Watch and Pray
March 14, 2022
Walking around the Pater Noster (Latin for Our Father) Church on the top of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem’s Old City, we looked at countless ceramic plaques of the “Our Father,” all in different languages. Just a few steps away is the traditional place of the Ascension, and here – not far from Bethany – is the traditional site where Jesus taught the disciples to pray the prayer we now call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer is many things, and among them it is a revelation of Jesus’s own relationship with His Father. In it, we see Jesus’s total dependence on His Father and His disposition of complete obedience to the Father’s will; this is a relationship that we are invited into. So it is fitting that in roughly the same spot that Jesus teaches us how to relate to His Father as beloved children, He also returns to His Father in the Ascension, inviting us to follow Him soon.
But in order to enjoy that glory revealed at the top of the Mount of Olives, we have to pass through the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the very same hill. Shortly after our visit to the Pater Noster Church, we walked down the hill to Gethsemane and had Mass in the church there, called the Church of All Nations or the Basilica of the Agony. Inside this church, just in front of the altar, is the bedrock where Jesus is believed to have prayed during His agony in the garden. In his homily at that Mass, Fr. John Lodge drew our attention to Jesus’s prayer on that spot: “Father… not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42); “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). Doesn’t this remind us of something? What about that prayer that He had taught us on the top of the hill? He fully incorporated the words He said there into every part of His life, to the point that even – or especially – in his most excruciating agony, these words gave voice to the prayer of His heart.
Likewise, the relationship that He lives with His Father in the full glory of His divinity at the top of the Mount of Olives is the same relationship that He lives in the agony of His humanity down below in the garden. The façade of the Church of All Nations bears a Latin inscription that comes from this verse from the Letter to the Hebrews: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the One Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission” (5:7). Jesus’s prayer is made from His Sacred Heart, and is expressed through His bodily suffering. In a sense, the perfect sacrifice through which we are redeemed is already initiated in this obedient submission of His heart to the Father from the depths of His humanity. So this verse from Hebrews already gives us a hint of the hope of resurrection: “He was heard.”
This Lent, whenever we join ourselves to the prayer of Jesus from our hearts, and from the depths of our human suffering, we too are heard because we give voice to the prayer of God the Father’s beloved Son. We’re drawn into the mystery of our own redemption, won through Jesus’ obedience unto death; and, because the Father hears us, we already partake in a piece of our resurrection with Him. With the Lord’s Prayer on our lips, we ascend the Mount of Olives in our hearts, and we’re moved by grace and the hope of following soon where Christ has gone.
John Paul Tomassi
Archdiocese of Seattle