Our Lord, having said to His Apostles, "My soul is sorrowful even unto death," reluctantly withdrew from the sustaining comfort of their presence, and falling "flat on the ground He prayed." Possibly He passed from the full moonlight into the deep shadows under the olive trees, and for a time His anxious companions could but dimly see Him lying quietly upon the cold, damp earth, at times rising upon His knees with arms outstretched in supplication, the silence broken ever and anon by snatches of His prayer as He pleaded, oh so piteously, that the chalice might pass from Him.
With what emotions His loved ones must have watched that agony, that awful death struggle! Only a few months ago they had seen His face on Thabor's heights shining like the sun, and now that Sacred Face is covered with tears and blood. They had seen Him in all the glory of His triumph on the mountain of Galilee, and now they are witnesses of all the shame and bitterness of His weakness and defeat. Under these strong emotions and exhausted by the tender feelings evoked in the supper chamber, it is not surprising that sleep crept over the weary and sorrowful Apostles in spite of their sympathy with their suffering Master; and so they saw perhaps only the early stages of the agony and heard only the first words of His prayer.
On during the long hours He prayed alone. In the darkness He cried out: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee, remove this chalice from Me; but not what I will, but what Thou wilt." How terrible this prayer if He who said, alluding to this hour, "I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished," must now beg the Father to take the chalice from His blood-stained lips! Possibly the chalice, for the removal of which He pleaded, was that His Blood would not be shed till the morrow at the ninth hour, and He was piteously imploring His Father to hasten the time of the great sacrifice when the last drop of His Blood would be poured out from His Sacred Heart.
Had He not said to Judas: "What thou dost, do quickly"? May we not think that the Father to some extent at least granted the request of His loving Son, that the Father could not resist the cry of anguish from those loved lips, and so to satisfy His yearning for the pains and humiliations of the morrow He allowed the Blood to burst through the pores of that Sacred Body, and, saturating His garments, to dye red the olive leaves and green grass upon which He knelt?
Arising he stumbled out from the shadows and sought His Apostles, sought them not once but thrice during this awful period of suspense. Only a short while ago He had said to them: "Stay you here and watch with Me." It ought not to have been difficult for them to have watched with Him. A mother will watch through the long night over her sick child. A friend will keep guard at the bedside of a sick and sleepless friend who is wearily waiting for the dawn; but under the olive trees the loved Master watched alone, forsaken and crushed under the weight of the Father's anger. "I looked for one that would grieve together with Me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort Me and I found none." Yet our Blessed Saviour did not complain, He seems rather to have excused them. "The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak." Overcome by the emotions to which they were submitted, emotions of fear, sympathy, weariness and grief, they were "sleeping for sorrow."
If His disciples failed Him His Heavenly Father was not unmindful of His Beloved Son; and so, when once more He was in His agony "there appeared to Him an angel from Heaven strengthening Him." In the desert after His forty days of fast and when the evil one had tempted Him "angels came and ministered to Him." Now as the terrible darkness thickens over His soul and all the horrors of that hideous night crowd in upon Him in torturing forms, God's angel comes to comfort Him. What motives the angelic messenger put before our Lord we know not, but we do know that He redoubled His prayer, for Saint Luke tells us "there appeared an angel from Heaven strengthening Him; and being in an agony, He prayed the longer and His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground."
Comfort and consolation in the spiritual life are often the forerunners of a time of spiritual darkness and combat. God thus prepares us for the battle which is to come, for the sifting and the trials that are in store for us; so the angel not by lessening what our Lord is enduring, but by suggesting certain motives, strengthened Him in His efforts against the over-powering emotions of His spirit. The angel's visit brought courage to our Blessed Saviour and consoled Him, as Ven. Bede says, "by pointing out the greatness of the future fruit not by any lessening of the anguish of His present pain." This view, too, Holy Writ confirms as Saint Luke adds: "And being in an agony He prayed the longer."
What an example for us! We are so often reluctant to pray. It is so hard at times to bend the knee and to remain quietly under the sanctuary lamp. Our relish for divine things is so often weak, for earthly attractions frequently so strong. In darkness and desolation our practice of prayer and other exercises of piety are either sluggishly performed or omitted to our spiritual harm, and at times to our undoing. It is at moments such as these when we are reluctant to pray that we must force ourselves to our knees in spirit with our Blessed Saviour under the olive trees, and remember that "being in an agony He prayed the longer." It is in the din and dust of battle that bravery and loyalty are tested. In the spiritual life our love is best manifested when nature cries out against our nobler endeavors, and the heavens seem closed to our pleadings. At these times when all is dark round about us, let us continue to kneel near the altar beside our suffering Master, and console Him by our efforts to pray the longer, even though desolation and dryness of spirit envelop our souls.
The struggle continues in the silent Garden, His Apostles sleeping in the distance unconscious of our Blessed Saviour's sufferings. Saint Luke tells us: "And His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down on the ground." The long hours of the agony are drawing to a close. The burden of the world s sin is pressing heavily on His Sacred Heart. The chalice is being forced close to His lips. Possibly He could see the flickering torches along the eastern wall of the city, and hear the footsteps of His enemies approaching His sacred retreat.
The climax of His night of horrors was reached as writhing in agony He fell upon His face, and His garments were damp and crimson, "and His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down on the ground," reddening the green olive leaves upon which He lay. The Sacred Heart was eager to shed that Blood for love of us that night. Every drop of it was to be poured out on Mount Calvary on the morrow. Thirty-three years ago it was shed for the first time by the knife eight days after His birth in the cave at Bethlehem. Through all the intervening years that Blood was impatient to be poured forth. It reddened His cheeks and His lips when Mary kissed them in Egypt and Nazareth, and now in the quiet stillness of the Garden it leaped forth before its time, a messenger from the suffering Heart of His pardon for the souls of men.
Years ago the doorposts of the homes of Israel's children in Egypt were marked by the blood of the Paschal lamb, and all was quiet that night through the valley of the Nile, for that blood saved the exiled Israelites from the sword of God's destroying angel. In the quiet of Gethsemani while the sacrifices were being prepared in the Temple, the Precious Blood flowed in anticipation of that fuller shedding of the morrow which will have to mark our souls, if we are to be free and partake of the merits of that Precious Blood and death. This can best be done not by literally pouring out our blood and laying down our lives for Christ; for this is a grace and privilege deigned to a chosen few; but by walking in His Blood-stained footsteps from the Garden to Golgotha. We are not to be delicate members of a thorn-crowned King, for as Saint Paul says: "They that are Christ's have crucified their flesh with its vices and concupiscences."
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke