Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

One of our teens has asked me to post the reflection I gave at Youth Group this past Sunday night during Adoration. “YG Junkie”, thanks for asking and glad that you liked it; here it is, more or less:

Before I begin the Scriptural meditation, I have to say that you all are…amazing. It is amazing that there are over 40 of you here for Adoration. Some of you only come out for Adoration! And, you bring your friends. This is not normal. Not every youth group does this. This is extraordinary! I’ve told you before that I’ve worked with teens for many years now, and I’ve never seen this. Not only do you come here in great numbers, but you come here in great respect and reverence. When you came in here, you did it in silence and with reverence. You all are great! You inspire us adults and you please Jesus so much when you come to Adoration. It is so awesome!

As we prepare for Christ’s passion in a few weeks, I thought it was fitting to focus on one of the words that Christ’s says from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is from Matthew's Gospel, chapter 27:

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah." Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.’ But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit” (vs. 45-50).

I‘ve been talking with one of the college students who stayed here during the March for Life in January. She has been struggling for a while with cutting herself and depression and thoughts of suicide. She is trying so hard to move away from all of it. She has said on more than one occasion, “God, where are you in all of this?” She has been asking for Him to help her move away from this dangerous habit. She has been saying what Jesus said from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It is a phrase that I hear not just from college or high school students, but also from adults.

Jesus wasn’t forsaken or abandoned by the Father. He is always in union with the Father. But, in his human nature, he experienced what many people feel: that God has abandoned them. God abandons no one, but many people feel that He has.

Many people have been abandoned by others. They have been rejected, isolated and feel lonely and depressed. Mother Teresa said that this is the greatest suffering there is. Jesus enters into this and unites himself with all of those who have been abandoned or rejected by others and feel lonely and depressed. He went to the depths of human suffering and felt every human pain there is. So, Christ is in union with those who feel this way; and, they are in union with Him.

There is a girl from my first youth group who I am still good friends with. She married her high school sweetheart at age 24. Three years into her marriage, she and her husband were driving down the road early one morning. The car went off the road out of control and hit a tree head-on at sixty miles an hour. He died instantly and she barely survived; the motor of the car came into the front seat and lacerated her ribs. She has made a miraculous recovery.

About a year after the tragic accident, she and I were talking about everything. She said it is so hard because she feels all alone. “There aren’t any 27 year old widows who I can talk to. There is no one who understands what I am going through”, she said. I said, “Shannon, Jesus knows what you are going through. He experienced every human pain there is on the Cross. He is the only one who knows what you’re going through; and, you know what He went through. You are right there with Him on the Cross”. She would say later that it was one of the two most powerful conversations she’s ever had.

When Shannon was in your position in high school, she hadn’t experienced any real kind of suffering and probably thought that a talk like this didn’t apply to her. In whatever way you all are suffering now or will suffer in the future, Christ has experienced it and is always with you. He knows what you are going through and you know what he went through. He mourns for you and for the sorrows in your life. He wants to share in your sorrows and in your joys.

He wants you to dump all of your crap on Him in Adoration – all of the tough stuff that is going on in your life. Just give it all to Him.

He says, “come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Come to me all you who labor and are lonely, depressed, isolated, rejected, stressed out, angry, and abandoned…and I will give you rest.


At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks FG, this reflection is very timely and helpful in my life.

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read your Adoration reflection- it was beautiful. Yes, those kids are great (I know many personally), but so are you to offer them the opportunity to be there together like that.

You know, I kind of miss those reflections at the "grown-up" Adorations.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Katherine said...

A lot of times I am afraid of opening up because I have been hurt so many times in my own family when I have. It takes me a long time to trust people, and yes, there are many times I question God. Even when someone is giving me the oppurtunity to open up, I still wait for the day when they'll decide my mental baggage is too great and desert me or treat me differently. I guess I'm still waiting for that from God, too.

This reflection is a very timely and a very great one, at a time when I am starting to find answers and come to terms with events in my own life. I am hoping that my insights will help me in spiritual direction, too.

At 3:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some may remember in Oct. when a group of kids leaving a youth worship event in Damascus experienced a tragedy. They were driving from one venue to another- some kids in youth group van, others driving their own cars. My friend’s children (twins) had, along with the group of their friends, recently turned 16. They wanted to drive in a car with friends whose parents allowed them to drive. My friend said no, so his kids were in the van. Their friends were driving in front of the YG van, lost control of the car, hit a tree, the car burst into flames, and one boy, one of the twin’s best friend, died (as all watched).

