THIS WEBPAGE IS ALSO AVAILABLE AS A PODCAST HERE
The first Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, the Agony in the Garden commemorates our Lord’s struggle to keep His composure at Gethsemane as His Passion drew near. That night His Humanity was sorely tested to fulfill his mission in His Divinity to die on a cross so that we might have Eternal Life.
We read in the Gospels of how he asked His Father three times to let this bitter cup of sorrow pass from Him, while, saying “but yet not my will but thine be done” (Lk 22:42) in loving, self-sacrificing obedience.
Yet Scripture doesn’t reveal too much about Jesus’ emotional turmoil that night in the Garden before His arrest, show trial, and execution. He tells the apostles Peter, James and John as they approach Gethsemane that “my soul is sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt 26:38). Nonetheless there is one heart-rending and intriguing detail St. Luke gives us!
Consider these verses from Luke’s Gospel concerning our Lord’s Agony in the Garden the night before His crucifixion:
“And he came out and went, according to his custom to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples also followed him….And he himself withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and kneeling down he began to pray, saying, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me yet not my will but thine be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven to strengthen him [perhaps like in the painting above]. And falling into an agony he prayed the more earnestly. And His sweat became as drops of blood running down upon the ground” (Lk 22:39, 41-44).
When I reflect on Christ’s Agony in the Garden in the Rosary, the question often comes to my mind: what could make God sweat blood?
Church approved private revelations can shed some light as to the horrible nature of Jesus’ suffering at that moment! It wasn’t enough that He could foresee in great bloody detail his being scourged, mocked, and crucified the next day. There was something even worse than that: the thought that His redemptive suffering would be in vain for many ungrateful souls throughout the ages to come!
While His death would open up the gates of heaven it would be up to each of us to choose to follow Him there and accept His offer of salvation in how we live our lives. Yet many souls would be lost over the centuries to come, as people would reject Him through unrepentant attachment to their sins!
Those of you who have seen Mel Gibson’s classic film The Passion of the Christ may well remember that chilling opening scene where Jesus is indeed praying to His Father, but in a bloody sweat, like that described in Luke’s Gospel above.
The 19th century German Mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich had
numerous visions of Christ, some of which were transcribed by the poet Clemens
Brentano for the book The
Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It goes into harrowing
detail about exactly what horrors our Lord Himself saw during his Agony in the
Garden: centuries’ worth of truly frightening visions of all the sins of the world,
along with much heartbreaking apostasy from His true Church. In her visions we
see Jesus overwhelmed by visions of humanity’s sins, as well by as the ingratitude
of so many of those for whom He would be crucified!
In one account she relates, for example:
"He [Jesus] was trembling all over when he entered the grotto to pray…Alas! This small cavern appeared to contain the awful picture of all the sins which had been, or were to be, committed from the fall of Adam to the end of the world…He fell on his face, overwhelmed with unspeakable sorrow, and all the sins of the world displayed themselves before him, under countless forms and in all their real deformity. He took them all upon himself, and in his prayer offered his own adorable Person to the justice of his Heavenly Father, in payment for so awful a debt….I saw all the sins, wickedness, vices, and ingratitude of mankind torturing and crushing him to the earth."
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in his moving book Life of Christ writes that Christ saw, as he put it so well, “the broken marriage vows, lies. Slanders, adulteries, murders, apostasies—all these crimes were thrust into His own hands as if He had committed them...the foul miasma of the world’s sins rushed upon Him like a flood; Samson-like, He reached up and pulled the whole guilt of the world upon Himself as if He were guilty, paying for the debt in our name, so that we might once more have access to the Father.”
And indeed, Our Lord Himself affirmed Bishop Sheen’s words in riveting detail to another mystic Sister Josefa Menendez in the 1920’s, as related in the book Christ’s Appeal for Love.
He told Sister Menendez that:
“I saw the offences, sins, and crimes that were to be committed throughout the ages…I not only witnessed them but was invested in them [emphasis mine]…so that under the burden of their ignominy I was constrained to present Myself before the face of My all-holy Father and implore Him to show mercy. And there burst upon Me the wrath of an angry and offended God, and, in order to appease His Majesty I offered myself as security for sinful man, I, His Son to calm His anger and satisfy His justice. But so great was the anguish and so mortal the agony of My human nature under the strain and weight of so much guilt, that a bloody sweat poured from Me to the ground. O sinners who thus torture Me…will this Blood bring salvation and life, or will it be shed in vain for you? How can I express My sorrow at the thought of this sweat, this anguish, this agony this Blood…useless for so many souls!”
Thus, in that brief hour or two, Jesus somehow saw the next 2000 years of everyone’s sins, including yours and mine, as both Sister Emmerich and the great Theologian and Doctor of the Church Saint Alphonsus Liquori have grieviously observed.
In seeing all the strife and bloodshed to come Jesus well
understood that, as the learned Simeon had observed shortly after His birth, He
would be a sign that would be contradicted (Lk 2:34). Jesus Himself said in the
Gospels that many conflicts, even among families would occur in His name (Matt
10:34, Lk 12:52).
Indeed, there have been many horrible verbal and physical clashes over Christ, His divinity, and the nature of His church over the past 2000 years! Jesus saw it all in great detail!
Witnessing even one murder or other such act of violence can traumatize any of us. We read often of soldiers surviving the slaughterhouse of war struggling with PTSD or other emotional disturbances. Imagine our Lord seeing so much hatred, coldness, and bloodshed combined, two millennia of Hell on Earth quite present before Him for about 2 hours!!!
