Message of the Sorrowful Mysteries – The Agony

After the Last Supper, Jesus accompanied by his apostles, went out to Mount Olivet, on the Western slope of which was the Garden of Gethsemani. He left eight apostles at the gate, whilst He with Peter, John and James proceeded farther into the garden. The latter three were the apostles who had witnessed the transfiguration on Mount Thabor; now they were to witness its counterpart.

All of a sudden, Jesus began to grow sad, to fear and to tremble, and He said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Stay you here and watch with me.” Then He withdrew from them as far as a stone’s throw and the terrible agony set in. Staggering under the weight of crushing fear He falls to the ground, and with an expression of grief and helplessness in His voice, such as the apostles had never witnessed before. He prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass away from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Restless and exhausted He rises after some time and returns to the three apostles, seeking consolation, some words of sympathy, or at least the assurance that they were watching with Him in their prayers. Yet He finds them asleep; asleep, they His trusted friends, whilst His betrayer is awake and active. We sense the disappointment of the Saviour’s Heart in that gentle reproach: “Could you not watch one hour with Me? Watch all of you and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Without having found the consolation He had sought, Jesus returns to His former place and the agony continues. Abysmal as may be His sorrow and furiously as Hell may rage around Him, He never wavers in His attitude towards His Father; not His Will but the Will of the Father is to be done. Again, He arises and seeks the company of the apostles; should He not have expected that after the previous warning, they would have kept awake? Yet He finds them asleep the second time, and without waking them He returns to prayer. What the apostles did not give Him is now brought to Him by a messenger of His Heavenly Father, “And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven strengthening Him.” What could that consolation of the angel have been? The one thing that Jesus craved above all others, namely, that His Father was pleased with Him and that souls would be saved through His suffering. We may assume that in that moment He also felt the strength and consolation that His Passion would bring to souls of coming ages in their sufferings, the hope of salvation it would give them, the courage that would lead them to victory and heavenly glory.

Thus, Jesus was prepared for the last phase of His agony. It was the most fearful, and He prayed the more that, if it were the Father’s Will the chalice would pass away from Him. Just as He prayed and saw that this was not the will of the Father, but that He should rather drink the chalice of suffering, the agony became so intense that it pressed the blood out of His pores and like drops of perspiration, it trickled down upon the ground. At last, the agony came to an end. Quiet and composure returned to His soul, and He rejoined the apostles. As far as He was concerned, they now could sleep and rest, but there was no time left; the traitor was approaching.

What was it that caused this terrible agony of our Blessed Saviour? It was the sight of the sufferings He was to endure, the malice of the sins for which He was to suffer, the ingratitude of men and the uselessness of His Passion for so many. Although Jesus had known these things throughout His life, it had been the Will of the Father that their full impact should be felt only as the terrors of the Passion were to break in upon Him. And so there are before His all-seeing eyes the traitor doing his treacherous work, as well as the injustice of His trials before the Jewish Council and the Roman governor. He beholds Himself heaped with indignity, mocked, spat upon, scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross, hated and rejected by the people He loved so much, His saving blood called down upon them as a curse. The very thought of such sufferings is enough to fill the mind with the utmost horror. But Jesus also suffered as the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church. Into His sufferings enter as bitter ingredients all injustice inflicted upon the Church in the course of centuries, the tortures endured by the martyrs, the sorrows of every description that ever fell to the lot of His followers. He suffers for the sins of the whole world and as God-Man He grasps the whole meanness, hatefulness, contemptibility, the ghastly hideousness of sin. His loving Heart feels the ingratitude of men and the uselessness of His Passion for millions of them.

How few there are that think of His sufferings and thank Him for His love; how few that serve Him with the love and loyalty that He deserves. How much half-heartedness, selfishness, haggling and bartering there is in His service, how little is given, how many conditions and reservations attached to even that little. Must not the tempter have pointed mockingly with fiendish glee to an ungrateful world forgetful of Him, “And for such people you are going to endure such terrible suffering?” No wonder He falls to the ground in utter exhaustion, cries to His Heavenly Father that this chalice might pass away from Him, and no wonder that bloody perspiration runs down His body.

Prayerful reflection on this mystery, as requested by our Lady of Fatima, will disclose to us its significance. In His agony, Jesus atones for the rebellion of sin. The essential element in sin is its opposition to the Will of God by way of simple rejection or defiant rebellion against it and a substitution in its place of the human will. Rebellion against the Will of God has assumed gigantic proportions. God’s very existence is denied, His authority ignored in education, in the home and family, in business and politics.

If such an attitude is found among the enemies of God, it must deeply hurt the Heart of Jesus, the great Lover of men, but it hurts more when it is found among those who call themselves His friends and followers. There are Catholics for whom the Will of God means practically nothing. They go their own way in arranging the affairs of their lives. They flee from the cross and refuse to carry the yoke of the Lord. If they pray at all, it is not with submission to the Will of God, but with insistence upon their own will. Their will must be done or else they give up their faith, quit the Church. It is for the pride of this rebellion that Jesus atones in His agony, when crushed by the weight of all the world’s sins, He prays that not His but His Father’s Will be done.

The Christian’s reaction to the agony of our Blessed Saviour will be a greater readiness to submit to the Will of God under all circumstances, and to offer up the repugnance which nature may experience, in atonement for all rebellion against the Will of God. By doing this we can in the truest sense of the word, offer consolation to Jesus in His agony; whatever is done now, was known to Him and gave Him comfort in that terrible hour of Gethsemani. He sought our consolation as His eyes peered into the future just as He sought the consolation of His apostles. The fact that He found so little of it, is the reason for the touching complaint of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary about the coldness and indifference of so many souls, even such as are consecrated to Him in the priestly and religious state. For the same reason He requested the saint to spend the hour before midnight from Thursday to Friday before the tabernacle to bear Him company, to beg the Father’s pardon for sinners, to share in some way the bitterness He experienced in that hour of agony.

This mystery thus brings the agonizing Saviour closer to us. It arouses our compassion, as well as sorrow for our past lack of conformity with the Will of God; it prompts us henceforth to submit to the Will of God. We learn to pray with Him, our Divine Redeemer, even in the bitterest trial, “Not my will but Yours be done.” But this is also the most ardent desire of our Blessed Mother of Fatima, whose never changing attitude of will was, “Be it done to me according to Your word.”

– from Message of the Rosary – Sorrowful Mysteries, by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.