The long hours of the painful agony were drawing to a close. Three times the evil one on another occasion had approached our Lord with his suggestions in the desert in the days of His fasting, and three times now on the last night of His life our Blessed Saviour drew near to His loved Apostles only to be disappointed by finding them asleep; each time He returned to the quiet shade under the olive trees to commune with His Father and to battle with His desolation and His sorrow. At length the conflict was over, the battle won, and the Son of God came forth triumphant to meet His enemies. To His sleeping Apostles He said: "Sleep ye now and take your rest. It is enough: the hour is come: behold, the Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners."
Possibly our Lord's approach in the deep silence and quiet of the Garden awoke His weary disciples, and in sympathy with their fatigue He bade them sleep and rest before the terrible scenes of His betrayal, so soon to be enacted, began. Once that tragedy opened there would be little rest for those loved but weak friends. After a short interval, during which our Lord continued His prayer near His Apostles, He bade them arise and accompany Him. At once they approached and joined the other Apostles where they had parted from them on entering the Garden earlier in the evening. But His "hour had come." During the "one hour" when His loved ones slept others had not been idle.
His friends rested from weariness, but Priests and Pharisees were unwearied in their plottings. Peter, who had boasted in the supper chamber of his bravery, had succumbed to the weakness of nature, though the spirit was willing; but Judas had been energetic and zealous in his plots and intrigues. No sleep or fatigue had closed his eyes, no inactivity had quieted his efforts, cooled his ardor or slackened his zeal. He had been wakeful and about his treacherous work through the long hours of the Apostles rest and the Master's prayer.
In the distance, along the eastern wall of the city, the thoroughly aroused Apostles, now probably apprehensive of danger, could see the lights of the flickering torches, and hear the tramp of the approaching multitude. The bright moonlight and the glare of the lanterns showed that Judas had betrayed the place of His Master's retirement. To His startled companions our Lord, calm of manner and gentle of tone, said: "Behold, he is at hand who will betray Me." The succession of events is pictured to us in the Gospel of Saint John who tells us: "Judas therefore having received a band of soldiers and from the chief Priests and the Pharisees servants, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons." These men seem to have been placed at the disposal of the traitor by the Roman authorities and by the Priests of the Temple, so that Judas could safely secure their much coveted prize.
The hatred and envy of our Lord's enemies had reached its height. On other occasions they had sought His life and failed. Even in the Temple porch they had endeavored not long ago to stone Him to death, and He escaped from their hands, but now nothing must frustrate their designs. There must be now, so near the festival, no failing of their plans, no miscarriage, they say, of justice against this traducer. Judas was the leader of the multitude for Saint Luke says: "Behold a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the Twelve, went before them." The greed for gold, which was the faithless Apostle's sin, had steadily done its work in his soul and was at length about to triumph.
Only a few hours ago the Master had washed Judas's feet and pleaded for his soul. The treacherous disciple had witnessed the deepest mysteries and heard words of more tender affection than had ever fallen from human lips; but mysteries of love and words of melting compassion could never soften that sinful soul, blinded and hardened by the abuse of grace and the avaricious craving for money. Only a few hours ago he went forth from the supper chamber to carry out his dark deed of betrayal and blood, upon which he had agreed with the enemies of Christ, and now at the head of a multitude he is on the point of fulfilling his sacrilegious compact by conducting them to the place of our Lord s retirement so that they may lay unholy hands upon Him and lead Him a captive to His death. Possibly he at first brought the rabble to the supper chamber in search of their Sacred Victim. It was in that sacred spot that Judas had looked for the last time upon our Lord's countenance when he went forth upon his errand of treachery. Disappointed in not finding their enemy in the Cenacle they were at once led across the city by the faithless disciple, who perhaps on that journey agreed with them upon the signal of recognition. They must not make a mistake in this supreme moment, he warned them, and seize one of the Apostles, instead of the Master. The Garden would be dimly lit by the Paschal moon, and they were to be sure and capture the one whom he would mark with a kiss.
