Tag Archives: Mount of Olives

The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden

Mount Olives 3

The Feast of Jesus Praying in the Garden is another feast St. Paul of the Cross placed at the beginning of the lenten season in the Passionist Calendar. Lent is a season for prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but prayer is the first.

Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, the gospels say. In Matthew’s gospel he brings them up a mountain–a traditional place to draw close to God – and teaches them there the prayer we call the “Our Father” . (Matthew 6, 9-13)

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “in a certain place”, on the plain, in the midst of daily life. (Luke 11, 2-4) He prayed daily through life; the prayer Jesus taught them is more basic than the prayer found in Matthew’s Gospel..

“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” (Luke 11,2-4)

Mark, Matthew and Luke recall Jesus praying in the garden before his passion; his disciples do not join him, but fall asleep.  

They’re sleeping because the flesh is weak, Mark says.

They’re sleeping because they can’t keep their eyes open, Matthew says.

They’re sleeping because of grief, Luke says.

Stay awake and pray, Jesus tells them. Prayer brings you through times of testing and temptation. Some things can only be done by prayer, Jesus tells his disciples who wonder why they can’t drive out a certain spirit. (Mark 9: 29) On our part, however, we are like the disciples, our flesh is weak, we can keep our spiritual eyes open too long, we can be overwhelmed by grief.

Facing the weakness of the flesh as he faces death, Jesus doesn’t wave it away in stoic resignation or look to his own power. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he says. Facing the consequences of his mission, the limits of human power, the “form of a slave,” he depends on his Father for the strength he needs.

In the garden Jesus teaches his disciples how to face life’s trials. He kneels on the ground and humbly looks beyond himself to his Father, “Abba”, who hears him. He falls to the ground, trusting his Father’s strength and not his own. Troubled and distressed, for an hour’s time he simply pleads for help. . 

“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke says. Then, an angel comes to strengthen him. The cup of suffering isn’t taken away; he will drink from it, but it will not crush him. God will raise him up.

He teaches us pray as he did and promises to pray with us in our trials.

This feast calls us to pray with Christ. It also tells us to pray with the church. Lent is a time to enter into the church’s prayer, to follow the scriptures, to enter its feasts, to use its devotions.


Remembering the Baptism of Jesus

On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem  a high tower (above) was built in the last century by the Russian government to allow Christian pilgrims an observation point to see the key places associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Looking westward is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he was crucified and rose from the dead. Just down below is the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and was arrested. In the distance to the southeast is Bethlehem where he was born. On the eastern side of the Mount of Olives where this picture was taken is the village of Bethany where Jesus stayed when he came to Jerusalem and where he raised Lazarus from the dead. Further east, about 20 miles down the Jordan Valley is where he was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

The tower was built, I understand, for pilgrims who couldn’t always get to all of these places because of age, or the pressure of time or perhaps because it was unsafe to travel to one of these destinations. That was especially true for the 20 mile trip to the Jordan River.

The tower attests the importance of  the journey to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. The Baptism of Jesus is a mystery that includes all the mysteries of Jesus we celebrate as Christians. That’s why we celebrate it as we conclude the mysteries of the Christmas season. In our baptism we are brought to share in his baptism and in his life.

In the Jordan River,  God the Father, “a voice from heaven,” proclaimed him “my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1,11) We believe that when we are baptized we become children of God with him, with us he is pleased.

As we touch Holy Water with our hands and bless ourselves, we remember the great gift we have in Jesus Christ. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

“Absalom, Absalom, my son”

Stories from the Old Testament often have a raw quality that may cause us to turn away from them. They may not seem uplifting; too much murder, rape, lies and disloyalty in them, we say.

After the Prophet Nathan accuses David of his sins of murder and adultery, he tells him “the sword shall never depart from your house.” (2 Samuel 12, 10) In our first reading today at Mass the prophet’s message is fulfilled. David’s son Absalom  betrays his father and tries to take his throne. (2 Samuel 15, 13 ff) All that’s said about Absalom points him out as a bad kid.

“An informant came to David with the report, ‘The children of Israel have transferred their loyalty to Absalom.’” David flees from Jerusalem to escape Absalom and his army; he crosses the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and then heads for the wilderness around the Jordan River for safety.

Jesus came to Jerusalem by that same route, we remember. He also crossed the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives to pray as he faced betrayal and death.

David’s advisors want him to kill his scheming son, but David refuses, because of his deep love for him. He becomes inconsolable when the young man meets a tragic death. “Absalom, Absalom, my son!” His love seems unexplainable.

And so is the love of Jesus, unexplainable.

Friday Thoughts: Pure Extra Virgin

by Howard Hain


William Dyce, “The Garden of Gethsemane”, 1860*

To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night.

