Seeing as it’s now Lent, and Lent is a penitential season, it seems like the opportune time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last week: the agony in the garden.
It’s one we’ve all heard before on the many Palm Sundays we’ve lived through. After the Last Supper, Jesus Christ goes with His disciples to the Mount of Olives, instructs them to stay awake and pray, then goes off to pray Himself, saying: “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Lk. 22:42, Douay-Rheims).
We are told that the suffering experienced by Our Blessed Lord was so intense that, even after an angel came to comfort Him in His agony, His sweat became “as drops of blood, trickling down on the ground” (22:44).
According to Matthew’s gospel, His prayer (Remove this chalice, yet Thy will be done) was repeated three times in all. Here comes the intriguing part. What caused such anguish in Our Lord’s soul that the presence of an angel, the sweating of blood, and a threefold repetition of His prayer were necessary before it was over? That, my dear friends, is what I will show you now.
It would be a mistake to think that Our Savior was merely afraid of approaching suffering and death. To be sure, His physical suffering went to the utter limit of human capacity; to be sure, it caused immense pain, which no one but a person in total union with God (or in our case here, God Himself) could handle. But the anguish in Gethsemane was not related, at least primarily, to upcoming physical pain.
The suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was the pain of sin. Think for a minute now. How many times have you sinned mortally? Obviously that’s something you yourself will know (at any rate, I don’t want to know). Then, how many times throughout a given day have you sinned venially? How many times have you resolved within the past month or two to never sin again, with the help of God’s grace, only to fall again? How many times have you done this throughout your whole life? I don’t know about you, but I can’t count my own number of times. Then consider all the people presently alive, who sin, have sinned, or will sin, multiple times every day. And all those of a previous generation who have died and sinned either gravely or slightly, from Adolph Hitler to Henry VIII to Thomas Aquinas to the Pharisees to the ancient Egyptians, all the way back to Adam and Eve. And if all those countless sins aren’t enough to think about, consider all those in the future who will sin over and over again who haven’t yet done so, all the way to the end of the world.
Every. Single. Sin. Big and small, public and private, communal and individual, through all ages, past, present, and future. In the Garden of Gethsamene, Our Lord felt that weighing upon His soul—the weight of the world’s sin, and all those who would reject Him and choose Hell, past, present, and future (and if we are to take His words in Matthew 7 at face value, the majority end up doing that).
It must be remembered that the same One who was Almighty God from eternity became really man at the Incarnation. He became really man, and thus, as man, became really finite. He really had emotions, really experienced suffering, and all the knowledge that His suffering was necessary couldn’t mitigate the emotional devastation brought about by sin.
I don’t say this to make you feel unnecessarily terrible, of course. If you’re in the state of grace, praise God, and thank Him for what He went through for you and for the world. If you’re not, think of what was done for you and repent. And indeed, if you think about it, the suffering of the agony in the garden was itself a clear display of the Divine Mercy. No one except a person with an infinite capacity for love could go through that. But it’s very interesting to think about, and hopefully this episode beginning Our Lord’s Passion can light a fire within your soul that will help you persevere more faithfully through Lent. However countless our sins may be, they are not, in fact, infinite, and never can be, and God will always have greater power than they.
God bless, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep you under her protection.