On Thanksgiving, I was at this friend’s home and he told me that his kids were suffering, and he didn’t know what to do to help them. He himself was sad, confused and really angry that a piece of their youth, innocence and excitement for the future had been taken from them. I understood what he was saying. When I was a teenager, I experienced the loss of a close friend, the sudden death of the mother of another close friend and my family enrolled my sister to a special needs boarding school (3 hrs away) against my wishes. It all happened within the span of a year. I went to no one for help and went down a pretty dark path.

One of the nuns at my school finally intervened. I believe she saved my life. I told her, “I really have no control over anything in my life, so what does it matter what choices I make- good or bad?” She explained a few things to me in ways I’m still growing to understand. Though I am responsible for the decisions I make, I am not ultimately “in control.” The proof was that I was still standing before her. I can look back on all the times I made poor choices- really poor choices. I can see how often it was such a great thing that I was not “in control.” I wish she had also explained that, in my pain, “You are right there with Him on the Cross”

While, there are great tragedies that happen of which we may never make sense, when innocence is lost there is always an opportunity for wisdom to be gained. The key is in the proper guidance. My friend has since enrolled his kids in grief counseling.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes when people abandon you it gives you the opportunity to focus only on Jesus and get your life in order. Sometimes it isn't that people don't care, it is that they care so much they can't help and they know it so rather then make it worse they step away and then you can focus on Christ, well that and in my case I managed to really mess up with the person.

I had to learn this a couple of years ago. Abandonment isn't necessarily abandonment, the good thing is there is one who will never leave you alone... Christ, trust me, he is always after you.

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kind of a long post, but cute-

After the DC ‘Hood game at the Verizon Center, people met at a restaurant between games. Apparently, there was a rule about the wearing of baseball caps which none of us knew and no restaurant staff seemed to care very much about- including the management who were directly serving us. After about an hour of our being there, a “bouncer” appeared who was extremely disrespectful in his “ordering” of several there to remove their caps. One of those to whom he was disrespectful was Fr. Greg’s brother, who was sitting with his two young sons. The bouncer was a big, intimidating guy whose behavior was totally ridiculous! Fr. Greg confronted him.

You have to picture the scene to appreciate it. This “bouncer” was twice Fr. Greg’s width and taller, and they were pretty physically close to one another in their conversation. Fr. Greg and the bouncer went back and forth about being respectful- Fr. Greg about the way in which this guy spoke to his brother, the bouncer about not caring too much about what Fr. Greg thought. Neither raised a voice, but the bouncer was getting puffed up, and Fr. Greg either didn’t care or didn’t notice, but I did. I thought this guy was going to put his hands on Fr. Greg (in front of these kids). To the bouncer, I said, “You need to be respectful here. You’re talking to a priest and these kids are watching.” The bouncer didn’t care who he was. At this point, the management intervened and apologized on behalf of the establishment. The kids saw it all.

On the way home from the game, the boys I was with asked why FG was “arguing” with that guy. I explained that he wasn’t arguing but standing-up for the right thing. I told them how the guy spoke disrespectfully to his brother and others, and Fr. Greg let him know that it was unacceptable. (With boys, I tend use the phrase, “That’s what a man does,” because it seems to motivate boys- I mean, what boy doesn’t want to be like a man?) The boys mentioned that the other guy was a lot bigger than FG and asked if he was afraid. I told them that didn’t matter, because FG did the right thing regardless, b/c “that’s what a man does.”

Then, yesterday, my son told me a story about standing-up for a friend, After my son’s recounting of the details and later hearing Fr. Greg’s description of what happened, I see that my son and I need to have a conversation about being accurate in giving details and not embellishing for one’s own grandeur. Anyway, I still think the message of the story was cute. It ended with my son saying that “He was a man, like FG.”

Fr. Greg stood up to a guy who was acting like a real jerk, and he did it in a respectful, direct and strong way. And the kids took note. I thought it was worth sharing and reminding all our fathers (biological and spiritual) that our sons do look to them for the example in “being a man” and they need examples in doing the right things. I’m truly grateful to all of you- fathers of friends, coaches, teachers and priests who do that on a regular basis for my son. It makes me smile each time my son tells me that “he’s a man.”

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad SAA has such an active group for HS youth, but I don't see much in the way of activies for younger kids or their families.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger fran said...

"....activities for younger children and families."

Mark your calendar! May 16th - St. Andrew Apostle Spring Carnival.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

There are many activities for groups beyond the HS groups. Fr. Greg began a Junior High Youth Group that has been growing in attendance with each event.

Additionally, Mrs. Tull has additional events planned for Jr. High kids- last month was snow tubing and next month is laser tag. Maybe it'd be a good idea to put in the bulletin, but info does go home to school students as well as those enrolled in religious ed.

Additionally, there are many other events planned for families and younger kids. When I'm clear on all the dates, I will post them, but there will be a mother/son softball game and cookout (really fun last time), Carnival (May 16th), Father/Daughter Dinner Dance and I think there is another outdoor family movie night when the weather warms up.

Also- the CYO sports are open to all parishioners, and there are Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops always welcoming participants. They've done some pretty cool activities this year.

All in all, I think we have a pretty active parish for all ages. FYI- across of the bathrooms by the church, there is a communications center that often has flyers and info about upcoming events.

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Sometimes it isn't that people don't care, it is that they care so much they can't help and they know it so rather then make it worse they step away”

I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think we should ever step away from another who is in pain- period. Do whatever you can to help. It may never be enough, but Jesus will fill the gaps. Sometimes the way Jesus reaches us is through others- we should trust ourselves to be a vessel. I’m not saying we must be wise, but sometimes a gentle hand on a friend’s back means the world. I agree with you that a “feeling of abandonment” can be a tremendous opportunity to grow in intimacy with Christ, but I don’t think we should knowingly step away unless we would otherwise be placing ourselves in eminent danger. At worst, if you know you can’t help in anyway, ask someone else to help in the way you can’t.

At 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My mom began dating this guy when I was around 11 years old. When I was 16, he moved into our home (he had separate room, so they could be “house mates”- whatever). Anyway, around that time, this man I’d known since I was child had a different interest in me. He wasn’t my father and I didn’t any longer look like a child. Weird things would happen- footsteps outside my door in the middle of the night, the louvers on my blinds in my bedroom would be cracked when I’d get out of the shower, he’d say I looked “tense” and offered a massage, etc. I bolt a bolt for my bedroom door and kept very much to myself.

There was one instance, when my mom planned to go away and thought to leave me alone with him, and I finally told her all of my concerns. She justified each and every one of his actions, stating he was merely showing his concern for me (I had some issues at the time), but I was enough of a woman by that age to understand the exact nature of his “concerns.”

I learned to keep my problems to myself. It’s taken years for me to unlearn that. Every time I tell someone something and they question my words, I still have an intense need to “prove” myself. My mom has long since apologized- she didn’t know how to handle the situation. But you know what- for all that my parents didn’t learn and all the ways they haven’t known how to help me are the ways I’ve learned to help my own children. When it comes to my kids, I’m strong, I’m direct, I’m open and I’m tough.

Whether you can understand it now, parents and family ultimately do the best they know to do at any given time. If you care to, you will learn from their failings.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

mindy, thanks for the info you mentioned.

However, none of what you mentioned is on the parish calendar, and also I've never seen anything about a listserv, so if it's not in the bulletin I don't know about it!

Anon 2:19pm

At 10:31 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

To Anon 2:19pm-

There is a upcoming mtg with the school's parent assoc., and I'll pass your comment along. Outside of the events that happen during the school times, the parent board does plan events with the entire parish in mind. All calendars should be kept up to date and it's a good reminder to make sure info hits the bulletin regularly. Thanks for the feedback!

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon @ 2:19:

I would assume you are a parishioner here at St. Andrews. I'm also assuming you and your family attend church every weekend. After each and every weekend mass, there is, at a minimum, at least one priest that remains by the back central doors to greet parishioners as they leave. Often times both priests are present as well as one of our two deacons. Granted, it is easy to slip out a side door and bypass the slow moving line that receives a cordial handshake and, "Have a great day or thanks for coming" comment. Ushers are also always standing at the two back exit doors handing out paper copies of the weekly bulletin. If you leave through the side doors closer to the sacristy, there are bulletins available in a rack next to the doors.

The front of the bulletin has all the contact numbers you should need to contact a person within the church's administrative functions, from the priests down to the music director. Why not place a phone call or drop an email to the director of religious education, one of the priests, or the receptionist. Offer your help and come up with a plan that begins to address your concerns. Ask questions, brainstorm, and talk to people; perhaps the church already has some of the events you're looking for and they need a little extra help getting the word around. Brainstorm, do your homework, submit your ideas with some facts that would substantiate the need for activities you have in mind. Be proactive.

At 10:09 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

Another activity for the non-teens is the Fr. K Golf classic. It's a great, fun golf tournament, I believe it's held on May 8th this year. It's a great day for dads and friends!

At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the Fr K have a putt-putt option? I think that would be more my speed. :)

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Christine said...

Father Greg, this talk is just beautiful, I am glad you posted it. Though I am so blessed in my life and I have not had any major hardships quite yet, this is certainly a message that I will keep in mind and pass on to others. Thank you.


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