone who has experienced this type of spiritual darkness knows there is nothing else quite like it, and yet it is even there that we can be united to God in a special way through union with Christ in his agony in the garden. Christ endured and experienced all things, even personal and spiritual darkness. Because of this, there is no condition in which we find ourselves that cannot be an opportunity for deeper union with God. God is always present and seeking to draw you closer to him — even in and through the darkness.

By Miles Swigart

Diocese of Wichita

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