In the Shadows of Gethsemani

"And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee He began to grow sorrowful and to be sad." The companions who saw our Lord raise Jairus's daughter from her bed of death, and who were the spectators of His glory on Thabor were admitted more fully into the secrets of this awful night of sorrow. As they had seen Him in all the beauty of His transfigured glory on the mountain where "His Face did shine as the sun," so now they were to be witnesses of His defeat in all the shame of His agony, when His Face was red with drops of the Precious Blood.

Our Blessed Saviour knew that His hour was come, and from that moment when in the Garden He allowed His three loving companions but the faintest glimpse at the dark shadows of sorrow that hung over His Heart by telling them "My soul is sorrowful even unto death," till the expiring cry on Mount Calvary died away on the darkened air, the chalice of suffering, pain and humiliation was pressed to His lips till the very dregs had been drained to the last drop. Having hinted at the storm of sorrow which was sweeping over His soul, He bade them tarry where they were and pray. Then "going a little further He fell flat upon His Face, saying My Father, if it be possible let this chalice pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt."

No wonder our Lord fell upon the earth and prayed. At the ninth hour on the morrow there was to be consummated on the cross the crucifixion of His body, but under the olive trees crying piteously "Abba Father" there began the still more painful crucifixion of His soul. He had to face alone in the shadows and the darkness of the Garden the deepest desolation that ever swept over human spirit, the bitterest sorrow that ever flooded a human soul, the keenest grief that ever racked with paroxysms of pain a hu man life. All this He had to endure alone, and the shadows and darkness were the only witnesses of His overwhelming agony and humiliation. There was one, only one, who could console Him, His own sweet, pure Mother; but she is not with Him under the olive trees, but views with tear-stained eyes the scene in vision in the undisturbed quiet of the silent supper chamber. This battle He must fight alone. Only once in the history of the world has that cry of anguish, "My Father, if it be possible let this chalice pass from me," been forced from human lips and remained unheard, and He who uttered it was God's beloved Son, flat upon His face under Gethsemani's olive trees, on the last night of His life.

Who can tell the sufferings of the Sacred Heart in His agony? No angelic mind can sound its depths, no pen or word of seer or prophet can describe its intensity and bitterness. His "soul was sorrowful, even unto death." We have witnessed sorrows in the lives of those we have loved. Gladly we would have shed the tears and endured the anguish, but there has never been a sorrow like that of the divine Sufferer on Holy Thursday night in the Garden. We have stood over the open graves of dear ones, and have heard the clay falling so cruelly upon their coffins and we thought our hearts would break, and we felt that our grief was deep and that it bit sharply into our souls; but that grief did not kill, its sharp edge gradually wore away, the sighs grew softer and less frequent on our lips and the unbidden tears dried upon our cheeks; but the sorrow, the fear and the heaviness which that night hung over the strong, gentle soul of our Blessed Saviour were freighted with cruel murder. They came and struck His spirit blows which naturally ought to have laid that sacred body lifeless at the foot of Mount Olivet. Think of Him who was eternal life, who was from the everlasting years, on the brink of the grave, conquered by death in His agony, had not the Father stayed the malignant power of His enemy till the ninth hour of the morrow on the cross.

Although there was enough of agony and suffering and grief flooding His soul and inundating His spirit, to steal away His precious life before He laid it down of His own accord on Good Friday, yet the arm of the evil one was held and he could not strike the death blow; our Blessed Saviour lived on to suffer and to die at the appointed moment. Mary was not childless that night. The Babe of Bethlehem, her beauteous Boy, her love, had yet another day of life. Before the set of sun on the next day He would be dead, bruised and mangled and killed, not by the cruel lashes and the nails but by the sorrow that was sweeping over Him as He whispered to His poor tired Apostles, "My soul is sorrowful even unto death."

Were His sorrows so great that night that death would have been a relief? Was He so exhausted from the emotions which had rushed in upon His spirit that like a tired child falling to sleep He fain would have bowed His head upon the green sward and given His spirit into the keeping of His Father? Would death have been sweet to that weary body and silent spirit? Possibly that sorrow-drenched soul yearned for the relief of death on that dreadful night. The tired eyes would not close, the blood-stained lips would not be dumb, the weary hands would not be quiet. No death could come till that sacred body had been racked with ten thousand pains and that spirit had been crushed with shame and the chalice of suffering had been drained to its lowest and bitterest dregs on Golgotha's height.

As He knelt in prayer "He began to fear and to grow heavy." Emotions of fear with all its alarms and shadows, desolation with all its disquiet and weariness took possession of His sorrowing soul. When he viewed the raging waves of the Lake and heard the shrieking of its angry winds and the tossing of its foam-fretted billows, at His word the waves fell, the sea was calm, the winds became hushed and silent as the quiet of a sleeping forest on a still, calm night. Now when a storm wilder than had ever raged on Genesareth's water swept over His spirit, no word of His was spoken to calm the angry billows that rolled in quick succession and cruelly buffeted His tormented soul. But why the fear, why the desolation? It must have been the dark, repulsive vision of sin which frightened and depressed our Blessed Saviour. He was the innocent, meek Lamb of God. His stainless human nature had never been touched by the blight of original sin. Actual sin could not taint that soul, purer than the driven snow on uncharted mountains, whiter than unsullied foam cresting the waves of the salt tropical sea. His spotless purity is beyond all words, beyond all thoughts.

