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Agony in the Garden: Christ weeps not for himself, but for the Church


Adriaen Van De Velde - Public Domain

Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP - published on 10/21/19

In this month of the Rosary, take a moment to reflect on the First Sorrowful Mystery.
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In a sense, Jesus continues His agony to the end of the world in His mystical body, offering to let us help Him by carrying the cross prepared for us from all eternity and adapted by Him to our strength as sustained by His grace. – Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Jesus, our redeemer, begins to undergo the Passion in a garden. It was in a garden that our first parents turned away from God’s original loving plan, and in a garden that the graces of the cross begin to be won for us by our savior.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He 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.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Here the Lord continues to teach us how to pray. He goes apart, by himself, demonstrating to us the need to pursue quiet and solitude for prayer. Addressing God as Father, he echoes the words he first taught us to say, “Our Father, who art in heaven …” He entrusted all that was to come to pass to the designs and care of the Father. Our heavenly Father, after all, sent him to restore what had been lost.

The prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is the root of the Catholic tradition of prayer known as the holy hour. Jesus invites us to be with him: Can we not keep watch and pray? St. Margaret Mary Alacoque would, at the invitation of Jesus, spend an hour every Thursday evening, meditating on the Passion. Many other saints recommend the practice of one hour of Eucharistic adoration. 

The disciples, however, would spend this first holy hour asleep. Fulton Sheen writes, “As often in the history of the Church since that time, evil was awake, but the disciples were asleep. That is why there came out of His anguished and lonely Heart the sigh: ‘Could you not watch one hour with me?’” The stewards of evil prowl about the world looking for souls to devour, and the servants of light are exhausted, unable to ply themselves any further in the contest.

The suffering of the apostles, rather than his own coming suffering, seems to be the cause of our Lord’s sorrow. St. Jerome writes, “The Lord therefore sorrowed not from fear of suffering, for this cause He had come that He should suffer, and had rebuked Peter for his fearfulness; but for the wretched Judas, for the offence of the rest of the Apostles, [and for] the overthrow of unhappy Jerusalem.” Our Lord grieved not his own pain or coming suffering, but that of the apostles, that of the Church. 

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The pains of Christ, the cause of his suffering here is best understood not as fear of his own death but rather as a lament for the Church. When the watchmen sleep, the wolves attack the sheep. Without the toil of the gardener, weeds overrun the garden of the Church. In one of her typically fervent letters, Catherine of Siena exhorts her sisters, “Ah me, sweetest daughters, I summon you on behalf of the Sweet Primal Truth to awaken from the sleep of negligence and selfish love of yourselves, and to offer humble and continual prayers, with many vigils, and with knowledge of yourselves, because the world is perishing through the crowding multitude of iniquities, and the irreverence shown to the sweet Bride of Christ.” 

Let us pray then. Let us pray like Christ. Let us seek out time apart, taking on ourselves the duty to keep vigil. Let us turn to our heavenly Father, and pray for ourselves, that we might not undergo the test. Finally, let us pray for the Church, interceding for Her, that her shepherds would stay awake, guarding Her from the wolves. Let us keep watch and pray.

During the month of October, Aleteia is offering a short reflection on each of the 20 mysteries of the Rosary. Follow it here.

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