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This is a great time to reflect on the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sorrowful Mysteries, as with the Stations of the Cross, we have a great opportunity to meditate on our Lord’s supreme sacrifice for Fallen Humanity so that we may have Eternal Life one day with Him in heaven.
In the First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden, we see Jesus alone in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to His heavenly Father most memorably.
Scripture shows Him in a manner that we can easily relate to: knowing He has to fulfill His mission for our salvation by His Passion and Death, leading to His Resurrection, yet anxious, and even dreading what will soon be his subsequent torture and execution enough to ask His Heavenly Father three times to let this cup pass, while acknowledging in a most striking manner of obedience that it must be the Father’s will done here, not His, even though He was God as well as being the Son of God!!
Still, it's no wonder that Jesus sweat blood during the Agony in the Garden the night before His crucifixion! Church approved private revelations from Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich as well as Sister Josefa Menendez paint a fuller and more harrowing picture as to what Our Lord was experiencing in that trying time at Gethsemane.
I’ve often gotten the sense from these two accounts that what distrubed our Lord the most when he saw visions of centuries of terrible sins and wars and such was also the apostasy that would take place.
There are two interesting definitions of apostasy, one from Merriam Webster’s dictionary, which defines it as: “an act of refusing to continue to follow, obey, or recognize a religious faith”. Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary has a narrower, more precise definition, that of “The complete abandonment of the Christian religion and not merely a denial of some article of the creed.”
Any way you look at it, the point is that Jesus suffered enough to actually sweat blood that night knowing that the horrible torture and death He would endure shortly would be, as he revealed centuries later to Sister Josefa Menendez in 1923, in vain for so many of us who would not listen to or follow Him and wind up lost in Hell forever!
The theme of ingratitude comes up in both Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s account as well as that of Sister Josefa Menendez. This first example comes from Sister Emmerich’s visions found in a great book for meditation titled The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Note again that these examples that follow are from church-approved private revelations that we are not required to believe as Catholics but that have been found as having nothing in them that goes against our faith or morals.)
“Satan, in the hopes of causing Jesus to waver, suggested to him every thought by which he would have tempted at the hour of death an ordinary mortal who might have performed all these actions without a superhuman intention; for it was hidden from him that Jesus was the Son of God, and he tempted him only as the most just of men…..
Our Divine Saviour beheld with bitterest anguish the ingratitude and corruption of the Christians of the first and of all succeeding ages, even to the end of the world, and during the whole of this time the voice of the tempter was incessantly repeating: ‘Canst thou resolve to suffer for such ungrateful reprobates?’ while the various apparitions succeeded each other with intense rapidity, and so violently weighed down and crushed the soul of Jesus, that His sacred humanity was overwhelmed with unspeakable anguish. Jesus—the Anointed of the Lord—the Son of Man struggled and writhed as he fell on his knees, with clasped hands, as it were annihilated beneath the weight of his suffering.
So violent was the struggle which then took place between his human will and his repugnance to suffer so so much for such an ungrateful race, that from every pore of his sacred body there burst forth large drops of blood, which fell trickling onto the ground. In his bitter agony, he looked around, as though seeking help, and appeared to take Heaven, earth, and the stars of the firmament to witness of His sufferings.
The soul of Jesus beheld all the future sufferings of His Apostles, disciples, and friends; after which he saw the primitive Church, numbering but few souls in her fold at first, and then in proportion as her numbers increased, disturbed by heresies and schisms breaking out among her children, who repeated the sin of Adam by pride and disobedience. 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, and the abomination of desolation in the kingdom of God, in the sanctuary of those ungrateful human beings whom he was about to redeem with his blood at the cost of unspeakable sufferings.
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. The corrupters and the corrupted of all ages outraged and tormented him for not having been crucified after their fashion, or for not having suffered precisely as they settled or imagined he should have done.
They vied with each other in tearing the seamless robe of His Church; many illtreated, insulted, and denied him, and many turned contemptuously away, shaking their heads at him, avoiding his compassionate embrace, and hurrying on to the abyss where they were finally swallowed up….
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."
We also have a shorter corroborating account from Sister Menendez in which Our Lord Himself described that harrowing night:
As He said to her he found that His soul was “crushed by the weight of the sins of men, and in return for so much suffering and love, I saw only outrages and ingratitude”
As He told her “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 blood 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!”
Jesus was then but an hour or so away from becoming a human Piñata at the hands of so many wicked soldiers and sadistic men, to be scourged, spat on, until, as he also told Sister Josefa he would be reduced to “such a state of pitiable disfigurement as to no longer resemble a human being”.
In this regard, those of you who have seen Mel Gibson’s famous movie The Passion of the Christ might remember all too well what our Lord actually looked like when presented by Pontius Pilate to the raging mob clamoring for His execution.
As he told Peter at His arrest when His apostle was at his swashbuckling best cutting off a servants’ ear ready to do battle, at that moment at least, for our Lord "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Matt 26:52-54)
Perhaps, among other things, He might have been thinking of the line from the book of Isaiah “upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5). We see those stripes, scourges from the brutal lashing He would endure the next morning quite clearly in Mel Gibson’s movie.
Indeed, while our Lord told Peter, and by extension all of us, that the gates of Hell would not prevail over His church (Matt 16:18), it would not be for lack of trying from the Evil One and his diabolical minions! There have been divisions over doctrine and practice since the time of Sts. Peter and Paul in the early days of the church.
Of course those two great saints, as well as numerous others, many of whom were martyred, did a masterful job in evangelization, spreading the Gospel over the years. But when you read the New Testament letters you see both Peter and Paul having to deal with factional disputes and to reproach their flocks at times for being self- centered rather than Christ centered.
For some more notable examples of Christianity in turmoil, during the 4th century the Arian heresy came from Arius, a priest, who spread the heretical belief that Jesus might have been one of God’s great creations but he was not God.This caused much havoc in the church at the time. The year 1054 saw the great Schism which persists to this day which split Christianity in two divisions between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches over questions of authority and practice.
And In the 16th century, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, started the Reformation, which caused a profound fragmentation of the church into numerous sects and denominations, moving away from Catholicism and its sacramental life.
Yet, thank God, the Catholic church is still standing today, at times bloodied but unbowed nevertheless! Nonetheless we’ve had our share of flirtations with apostasy in the past half-century. Either because of, or in spite of, depending on who you listen to, the Second Vatican Council’s attempts, as Pope St.John XXIII put it, to“open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air” in engaging with the world, Catholicism’s doctrinal and catechetical foundations have been weakened.
The church’s engagement with the world has brought in more worldly inclinations and fewer heavenly ones. The Rosary, and Eucharistic Adoration or Processions and other such devotions have been downplayed in parishes. It’s not surprising then that a Pew Research poll conducted in 2019 showed that some 69% of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
It seems like far more people show up for Communion than for confession nowadays. The supernatural faith we need to have has also suffered. Religious instruction has been watered down, to the point where not only do many Catholics see Communion as merely symbolic but also some have even been taught that, hey guess what, Christ’s Resurrection didn’t take place literally, oh no! It was only in the minds of His followers thinking fondly of Him no doubt!
In addition, we’re still not done with rooting out those malevolent clergy, along the lines of Cardinal McCarrick, whose sexual abuse of students and even seminarians in their care not only ruined countless lives but has brought great shame to the Church as well!
Interestingly enough, some church attendance falling off can be attributed to the very attempts of clergy to go with the flow and try to please their flock with lukewarm homilies or pop music Masses. Not giving people any sense of supernatural wonder or transcendence, makes them more inclined to stay home or do something else on Sunday. To them missing Mass becomes no big deal.
On the other hand, there are those who have left the Catholic church either for other denominations or for no religion at all because they see traditional Catholic teaching on sexual matters as being too rigid, judgmental, or even hateful for the current ethos of immorality labeled as freedom.
Indeed, we have lost our sense of what is sin in God’s eyes rather than the world’s. Thus for many people Carbon emissions and being politically incorrect are far more heinous sins than abortion, for example, and, especially in academia these days, it seems like everyone is so easily offended but they give no thought about offending God.
Thus, church attendance has declined noticeably in many Western countries. In 2018, before the Pandemic, according to a Gallup poll, Catholic church membership declined by 13% over the previous 20 years!
And with many Catholics either leaving the faith or participating only nominally, along with much doctrinal confusion spreading from those who would try to remake Christ’s church to be more compatible with the falling standards of general mores, is it any wonder that it has been said that the church is undergoing its own Passion?
But think about the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it seems like it’s just more tunnel. It’s not just that God wins and Satan loses big time, as we read in the book of Revelation.
It’s that each one of us today in the midst of these unsettled times has a part to play in not only our own salvation but that of souls all around the world, loved ones and others unknown to us, through our prayers and penances offered up to God and in living lives as fully as possible in conformity with His Divine Will for us!
As the Agony unfolded, as if to give our Lord some comfort and strength going into His Passion, Sister Emmerich was made privy in her visions to what came next: What follows comes from her account:
"Angels presented to him [that is Jesus] 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.
The Apostles, disciples, virgins, and holy women, the martyrs, confessors, hermits, popes, and bishops, and large bands of religious of both sexes—in one word, the entire army of the blessed—appeared before him. All bore on their heads triumphal crowns… 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 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."
This is a very inspiring vision, indeed! Be one of those saints, “in-training” as it were, that Jesus may have seen you among that blessed number shown to Him as His Agony was winding down to give Him some hope and relief before His ultimate battle with the demonic forces the next day at Calvary.
It seemed that next evening that all was lost. Yet Christ was actually the victor as His death would be followed within two days by His glorious resurrection and his conquering of death and opening up the gates of Heaven for our Eternal Life. Strive to be among that number, as the famous spiritual goes when the Saints come marching in!!
And if nothing else, remember Peter’s stirring words when so many disciples deserted Jesus after our Lord said regarding the Eucharist that “my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:55-56)
“Jesus said to the Twelve, "Will you also go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."(John 6: 67-69). Take to heart that following God puts you not only on the winning side but on the loving side as well!