The sanctity of angelic hosts and the unspeakable holiness of His own sweet Mother are but a blemish compared to the holiness of the soul of our Blessed Saviour. He the Man-God, the source of all sanctity, trembling in an agony of fear and depression at the sight of sin is the fountain and model of all purity and holiness. He was the only one of all the generations of men who in the fullest sense could challenge the world to convict Him of sin. He hates and loathes sin with an infinite hate and an infinite loathing, yet as He kneels under the olive trees the awful, terrifying vision of sin passes before Him, seizes upon Him with cruel grip and makes Him feel as if He were, what He never could be, a living breathing man of sin. Oh, the horror of the sight!

Glancing back over the dead centuries, He could see as they stood out before His mind as clearly as the waving branches of the olive trees in the moonlight, all the wickedness and transgressions of men. Back to the rebellion of the angels on the battlements of Heaven, and on through the dead years His mind travels. He sees Adam's fall in the Garden and the banishment of our first parents from the earthly paradise. He sees the whole human race, through Adam's failure, infected with the loathsome leprosy of original sin. He watches the growth of wickedness and lust eating into the lives of millions until His Father repents that He has created man. All the foulness and iniquities which brought on the flood rushed by Him that night stinging His innocent spirit like scorpions. The pride and ambition of the wicked builders of Babel s Tower moves by only to be replaced by the revolting vision of the revelry and iniquities of the cities of the Plain now buried under the salt waters of the Dead Sea.

Under His very eyes the fountains of fire break forth, burning forests crackle, the Jordan and the sea hiss, and vast clouds of hot steam burn the half-naked revellers as they rush in terror in long lines before Him, and He sees with infinite pain their souls dropping into hell. The picture of Baltassar's feast, with its drunkenness and impurity and its desecration of the holy vessels of the Sacred Temple, burns itself into His frightened soul. The sacrilege of that hideous night reminds Him of the terrible sacrilege of the morrow, and of the sacrileges that will stain the succeeding centuries by the neglect and profanation of His Most Precious Blood. The hardness of heart of the children of Israel, and their stubbornness and ingratitude and sin in the desert for forty years, hang over His Soul more clearly than the Paschal moon hangs in the sky that quiet night over the ill-fated Jerusalem. The sins of all mankind, not only in the past in all their number, kind and malice, but the awful sin of the morrow, and the uncounted sins of every yet unborn age that is to live till the end of time, are pressed down upon His bent shoulders and made His own as He lies trembling with fear on the blood-stained grass.

He is drenched and saturated with crime. On Him have been laid the iniquities of us all. He recoils with horror from the impure sights before His eyes, the wild shouts of sin resound in His ears, its foul taste is upon His lips, its deadly touch is upon His Sacred Person. There is sin in His eyes, on His lips, on His hand. There is sin upon His garments. He is pressed down and overwhelmed with the vision of sin till He feels as if He were, what He never could be, one great loathsome sin under the anger of an all holy, infinite God. An angry Father, insatiable of reparation, stands over the victim of men's sins and claims full restitution. Infinite sanctity and God's justice exact the completest satisfaction. There is no time now for mercy, it is the moment of justice.

Our Saviour looked toward the morrow and drew back with trembling and fear. Before the moon sets behind Juda's hills He will be drenched with pain and humiliation, a faithless disciple will have imprinted a hypocritical traitor's kiss upon His blood-stained lips. Before unjust, jealous and cruel tribunals He will be hauled and treated with scorn and contempt. Betrayed, forsaken, bound; He will be hurried before Annas Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod and back again to Pilate. From insult to insult, from court to court, without respite, unrefreshed by food or sleep, His Sacred Flesh torn and mangled by whips and scourges, His Face crimsoned by blood-stains from the thorny crown, He will totter and fall in the sight of His Blessed Mother on the way to Calvary. Nailed to the cross amid the triumphant hootings of His enemies He will be left to die a death of shame. He knew that there was no capability of pain and shame which was not quickened and intensified by crucifixion. He knew that death by crucifixion gathers up into itself and deepens every agony that man can inflict and man endure. No wonder then that He shrank back and trembled with fear at the thought of the shame, the burning thirst, the dizziness, the racking torture, no wonder that He trembled in every limb at the vision of the morrow's holocaust; and on down into the yet unrolled scroll of the centuries He peered, and saw so much that told Him His sacrifice would be in vain, His love unrequited. Can we marvel then that "He began to fear and to grow heavy"?

- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke