The liturgical readings for this week abound with meaning for all Christians. I encourage you to take solid time each day to reflect on a passage that touches you or inspires you to meditate on. You can get the readings of the day as they are read in your local church or you can get them online or in free monthly books like Give Us This Day…usually found in the vestibule of a church. Or, you can simply decide to read Luke’s Gospel beginning in Chapter 19:28-40; Chapters 22 and 23; Easter, Chapter 24. You can read the passion of any of the Evangelists, but Luke is used for this year’s cycle of readings.
The Mount of Olives is drenched in the darkness of night as Jesus kneels to pray after the Last Supper, almost certain he will be taken prisoner shortly. His three apostle companions fall asleep as Luke says, “exhausted with grief,” presumably from the harrowing predictions Jesus had made during the Last Supper. Night. Sleep. The work of evil tightens around Jesus who has been crying as he prayed despite the comforting presence of an angel as Luke reports. Most theologians tell us that Jesus would have been savaged by fear and disappointment because his message was not taken seriously by most of the people he tried to reach, including the betrayer. The unbelievers constitute the collective evil for centuries to come: the evil of those who create death camps, displace families, murder the innocent, bend to the tyrant, foster lies-all for power. Their power is to replace God when Jesus’ message of mercy and love does not get through. “Evil is a collective reality,” wrote Richard Rohr and to my mind nowhere is it more obvious than in the passion and death of Christ.
Another meaning of the Agony in the Garden is personal for most of us who encounter the unpredictable severing of good health with the sudden appearance of a tumor or a diagnosis of a limiting illness. We worry about our families when this occurs: our spouses, children, siblings. We are suddenly in our own Mount of Olives. Sometimes, the circumstances of a loved one plunges us into the darkness among the thorniness of the surrounding bushes and trees and we bleed. Even the loss of one’s reputation, the manacles of addiction, loss of a job or career, the broken marriage; grief and even evil will collect around the soul in his or her own agony in the garden and the descent into despair.
But our faith says there is no purpose in despair. So, what do we do in our personal agonies? We call to mind that a resurrection will occur. We can survive. We may need to seek help. Others can accompany us in these times. We need to be open to any kind of help in order to know that resurrection is coming. Karl Rahner, SJ, has written movingly about the Agony in the Garden and our relationship to it. I will copy a little of his prayer about this. Cut it out and put it in your Bible or prayerbook:
“My real holy hours are those hours when sufferings of body and soul overwhelm me…Those hours when I weep for my sins. Those hours when I call upon Your Father, O Jesus, and do not seem to be heard. Those hours when faith becomes agonizingly difficult, hope turns to despair, and love seems to have died in my heart. They are the real holy hours when your grace…draws me mysteriously into your own agony in the garden. Give me the grace to say ‘yes’ to even the most bitter hours. Give me in these hours the grace to pray, even if the deathly silence of God falls upon me…
Have mercy on us Jesus:
When we exaggerate our suffering,
When we are betrayed by friends as you were,
When our love receives only ingratitude in return,
When the Father does not seem to hear our prayer.”
I wish you all-my known readers and my anonymous angels-all the blessings of this coming Holy Week and the gifts of joy and renewed faith on Easter.