How unutterable the woe of our Blessed Lady as perhaps she listens to the receding footsteps of the mob! Had she herself answered the inquiry of Judas at her door? Had she with her own lips told him that Jesus had left the supper chamber some hours before? How she longed to go and warn her Son of His danger! When His life was in peril thirty-three years ago from the cruel sword of Herod she had carried Him in her frightened arms through the hill-country and out over the desert into Egypt, but in this dark hour of sorrow and dismay like her Son she must fight the battle alone. No soul can ever know the waves of pain and grief and desolation which that night surged about her pure heart during those anxious hours, and beat against her gentle but strong spirit, threatening to engulf her.
"As He was yet speaking behold a multitude and he that was called Judas, one of the Twelve, went before them." It is not hard to picture the scene. Our Lord surrounded by His anxious and timid Apostles stood at the entrance of the Garden, watching the approaching rabble. He knew in advance each least detail of that sacrilegious tragedy, and calmly and sorrowfully awaited its development. His companions were stunned and filled with fear; yet for the present they clung to their Master, and Peter even showed some signs of courage. "And he that betrayed Him gave them a sign saying: Whomsoever I shall kiss that is He; lay hold on Him and lead Him away carefully.'"
As the multitude neared the Garden our Saviour advanced to meet them. Judas led the way and set the pace for His enemies, and approaching His Master, said: "Hail, Rabbi," so as to be heard by his wicked followers, and "he kissed Him." The unhappy man had fulfilled his promise to the Priests and the Pharisees. He had carried out his contract to the letter. He had given them a sign, and that sign was the staining of his own lips with the Sacred Blood which in a few hours would be shed for his salvation. Centuries before, Holy Writ had graphically described the blackness of this ingratitude and the bitterness of our Lord's sorrows. "There is a companion who rejoiceth with his friend in his joys, but in the time of trouble he will be against him. If my enemy had reviled me I would willingly have borne with it; and if he that hated me had spoken great things against me, I would perhaps have hidden myself from him, but thou my guide and familiar, who didst take sweet meats together with me in the house of God. His words are smoother than oil and the same are darts."
Now for three years Judas had been our Saviour's companion, his familiar. From that ever memorable spring morning when He came down from His night of prayer on the mountain and selected Judas from the seventy-two to be one of the Twelve, and had picked him out to a closer fellowship, the faithless disciple had been the recipient of uncounted graces. On the mountainside and in the valleys and on the Lakeshore he had seen the eyes of the blind opened to the light of day. He had known of the deaf ears that were touched by the Master's hand and heard the music of the water on the sandy shore. He had watched the leper covered with sores and corruption kneeling as the Master raised His hands and, banishing the fell disease, restored him to health. And now after all these blessings and favors he betrays Him into the hands of His enemies, as Jeremias had said: "With his mouth one speaketh peace with his friend and secretly he lieth in wait for him." By this act of ingratitude he carried out his own pledged word to Priest and Pharisee and became entitled to thirty pieces of silver. For bribery he sold His Master's Blood. For silver he ruined his own soul.
This hideous crime which stung keenly the Sacred Heart and beat into our Lord's soul was no sudden burst of passion. Judas did not bring himself to betray his Master in a day or a week. That crime was a gradual growth. Little by little avarice grew stronger and stronger in his heart. Gradually it held him tighter till at last gripping him like a vise there was no power in Judas's soul to break away. The love for money blinded him to all else, and when he saw the hatred of our Lord's enemies and their determination to have His life, the temptation to come into the plans and schemes of the Priests for what he thought would be a rich reward, overcame him. The money, dangling before his avaricious soul, destroyed his gradually weakening allegiance to the Master and swept him to his ruin. So it is with every human passion; if its beginning is neglected it grows stronger in the heart and takes deeper root, and if we are not upon our guard the day can come when there will be no power in the human will to pluck it out; it will push its roots deeper until it, too, leads us away from our allegiance to Christ and drags us to our irreparable ruin.
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke