Although I have a lot of fond memories from my sixth grade year in Catholic school, one stands out above all others. We had just finished a unit on Hebrew history, culture and traditions and to celebrate the completion of this unit, our teacher decided to host a watered-down Passover meal and invited one of our priests, Fr. Rick to join us and to recite the words that Jesus said during His Last Supper with His friends.
As we passed the loaf around, ripping small portions from it to eat and sipping Hawaiian Punch from minuscule Dixie Cups, Father offered his knowledge about Jewish customs and asked us what we had learned. Near the end of the event, Father said that he had a few minutes to spare and was willing to open the floor to any faith-related question that we might have since it was pretty rare that we ever had the chance to grill a priest on religious matters.
Now as you might expect from a group of 11-year-olds, most of the theological queries were a bit…shallow. Some kids wanted to know if Father was expected to wear black all of the time. Another kid asked if he had a curfew. Some wanted to know if the Pastor of the parish could “ground” him for coming home late or if he could get in trouble for eating dinner with a woman without a chaperone. Worried that I may never have another chance like this again and with time running short, I tentatively put up my hand.
“Yes, Julie?” Father asked.
“Well, I kind of have two questions,” I told him.
He nodded. “That’s fine, go ahead.” I’m sure he was bracing himself for more of the same kinds of things he’d been asked before.
I took a deep breath. “If Jesus was Jewish and the Jewish people do not believe that the Messiah has come yet, how could Jesus believe in Himself?”
The room fell silent and Father stared at me. “Uh-huh…and your second question?”
I sighed. “OK…if Jesus is God and God is Jesus, exactly WHO was Jesus talking to in the Garden of Gethsemane?”
I felt like the world’s biggest blasphemer, but once the words left my mouth, there was nothing I could do about them.
“You’re a very deep thinker, aren’t you?” Father commented like he was amused.
I shrugged. “I guess so.”
For the life of me I cannot remember how he addressed these two critical issues of faith, but I do remember my parents’ reaction when I told them what went down in religion class that day.
“You asked a priest WHAT?” My mother cried at the dinner table. Needless to say she was not a big fan of my calling into question the very foundations of Catholic belief. My dad, on the other hand thought it was great.
“What did he say?” Dad wanted to know. Although he was a man of faith, he always encouraged my questions.
I cupped my chin in my hand and thought about Father’s rationale, which was about 10 years beyond my comprehension…at least. “He had a big ole explanation for it,” I commented, “But I don’t think he really knows either. I guess it is just a question of faith.”
I looked so sad that my father tried taking a crack at the answer, but his logic didn’t make any more sense than Father Rick’s. No matter how many ways he tried to tackle it, it was a concept I couldn’t wrap my brain around. After all, I was baptized and initiated into a religious organization and I understood that part of the process included the acceptance of certain established tenants as one’s own.By believing Himself to be the Messiah, wasn’t He going against the grain a little and running the risk of being excommunicated from the Jewish faith?
As for the other issue, the one about the garden, well…that one was even harder to figure out. Both Father Rick and my dad tried telling me that Jesus was talking to God the Father as if that explained everything, but I wasn’t satisfied.If God and Jesus were one in the same then the whole thing seemed like a pretty pointless conversation. Looking back on it, I guess I was seeking an explanation on the Holy Trinity, not a bunch of biblical mumbo jumbo.
It would be another two years before I “got it.” I saw Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time and fell in love with the song “Gethsemane” in which Jesus flatly says that He wants out. He doesn’t want to die. Though it doesn’t stray too far from the Biblical account, it is devoid of the Shakespearean language and showcases a guy scared out of His wits. This was God trying to talk Himself out of it, wondering if it would all be worth it, asking if submitting to an all-too-human and grisly death would be enough to save these people from themselves and what would happen if it wasn’t? Suddenly, I no longer wondered who Jesus was talking to. I just knew. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show stopping number solved a mystery my priest and my father couldn’t explain and gave me an answer that my way-too-human mind could get behind. Although it would not be the last time I would question the faith, it would prove that God will provide the answers in a way that speaks to you when you just “have to know, have to know, my Lord.”