Five Days of Sorrow
Reflections for Monday in Holy Week: His Agony in the Garden
"Follow Our Lord into this dark hour, this black night of His deepest agony. Have you ever known sorrow? Surely, you have, in some form or another. Perhaps a love interest did not return your affection. Perhaps it was a time when a loved one passed away. It may even have been something as simple as seeing your plans (be they big or small) fall through and come to nothing."
And going out, He went, according to his custom, to the Mount of Olives. And his disciples also followed Him.
And they came to a garden called Gethsemani. And He saith to His disciples: "Sit you here, while I pray." And He taketh Peter and James and John with him: and He began to fear and to be heavy. And He saith to them: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
And He was withdrawn away from them a stone's cast. And kneeling down, He prayed. Saying: "Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me: but yet not My will, but Thine be done." And there appeared to Him an angel from Heaven, strengthening Him.
And He cometh to His disciples and findeth them asleep. And He saith to Peter: "What? Could you not watch one hour with Me? Watch ye: and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again the second time, He went and prayed, saying: My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, Thy will be done."
And His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. And when He rose up from prayer and was come to the disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow.
And going away again, being in an agony, He prayed the longer, saying the same words. (Composite of Matt. 26:38-44, Mark. 14:32-39, Luke 22:39-46)
Follow Our Lord into this dark hour, this black night of His deepest agony. Have you ever known sorrow? Surely, you have, in some form or another. Perhaps a love interest did not return your affection. Perhaps it was a time when a loved one passed away. It may even have been something as simple as seeing your plans (be they big or small) fall through and come to nothing.
Do you remember that sorrow? Try to recall it now, in order that you may enter into union with Our Lord's agony in the garden. Remember how oppressive it felt? Recall the great weight of it, bearing down on you, so that - in some cases, for some of you - you felt that you could not move. You were sitting, or lying down and hardly felt like standing, or eating. Remember the overwhelming exhaustion of it. Remember the ache in your heart.
This is what Our Lord felt in the garden. Because He was Divine, and His human nature was perfect, His ability to sense and feel emotion was far more perfected than yours. Add to that the fear and trepidation He must have felt. Have you ever scheduled an appointment which you did not wish to keep? Maybe it was a trip to the dentist, or a difficult confrontation with a friend. Recall how your heart beat faster the closer you got to the appointed time, how your nerves were wrecked, how you trembled a little. Remember the dry feeling in your mouth, the agitated breathing patterns.
These were all known to Our Lord that night. Imagine! He knew full well that, within an hour - sixty short minutes - He would be arrested by the temple guard, harassed, beaten, spit upon, kicked, knocked to the ground, and mocked. Anticipation can cause a sort of bodily suffering all by itself, and I am certain you know this from experience. If you do not know what I am talking about, conduct this little experiment: ask a friend to slap you in the face with some force (tell him you'll forgive him later), but tell him that he must wait 30 seconds before he delivers the blow, and when he does deliver it, he must raise his hand to strike and hold it there for a few seconds before he strikes. What did your body do during that 30 seconds of anticipation? When your friend raised his hand back to strike you, did you not feel a slight anticipatory pain in your face? What must that perfect knowledge, multiplied a thousand times, have done to Our Lord's senses? We need not speculate - we know. He says, "My soul is sorrowful, even unto death," and we read that He sweat great drops of blood. Did you know that the body's ability to sweat blood is an established medical fact? I quote here from a doctor:
"Let us remember that the only evangelist to record the fact was a physician. And our venerated colleague, Luke, medicus carissimus [fn: "the beloved physician," Colossians 4:14], does so with the precision and conciseness of a good clinician. Hematidrosa is a very rare phenomenon, but has been well described. It is produced, as Dr. Le Bec has written, in "very special conditions: great physical debility accompanied by violent mental disturbance, following on profound emotion or great fear." [Dr. Le Bec, Le Supplice de la Croix] … Dread and horror are here at their maximum, and so is mental disturbance. This is what St. Luke meant by agonia, which in Greek signifies a combination of struggle and anxiety." (Pierre Barbet, M.D., A Doctor at Calvary, pg. 160)
Does this description not fill you, dear Reader, with great pity? Do your eyes not cloud over with tears at the thought that your precious Lord felt the most intense "dread and horror," "mental disturbance," and "struggle and anxiety?" We often miss the stark reality of the situation. Our Lord saw the inevitable: His Father was saying, "it is My will that you subject Yourself to whatever they wish to do to You," and on the other side, His enemies were saying, "we wish to torture and kill You." Would that not inspire the greatest "dread and horror?" Dr. Barbet goes on to describe the biological process of sweating blood:
"How can one explain this? There is an intense vasolidation of the subcutaneous capillaries, which burst on contact with the millions of sudoripary glands. The blood mingles with the sweat, and it is this mixture which forms into beads and flows over the whole body, in a sufficient quantity to fall to the ground. Note that this microscopic hemorrhage is produced all over the skin, which thus already suffers a general injury, and becomes sore and tender while awaiting the blows to come." (Barbet, pg. 160)
Thus do we see that Our Lord, in addition to suffering the mental anxiety that comes with the anticipation of His tortures, also suffered a general soreness and tenderness of skin due to the blood-sweat. Already He is suffering bodily pain, and He has not even met the cruel soldiers yet. Think also of this: if His skin was already sore and tender all over from the blood-sweat, how much more sensitive (and thus, susceptible to greater pain) must His skin have been when the Roman soldiers began to tear it from His body during the awful scourging?