—Psalm 90:4

.One good olive.

There are so many factors.

The altitude. The light. The soil. The temperature. The rainfall. The wind. The dew point and humidity. The age of the tree.

Then there are those factors that we can control: pruning, watering, fertilizing, fanning, netting, and wrapping chilly trees with burlap or fleece.

And of course there are those other factors, those that fall somewhere in-between, between our control and our complete lack thereof: most of these relate to the sneaky work of numerous little thieves—animals, birds, insects, and perhaps even fellow farmers or other hungry travelers who just happen to pass by.

But when all is said and done—when all the factors are poured into the olive equation, mixed-up well, and left to unify or settle out—the fruit that’s produced by the world’s most nostalgic, symbolic, and romantic of trees means very little (at least in digestive terms) if it’s simply left to shrivel up and fall to the ground.


Picking an olive is perhaps the highest part of the art.


When to do so? And toward what end?

If too early, great potential is squandered.

If too late, great taste is lost.

If indecisive, we might as well let nature enjoy it for the time being—for one way or another—God’s process will eventually return it to the earth.


And yet, we’re still not done, for even if the olive is picked at just the right time, from just the right tree—the one that has grown in all the right circumstances—when it comes to the culmination of olive production, all is moot if the precious fruit of the womb is never squeezed.

For no matter how good the olive, without applied pressure, there’s nothing left to be labeled “pure extra virgin”.

.But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a women…

—Galatians 4:4


* Gethsemane is the name of a garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It appears in the Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.




A Small “Sermon on a Mount”

by Orlando Hernandez.

This Thursday we observe the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The first reading describes how “as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus that has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.” (Acts1: 9-12)

The Gospel of Luke describes this scene like this: “Then He led them as far as Bethany, raised His hands, and blessed them. As He blessed them He parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” (Lk 24: 50-52)

I was a little troubled when I first read this passage years ago. How could they feel “joy” when they had lost the company of the Beautiful One, risen and glorified? He was “taken up” from them, for how long, centuries?
On December 3, 2011 (it seems like only yesterday!), I was looking out the window of the tour bus as we passed the increasingly populated steep hills of the Judean countryside and we entered a long tunnel. As we emerged into the light, the panorama of the city of Jerusalem lay before us, the golden Dome of the Rock, at its center, the huge, crenelated Turkish wall surrounding the ancient city where our Lord died and resurrected. It was overwhelming. Our guide, Fr. Vasko O.F.M., called our attention to the Mount of Olives on our right, and at the top of the crowded hillside, pointed to a chapel-like structure, perhaps a minaret, which he called “ the place of the Ascension”. I suddenly broke into tears, and foolishly, like a child, I asked within my mind, “Why did You have to go back and leave us, dear God? Why did You leave us like this?” I gazed at the vast mass of humanity of this city, torn by war, destruction, bloodshed and prejudice for some two thousand years! I felt tiny before such a terrible, formidable story.

The next day, the bus took us up through impossibly narrow winding streets to the top of the Mount of Olives, in the Palestinian neighborhood where Bethany used to be. We got off at a dusty, neglected plot where a single, very old-looking domed structure stood, the Chapel of the Ascension. Fr. Vasko told us that a huge Crusader church stood there once. I wondered why the later Muslim rulers decided to let this chapel stand after destroying everything else. Perhaps the answer was inside. Within the empty structure there was nothing but a flat rock with what seemed to be a footprint implanted on it. It was said to be from Jesus’ foot, just as He started to rise into heaven! Fr. Vasco opened the Bible and read passages from the Ascension story. I felt disturbed by it all.

We wound our way down “ the mount called Olivet” past the vast Jewish cemeteries facing the Old City on the other side of the Kidron Valley until we stopped in front of the church Dominus Flevit for a rest stop on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. My wife and I had been walking with our new found friend, Fr. Bill Kalin, making sure he was safe negotiating the cobblestones. He was an elderly man and his legs were going. But a benefactor had paid for his tour to Israel, and he could not pass it up. He was living in a retirement home near Lincoln, Nebraska,his home state, and he was not too happy about it. He loved talking with my wife and I because it gave him a chance to review his Spanish.This man had spent the last twenty years of his life as a missionary in the garbage dumps somewhere in Venezuela, ministering to the people that actually lived there. All the folks in our group had fallen in love with him. We would all take turns helping him out.

From the place where Jesus wept as He faced the Holy City, I dared to ask Fr. Bill why Jesus had “returned” to heaven and left us without Him. He graciously gave us one of those mini-homilies that he would share with us at different points in our pilgrimage. Most of you readers are probably acquainted with the points that he made. I just wish that I could convey to you the PRESENCE of this gentle, holy man. His very shining self was part of the message. He told us with a smile on his face, “You all know that He has never really left us. But He had to return to heaven for three reasons.” The first reason was that He WAS God, and He had to return to His fully divine state. He was close to His beloved Abba as a man, but we can only guess at the glory of His divine intimacy in union with His Father.
The second reason was a little harder for us to comprehend. “He returned to heaven to prepare a place for us.” Again, I cannot even imagine what this place, these “many rooms” are like. But He did promise us that . Like a child waiting for Christmas I was filled with joy as I looked into Fr. Bill’s blue eyes.

The final reason was the one that satisfied me the most. Fr. Bill joked about how difficult it would have been to meet Jesus if He had remained on Earth as some kind of king, spiritual leader, or pope. Most of us would not even be able to get a five-minute audience with Him! Instead, thanks to His full access to the Divine, Jesus can send us His Holy Spirit (which I believe with all my heart is actually another revelation of His Very Self!) whenever we pray, and seek Him. He is with us individually, one-on-one all the time! He had to “ascend” in order for this to happen.

Fr. Bill had actually told me something that I already knew deep inside. This intimate communion with God was the force that had brought me on that pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Fr. Kalin’s loving talk had just brought this knowledge to light, a light that healed me in many ways and took away the morose state in which I had found myself that day
Years back we sent him a card to his address in Nebraska. He sent us back a beautiful answer. We’ve been out of touch with him for a while. I wonder how he is doing. I think I’m going to write a letter to this man of God who was so influential in my life. Thank You, ever present, beloved Jesus!
Orlando Hernández

Jesus in the Temple, 2

It’s important to remember that Jesus, as well as being a humble native of Nazareth, was also was a regular worshipper in the temple at Jerusalem and was nourished by the great ideas and vision that radiated from this holy place.

Indeed, the Second Temple was admired throughout the world of his time. Whatever the Jews thought of Herod the Great, the unpredictable ruler of Judea, most would be proud of the magnificent temple he built. It was one of the world’s wonders.

Yet, when some spoke to Jesus about its beauty, how adorned it was with gifts, he replied “As for these things you see,  the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21,6)

The temple was not just a cause for national pride for the Jews; it nourished their spirituality. God, who was honored here, was no household god with limited power, or a national god concerned with one people. The Divine Presence honored here was the Lord of heaven and earth, the God of the nations.

That belief was expressed in the psalms that Jesus and his disciples would have prayed. Two psalms we pray in the Liturgy of Hours Wednesday and Thursday of this week (week 1) are prayers from the temple and its worship:

Psalm 47

All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.

For the LORD, the Most High, inspires awe, the great king overall the earth,

Who made people subject to us, brought nations under our feet,

Who chose a land for our heritage, the glory of Jacob, the beloved.

God mounts the throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.

Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.

God is king over all the earth; sing hymns of praise.

God rules over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne.

The princes of the peoples assemble with the people of the God of Abraham. For the rulers of the earth belong to God, who is enthroned on high.

Psalm 48

Great is the LORD and highly praised in the city of our God:

The holy mountain, fairest of heights,

the joy of all the earth,

Mount Zion, the heights of Zaphon,

the city of the great king.

God is its citadel, renowned as a stronghold.

See! The kings assembled, together they invaded.

When they looked they were astounded; terrified, they were put to flight!

Trembling seized them there, anguish, like a woman’s labor,

As when the east wind wrecks the ships of Tarshish!

What we had heard we now see in the city of the LORD of hosts,

In the city of our God, founded to last forever.

O God, within your temple we ponder your steadfast love.

Like your name, O God, your praise reaches the ends of the earth.

Your right hand is fully victorious.

Mount Zion is glad!

The cities of Judah rejoice because of your saving deeds!

Go about Zion, walk all around it,

note the number of its towers.

Consider the ramparts, examine its citadels,

that you may tell future generations:

“Yes, so mighty is God, our God who leads us always!”

The temple proclaimed God who rules over creation and the nations, but as Jesus reminded his disciples a place can pass away but the God proclaimed there does not pass away. In fact, Jesus spoke of himself as the new temple, who replaces this building and who cannot be destroyed,

Isaiah offered a similar message, which we also read today (Thursday morning, week 1)

“Thus says the LORD: The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool. What kind of house can you build for me; what is to be my resting place?

My hand made all these things when all of them came to be, says the LORD. This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66,1-2)

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Jews who had been banished from the city by the Romans were allowed at set times to stand on the Mount of Olives and mourn for the temple and their great city. Christians also would go there to remember that cherished institutions and human  endeavors can pass away, but Jesus Christ does not pass away.