Think of the stress police and detectives must face when having to deal with homicides just in surveying the crime scenes. Multiply each one of those by thousands, even millions, and you can get an idea of how much our Lord saw, millennia of murder and mayhem condensed into about 2 hours of our “human” time! And, as they say on TV “wait, that’s not all…” Here are some visions our Lord saw of His Church and His chosen souls, according to Sister Emmerich:
"He saw the tepidity, malice and corruption of an infinite number of Christians, the lies and deceptions of proud teachers, all the sacrileges of wicked priests, the fatal consequences of each sin…. The scandals of all ages, down to the present day and even to the end of the world—every species of error, deception, mad fanaticism, obstinacy and malice—were displayed before his eyes, and he beheld, as it were floating before him, all the apostates, heresiarchs, and pretended reformers, who deceive men by an appearance of sanctity…
They built upon the sand wretched tenements, which they were continually pulling down and rebuilding, but in which there was neither altar nor sacrifice; they had weathercocks on their roofs, and their doctrines changed with the wind, consequently they were forever in opposition one with the other. They never could come to a mutual understanding, and were forever unsettled, often destroying their own dwellings and hurling the fragments against the Corner-Stone of the Church, which always remained unshaken."
Indeed, as our Lord foresaw that night, the Catholic Church has often been scourged over the centuries both by enemies from within its ranks as well as from those without! Don’t forget it was an Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, whose attempts at reform precipitated the massive fragmentation of Christianity and misrepresentation of traditional Church teaching that followed. In another more recent example, Pope Paul VI lamented in 1972 that the smoke of Satan had entered the Vatican.
And we’re still cleaning up various messes around the world from the priests’ scandals uncovered by the laity! And yet, our Lord predicted the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church (Mt 16:18). Amen to that!
(On a somewhat amusing side note, it is said that Napoleon Bonaparte in his heyday around the year 1807 once threatened Cardinal Consalvi, once Pope Pius VII’s Secretary of State, that he would crush the Catholic Church. Consalvi replied that “If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?")
These quotes above from Anne Catherine Emmerich’s book provide just a taste of the alarming visions Jesus beheld. He also saw actual suffering he was to endure in His Passion starting in only a few hours’ time! No wonder He asked His Heavenly Father to let this cup pass 3 times (Ch. 26 in Matthew's Gospel). In addition, he was grievously distressed thinking about those many souls for whom His sacrifice at Calvary would be in vain!
"He beheld all these men, sometimes separated from the True Vine, and taking their rest amid the wild fruit trees, sometimes like lost sheep, left to the mercy of the wolves, led by base hirelings into bad pasturages, and refusing to enter the fold of the Good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep."
Nevertheless, he said to His Father“yet not My will but thine be done” as quoted above.
Jesus once told the French Mystic Gabrielle Bossis, as she recorded in her wonderful book He and I that God sees all time in a glance. Imagine what horrible scenes from the future He saw at the Mount of Olives that night!
And yet…there was this important consolation given our Lord that night:
"Angels presented to him all the bands of saints of future ages, who, joining their labours to the merits of his Passion, were, through him, to be united to his Heavenly Father. Most beautiful and consoling was this vision, in which he beheld the salvation and sanctification flowing forth in ceaseless streams from the fountain of redemption opened by his death....
Their whole life, and all their actions, merits, and power, as well as all the glory of their triumph, came solely from their union with the merits of Jesus Christ. The reciprocal influence exercised by these saints upon each other, and the manner in which they all drank from one sole Fountain—the Adorable Sacrament and the Passion of our Lord—formed a most touching and wonderful spectacle...
The army of the future saints passed before the soul of our Lord, which was thus placed between the desiring patriarchs, and the triumphant band of the future blessed, and these two armies joining together, and completing one another, so to speak, surrounded the loving Heart of our Saviour as with a crown of victory. This most affecting and consoling spectacle bestowed a degree of strength and comfort upon the soul of Jesus. Ah! He so loved his brethren and creatures that, to accomplish the redemption of one single soul, he would have accepted with joy all the sufferings to which he was now devoting himself. As these visions referred to the future, they were diffused to a certain height in the air."
It has been said that God sees all human history as a panorama, as He exists outside of our conception of time, in an Eternal Now, seeing human events at a glance.
Granted this is hard for us to comprehend but it raises a good question: In that panorama, does he see you and shed blood, sweat and tears? Or does He feel some strength and comfort that His passion wasn’t in vain for you?!
This to me is the great challenge of this event, to fulfill our calling to be among that number of saints in this heartbreaking mystery! It has been said that Christ gave up His life so that each and every one of us could be saved, and that includes me and you!
An important part of becoming a saint is living with Christ in you, and you in Him, through prayer, participating in His sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, and striving to live as Christ-like as you can by showing His love, patience, and compassion in how you treat others.
When meditating on the Agony in the Garden, which is the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, I’ve often felt inspired to try harder to live in such a manner as to be one of those people our Lord saw that night who gave him courage and strength to go forth into the vipers’ nest of those screaming for His crucifixion.
We are all called to give glory to God in our lives, even in the everyday things we do that can nonetheless show Him our love! As we meditate in a very special way on our Lord’s Passion, let us all try to be among those people whose lives of love and obedience to His commandments gave our Lord consolation and renewed vigor in the midst of all those bleak and bloody images from the future.
I pray that Jesus can somehow have seen each of one of us in that consoling vision, thinking “at least my suffering will not be in vain for them. They’ll honor My sacrifice with their love. At least they get it” And may we all thus be able to join Him in paradise one day!
Pray that you can give Christ some comfort and strength, in the midst of the sins of fallen humanity as well as your own trials and tribulations. Pray that His blood sweat at Gesthemane and shed at Calvary may not have been in vain for you and others, both the good and the bad.
May none of us be lost in Hell, but rather experience God’s loving eternal embrace in heaven, our true home, where there are no tears!