Make a prayer of thanksgiving, even now, as you contemplate the agony of Our Lord!
What may we learn about this agony from a contemplative and theological point of view? The garden, of course, reminds us of Eden. We remember the first agony and temptation of the First Adam, who, unlike Our Lord, said by his actions, "not what Thou wilt, but my will be done."
We read in Genesis 3 that the curse of sin meant, practically speaking, that Man must labor by the sweat of his brow to eat his daily bread. We learn that the earth was cursed so that it would bring forth thorns. We learn that Adam saw his own nakedness, and was ashamed of it. Our Lord redeems these things and reverses the curse at every point. He redeems the sweat of Man's brow by sweating drops of His Precious Blood (see Heb. 9:22), granting to Man through the Cross that he may eat the true "daily bread" of the Eucharist. He redeems the thorns by allowing the crown of thorns to be pressed into His sacred flesh and coated with His Precious blood. He redeems the nakedness of Adam by being stripped of His own garments and suffering the humiliation.
Reading the account of the agony, we must also take careful note of these words: "Pray, lest ye enter into temptation," and "Could you not watch one hour with me? … The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Remember all of the times when you were unable - through the weakness of your flesh - to pray with Our Lord even for one hour (we may understand this figuratively to refer to all the times when we forget to pray at all). Recall these sins to mind and make reparation especially by meditating on this mystery of the Rosary. Say to Our Lord, "I offer you this Mystery of the Agony in reparation for those times when I fell asleep, whether literally or figuratively, and failed to pray."
We can also learn something important about prayer by observing Our Lord in the garden. The text says, "being in an agony, he prayed the longer, saying the same words." It is a truth of human nature that when we are most overwhelmed with agony and sorrow, we are also least likely to pray, and when we do pray, we hardly know what to say. Our Lord gives us the example: it is precisely when we are in agony that we must "pray the longer," not multiplying our words, but if need by, "saying the same words." Our Lord never condemned repetition in prayer - He condemned vain repetition (Matt. 6:7). On the contrary, He makes use of repetitive prayer here, praying the exact same thing three times over. There is no need to be creative when speaking to God, especially when we consider what St. Paul tells us: "Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For, we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings." (Rom. 8:26)
We should also mimic Our Lord in this, that when we pray and ask Him for anything, we should always hasten to add, "yet not my will, but Thine be done." When we ask the Father for something that is in accordance with His will, we can be infallibly certain that He will grant it. This is why some spiritual writers have said that requests for more grace, more humility, deeper devotion, firmer faith, etc., are always granted. The trouble with us is that we so often ask for things that are not in accordance with His will.
We end this meditation, then, with a custom that I have developed when praying the Sorrowful Mysteries. In your mind's eye, see Our Lord on His knees, praying to the Father, suffering in anxiety and sweating drops of blood. See yourself kneel beside Him to keep Him company. Then, as you watch Him rise up and walk out to meet His betrayer, stay behind for a few moments and observe the place where He knelt. There, on the ground, is a moist patch of His Precious Blood. Lean down and reverently kiss the Precious Blood. Take some of it in your hands and hold it up to Heaven as you pray,
"Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy."
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