The Agony of Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane

First Saturday Devotion - 7th March 2020

Matthew 26, verses 36-46; Luke 22, verses 39-46

We are now in the season of Lent. It is fitting that we meditate on this mystery of the Rosary: the agony of Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane. We live in a World today when suffering and persecution are operating on an unparalleled scale since the time of the Holocaust. It is the time-honoured question which burdens the heart of every soul: why does God allow such suffering. How do we deal with this question?

Here Jesus is revealing to us the true nature of sacrificial love. He is displaying all the agony of His heart as He prays for His Creation, for the salvation of every soul He has made. This is made obvious by His physical suffering. This suffering is far more acute than the later terrible wounds of the Cross. This is the suffering of a soul which manifests itself in the sweat coming from His body like ‘drops of blood’. In medical terms this is a manifestation of extreme agony in the body. It can and does happen. It is one of the most extreme symptoms.

St Luke was a doctor. He specifically makes reference to this in medical terms which was a recognised condition in his age. It is called hematidrosis. This is when blood is excreted into the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture thus causing a bleed into the perspiration. The causes of this condition are acute fear and intense mental contemplation. It is also interesting to note that hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming very tender and fragile which would have made the suffering of Christ in the Passion all the more painful.

St Matthew records that Jesus said, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death’. (Matthew: 26: 38) This is an agony beyond our understanding. Why is Jesus in such agony? This is answered simply by Archbishop Sheen who sees this as Jesus viewing all the sin of humanity, through time in eternity. Jesus is taking on the suffering and sin of every soul who has ever walked on the face of this Earth. From His place as the Creator, He is aware of all; history is there before Him. He sees all unveiled, every wasted life and senseless suffering in war and man-made scenarios. He, in His humanity, quails at the suffering He must undergo for all His Creation but, in the end, He surrenders to the ultimate Divine Will, saying, ‘Thy Will be done”. (Luke 22:42)

The Father has asked for His ultimate sacrifice, that Jesus Himself should be the sacrificial lamb to make atonement for all sin. This is the cosmic struggle, the fight between God and the Evil One, which manifests itself in the Garden through the prayer of Jesus. It is this which He contemplates in this hour of need. The disciples sleep. He asks them to keep Him company in prayer three times. Each time they fail in their human fatigue. Eventually He gives them permission to sleep. The angels come to support Jesus in His prayer.

There is a lesson here for us all. Jesus, in facing an unendurable situation, resorts to prayer with the Father. He, who is the God of all, need not have to pray. However, He is pointing the way for us all. It is only through prayer that answers can come. It is only by being in a relationship with God that we can find a way forward in suffering. Indeed, suffering itself is a grace by which we may grow in holiness.

Sue Ryder once said, when speaking in relation to the suffering of her patients from the holocaust, there is a value in suffering. She went on to ask of the young generation at the time: how do we teach them the value of suffering? This question is as true now as it was then. We live in a world of material comfort almost never surpassed. Yet, we are walking further and further away from Christ and His teaching. The answer to our physical needs creates a wall between us and God which prevents us from coming to Him. We are evolving our own rules and regulations for living that are far from the Commandments of God. Part of this is that we fail to see the nature of suffering in our history and the value of what this teaches us about our relationship with the Creator.

Every saint has been through a time of pain and suffering in order to come into a deeper relationship with God. We do not have to look far to see the teaching of Our Lady to the children of Fatima. Here she asked them to offer up their small sufferings for the sins of humanity. They learnt this lesson well and in death were still uniting with Our Lady in their illness when suffering from the great flu epidemic which eventually killed both Francisco and Jacinta. The word ‘reparation’ occurs more often than any other in the messages of Fatima. It tells us that by uniting to God in prayer and suffering, we can make right the wounds of sin. Not only that, we can unite to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and do what the disciples were too tired to do, namely, help Jesus make reparation for the sins of all humanity.

This is the simple message of the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The suffering of Jesus in the Garden goes to the heart of the Passion Story. Here we see the real battle being enacted out with the Evil One. Jesus, here is undertaking to make right the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden which led to their exile. He has chosen to accept the call of His Father to be the ‘Sacrificial Lamb’ who will lay down His life for the whole flock. It is fitting that the scene for this event is in a Garden, replicating the venue for the fall. In this act, all sin is negated by the death of Jesus on the Cross. Humanity, created by God, is put back into a right relationship with the Creator which is revealed on the Cross by the promise made to the repentant thief. He is promised a place in Paradise with Jesus that evening. When we contemplate this mystery with Jesus, we too are entering the Garden. We are at His side in prayer. We are making reparation with Jesus for the sins of humanity.

Jesus used two words to the disciples in His request for their help. He says ‘watch and pray’. This message is for us all who read them. Jesus is saying to us, ‘watch’. In other words, be alert. Be open to the needs of the world. See where there is suffering and where there is pain. Then He says, ‘pray’. The answer for all suffering in the world is prayer. The two words go together as Jesus is teaching us. Why do intelligent men and women respond to the call of the Spirit by taking on the vows of the religious life, turn from the World and seek a life of prayer? More especially why do they withdraw completely from the world into the enclosed contemplative or hermitic life? This is the call of God and His answer to all the ills and perils of our Earth. Again, we listen to the command of Jesus, ‘watch and pray’.

Jesus needs this ministry. He calls us. The ability to do this is in the prayer of Adoration when we sit still and meditate with Jesus in prayer. It is a ministry available to all. Why not come and join Jesus? He is still calling His disciples today. The call is to each and every one of us. Come and sit with Jesus. Be at prayer for His Creation. Each and every soul is precious to Him. Archbishop Sheen called his holy hour with Jesus the most precious discipline of his life after Holy Mass in the call to holiness. Should we not join him this Lent?

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