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Troubled Hearts: Second Meditation
Jesus’ Fight for Interior Peace
- Does Jesus Contradict Himself?
- The First Tool: Repentance
- The Second Tool: Prayer
- The Third Tool: Turning Our Attention to God
- Conclusion & Further Reflection
Does Jesus Contradict Himself?
As we have seen, during the Last Supper Jesus admonishes his followers: “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). A few hours later, when he and those same followers are praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus:
…took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.’
– Matthew 26:37-38
His experience of sorrow and distress was so intense, St. Luke tells us, that he was “in such agony” that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Do you think it is fair to say that Jesus’ heart was troubled as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that night? Absolutely. In fact, right before his passion began, Jesus described his interior experience like
this: “I am troubled now” (John 12:27). Is Our Lord contradicting himself?
He tell us that we should not let our hearts be troubled, and then he shows us clearly that even he himself, the Lord, experiences turbulence and trouble in his heart.
How can this be? If Jesus himself cannot follow his own advice, how can we? It seems like we are faced with a terrible dilemma. But in fact, we are not.
When Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, notice what he is really saying. He is saying that our hearts will naturally tend towards being troubled, and when that happens, we need to keep them at peace.
It’s like a soccer coach telling his defense that they shouldn’t let the opposing players get behind them.
The opposing players are constantly trying to do just that, and so it will take constant attention and effort
to make sure it doesn’t happen. That’s how we should understand this admonition of our Lord, and that’s how he explains it during the Last Supper.
Towards the end of that sacred meal, right before they all go off to the Garden of Gethsemane, he tells his Apostles:
I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.
– John 16:33
He contrasts two things:
First, the troubled and troubling circumstances that will always swirl around us and within us in this fallen world;
Second, the peace that he wants us to have, and that we can though him and with him, in spite of those stormy circumstances.
It is no coincidence that Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane follows immediately after this discourse of the Last Supper. After telling his followers that they should not let their hearts be troubled, he shows them how to do that. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, reveals by his own example how we can learn to live always and everywhere in his peace. In fact, he gives us three practical tools that can help us cultivate and spread his peace in our hearts.
The First Tool: Repentance
The first tool Jesus gives us for cultivating Christ- centered peace of soul is repentance from sin. This goes to the root of some of our deepest interior sorrows
and troubles. Jesus himself never had to repent from
sin — he never sinned. But in throughout his passion, he reveals the effect that our sin has on us: it tears us apart.
Why is Jesus suffering so much, so intensely, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and throughout the rest of his passion? The Church makes it very clear: Jesus was suffering for our sins.
The Catechism puts is like this:
…sinners [that’s us] were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured
– CCC 598
Jesus, in other words, was taking upon himself, absorbing into his own sinless soul, the horrible evil of our sins.
To quote the Catechism again:
Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned. But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that he could say in our name from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
– CCC 603
By doing this, Jesus voluntarily offered himself as a sacrifice of atonement — he suffered the consequences of our sins, consequences that he did not deserve to suffer. And his agony, his distress, his sorrow unto death — those are the reactions of his perfectly loving and righteous soul being inundated, in a sense, with our sins.
That is what sin does to our souls — it tears them apart; it violates them; it scourges and crucifies them, just as it did to Christ himself during his passion.
And so, whenever we sin, we create turbulence and disharmony and trouble in our souls. We damage, disturb, or even destroy our own peace of soul.
There is no room for true interior peace inside a guilty conscience. And so, by repenting of our sins — and that means taking responsibility for them, confessing them, receiving God’s merciful forgiveness, and doing penance for them — we remove the biggest obstacle there is to interior peace.
So that’s the first tool for cultivating Christ’s peace in our hearts that Jesus gives us in the Garden of Gethsemane: repentance.
The Second Tool: Prayer
The second tool that Jesus gives us for calming our troubled hearts is prayer.
What did Jesus do when he found his heart being troubled? How did he deal with that? How did he fight to regain interior peace in the midst of his turmoil, suffering, and pain? He prayed.
He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray in the midst of his suffering, and, the Gospels tell us, his prayer brought him light, strength, and consolation. You and I don’t always find interior peace right away when we look for it in prayer — sometimes, in fact, our prayer itself is a battle, especially when we find that God’s will doesn’t agree with our natural preferences.
But Jesus is teaching us that if we persevere in prayer, and if we develop — day by day — a truly mature life of prayer, this will help us experience his peace in our hearts.
St. Luke has a truly amazing line in his description of this scene. He writes in Chapter 22, verse 44: “He [Jesus] was in such agony and he prayed so fervently…”
As Jesus’ suffering intensified, so did his prayer. And in the same passage, in verse 40, Jesus tells his followers to do the same thing: “Pray,” he says to the disciples, “that you may not undergo the test.”
Jesus’ first reaction to the stirring up of trouble in his heart is prayer — and we must learn to make that our first reaction too.
St. Paul learned this lesson, and he taught it to his fellow Christians in Philippi with one of the greatest passages in all his Letters (Philippians 4:6-7):
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Prayer, turning to God whenever we feel our hearts threatened with worry, fear, anger, anxiety, or any other trouble – that’s the second tool Jesus gives us in the Garden of Gethsemane to help us cultivate interior peace.
And of course we will be much better at using this tool in crisis-times if we have formed a healthy of habit of prayer during non-crisis-times.
The Third Tool: Turning Our Attention to God
The third tool Jesus gives us for cultivating his peace in our hearts is turning our attention to God — thinking about God and God’s will instead of getting stuck in our difficulties.
When trouble is knocking at the door of our hearts, we have a natural tendency to focus our attention on it. We are like St. Peter in the famous Gospel passage when he walked on water on the Sea of Galilee.
He was going along fine until he noticed just how stormy the storm was. As soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus and turned them onto the waves and the clouds and the storm, he began to sink (cf. Matthew 14:25-33).
Jesus followed a different mental itinerary in the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt the storm crash over his soul, and he knelt down in prayer.
And in his prayer, he first acknowledged his own trepidation and fear; he didn’t deny it or ignore it — this is when he says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me” (Luke 22:42).
But he didn’t stop there. As terrible as the storm was, he turned his attention away from the wind and the waves, and put it on his Father in Heaven, on God’s will. He continued his prayer by saying: “still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
In the midst of our interior battles, it is not easy to do this, to turn our attention away from the source of the turbulence and put it on God, God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s wisdom.
It wasn’t easy for Jesus to do — St. Matthew explains that Jesus kept repeating this back-and-forth prayer over an extended period of time.
St. Matthew writes: “He… withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again…” (Matthew 26:45).
St. Augustine has a theory that during this prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus actually recited, prayerfully, Psalm 119 as a way to keep his mind focused on his Father’s will: Psalm 119 is the longest of the 150 Psalms and it is an extended meditation on the power, the goodness, and the wisdom of God’s will.
It is a hard battle to stay focused on God when we feel our hearts besieged, but it is possible. Jesus did it, and with his help, we can do it too.
But we have to form the habit, and that means being proactive and intentional in what we think about and pay attention to even when we aren’t in the midst of a storm.
This too St. Paul emphasized in his Letter to the Christians in Philippi (Philippians 4:8-9):
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Developing the habit of turning our attention to God — when we feel trouble coming on, and when we don’t — this is the third tool Jesus gives us for cultivating his peace in our hearts.
Conclusion & Further Reflection
So Jesus doesn’t contradict himself. When he commands us not to let our hearts be troubled, he knows what he is saying. He knows that trouble will constantly be attacking our hearts, just as it attacked him during his Passion.
And he also knows that, with the help of his grace, we can use the three tools he gave us in the Garden of Gethsemane — repentance, prayer, and turning our attention to God — to defend and spread his peace within us, no matter what.
Take some time now to gaze at Jesus, in the silence of your heart, as he shows us the path to interior peace. And reflect on how these three tools can help you follow that path in your own, unique life-situation.
￼￼￼￼The following questions and Biblical passages may help you in your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1 What types of situations or events most frequently tend to threaten or disturb my interior peace?
2 How firmly do I believe that, by following Christ’s example and plugging into his grace, I can truly learn to obey his commandment to “not let my heart be troubled”?
3 Reflect on the three tools for cultivating interior peace: repentance, prayer, turning one’s attention to God. What place have they had in my life over all? What place do they have in my day-to-day life?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer
and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
– Philippians 4:6-8
LORD, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me. Rather, I have stilled my soul; like a weaned child to its mother, weaned is my soul. Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever.
– Psalm 131
My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not fall. My deliverance and honor are with God, my strong rock; my refuge is with God. Trust God at all times, my people! Pour out your hearts to God our refuge!
– Psalm 62:6-9
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; in all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.
– Proverbs 3:5-6
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust shall be your strength.
– Isaiah 30:15
Princes persecute me without reason, but my heart reveres only your word.
I rejoice at your promise, as one who has found rich spoil.
Falsehood I hate and abhor; your law I love.
Seven times a day I praise you because your judgments are righteous.
Lovers of your law have much peace; for them there is no stumbling block.
I look for your salvation, LORD, and I fulfill your commandments.
I observe your testimonies; I love them very much.
I observe your precepts and testimonies; all my ways are before you.
– Psalm 119:161-168
You may want to read the whole Psalm, which St. Augustine surmises was prayed by Jesus in Gethsemane