I was with the people in the picture above, who looked out  from the Mount of Olives to the temple mount and Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Good place to put things in perspective these days.

Go, Tell It to the Mountains

Mountains were important for the ancient people of the Holy Land who lived at a time when maps were unreliable and directions from Google unavailable. The businesslike system of Roman roads didn’t reach everywhere. Going to distant places wasn’t easy, and so with no one to guide you, often the best you could do was to climb to high ground and get your bearings.

No wonder great mountains were considered sacred places. You could see far and wide from them. Yet, more important, mountains were also places for spiritual vision. The Jews knew that God had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai and others experienced God on mountains too.

As a new Moses, Jesus taught on the Mount of Beatitudes, according to Matthew’s gospel.  (Mt 5-7) He called his disciples and after his resurrection sent them out to the whole world from a mountain in Galilee. (Mk 3,13; Lk 6,12, Mt 28,16)  He often prayed and reflected on a high place.(Lk 6,12)  As he set off for Jerusalem, he took his disciples up a high mountain and revealed his glory to prepare for the difficult journey that would lead to his sufferings and death. (Mt 17; Mk 9; Lk 9,28)

Mountains were places for making decisions and facing dangers. Early in his ministry, the devil tempted Jesus on a high mountain.(Mt 4,8) On the Mount of Olives as his disciples admired the beautiful buildings of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus warned his followers that what they saw would be completely destroyed and wars and earthquakes and persecutions were coming besides. (Mk 13,3)  From that same mountain, as looked over at the moonlit city the night before he died, Jesus could see his own approaching death.

Mount Carmel: November 8th

We’re going to some of these holy mountains on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land this November. November 8th we will visit  Mount Carmel, where the Prophet Elijah, to whom Jesus is often compared in the gospels, communed with God and faced the cunning King Ahab, Queen Jezebel and the priests of Baal.

As Jesus preached and performed miracles, he reminded many Jews of the great prophet who worked mighty deeds and challenged the powerful.   Like Elijah, who was hounded by powerful leaders, Jesus was opposed by the powerful of his time. Was he the messenger of God’s coming kingdom?

This majestic mountain, set so prominently by the sea, was a place of worship for the  ancient Phoenicians, the Egyptians before the Jews and the Romans revered it as a holy place.

Mount of the Beatitudes: November 9th

The beautiful eight- sided church on the hillside outside the ruins of Capernaum, which we will visit, recalls the eight beatitudes summarizing the teaching of Jesus. “When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he taught them and began to speak…” (Mt 5, 1) His teaching, about prayer, forgiveness, reliance of God, patience, generosity, make his followers the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The “Sermon on the Mount” is found in chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel.

Mount Tabor:November 10

None of the evangelists name the mountain where Jesus was transfigured, but Christian tradition gradually designated Mount Tabor, seven miles from Nazareth and close to other places where he ministered.  By the 5th century Christian scholars like St. Jerome had settled on the site.

From Tabor, rising like a great globe 1500 feet from the plains of Jezreel, you can see to the northeast Mount Hermon, Nazareth and the mountains that hide the Sea of Galilee To the southeast is the depression where the Jordan River winds its way to the Dead Sea. Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land before his death, was there. Branching off the road along the Jordan River was the road to Jerusalem. As Jesus and his disciples stood on Tabor, the world they knew lay before them.

“This is my beloved Son, listen to him, ”  God says of Jesus, and his clothes become a dazzling white, anticipating his resurrection.  “It is good to be here,” the disciples say. In a transitory way, the mystery of the Transfiguration anticipates God’s promised kingdom, which comes through Jesus.

St. Luke in his gospel says that Jesus and his disciples went up the mountain of the transfiguration to pray. Painful and hard as the journey ahead will be, it will end in glory for them and for the whole world..

The Mount of Olives: November 13th

The Mount of Olives, overlooking the ancient eastern walls of Jerusalem, hold precious memories of  Jesus and his time in the city, especially the memory of his death and resurrection.  We’ll visit the Garden of Gethsemani on the lower slopes of the mountain, where he prayed and was arrested on Holy Thursday evening.

During the time of feasts, when the city was over-crowded, the Mount of Olives provided shelter for the overflow of pilgrims who came to the Holy City. The road leading to Bethany, where Jesus stayed with the family of Lazarus, winds over the mountain through the olive groves that still grow there.

“When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple,” Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple and various catastrophes that would mark “the birth pangs” of a new age. (Mk 13,3 ff)  According to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. (Acts 1,12)

In the Byzantine period, the Mount of Olives was a favorite place for Christian religious and pilgrims to stay while visiting the Holy Land.