July - September 2005, No. 2

Rosary Crusade Clarion

The Agony in the Garden

By Rev. Fr. Emanuel Herkel SSPX

It is with great pleasure that we provide you today with a selection of thoughts from Rev. Fr. James Groenings S.J., taken from his book “The Passion of Jesus”, first published in 1908, and reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers Inc. (P.O. Box 424, Rockford, Illinois, 61105). It is an excellent source for meditation and contemplation. We heartily recommend it.

The sufferings of our Savior’s Passion began with the Agony in the Garden. It was night; after the Last Supper our Lord went out of Jerusalem with His disciples to this place; He left most of them behind, and entered the garden with Peter, James, and John. Then, telling these three to watch and pray, Jesus began to pray alone. Our Lord’s soul was so troubled that He physically sweated blood. The evangelists have recorded Christ’s emotions: “He began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. Then He said to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” –Mt. 26:37-38. “He began to fear and to be heavy. And He said to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” –Mk. 14: 33-34.

These expressions explain the mental sufferings of our Savior. They speak of sadness, of fear and of heaviness. Sadness results from present evil; fear arises from the thought of future evil, which seems very difficult to avoid; heaviness of heart is felt both under the pressure of present evils and at the thought of future evils which appear unavoidable and therefore weigh upon the soul.

We are here confronted by a great mystery. On the one hand, the Soul of Christ, from the moment of its creation, enjoyed the beatific vision and, in consequence, untold happiness; but, on the other hand, it experienced sorrows even unto death. Only an incomprehensible miracle of Divine Power and Love could bring this about.

St. Luke (22:43-44) tells us more, especially about the bloody sweat: “and being in an agony He prayed the longer. And His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.” This agony came from the fear of death, yet we must see that our Lord’s fear was not like ours. In the rest of men, this fear usually arises from three causes: from the consciousness of sins committed in the past, from the uncertainty of the future lot awaiting the soul and, lastly, from the natural reluctance of the soul to leave the body. It is evident that in Christ the fear of death could not arise from the first or second causes, for He had nothing to regret in the past, and, as to the future, He knew full well that He would go to the Father. His fear of death arose, therefore, from the last mentioned cause, the natural reluctance of the soul to leave the body, and moreover, it was deliberate. The agony of the Savior therefore consisted in the struggle between His will to die and the natural revulsion – also freely felt- of the soul to leave its body. It was, indeed, a most remarkable conflict amongst the faculties of the God-Man.

This bloody sweat, which accompanied the fear of death, therefore, was the result of the struggle and not of the fear. Fear does not drive the blood out of the heart, but rather back into it, producing the pale skin color of someone who is frightened. The bloody sweat must have been the result of an opposite effort of the will to overcome the fear of death. It must have been a powerful effort which drove the blood, after it had retreated through fear, back to the surface of the body and out through the pores of the skin. St. Matthew tells us that Jesus fell upon His face, praying -Mt. 26:39. There He laid, the Almighty, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, like a worm in the dirt. Drops of His Precious Blood fell upon the earth, freeing the world from an ancient curse; like the blood of Able they cried to heaven, however, not for vengeance, but for mercy.

Let us go on to consider the chief causes of this agony. Our Savior had a clear knowledge of all the pains He would endure. The images of the tortures arranged themselves vividly before His eyes. He beheld the bloody scourge, the crown of thorns, the false testimonies, the scorn of the crowd, and the altar of sacrifice on Golgotha. These dreadful images were so real that He felt pain at the very thought of them. It should be no surprise that Jesus, as a man, was afraid of torture. Who would not be? Still, St. John Chrysostom has told us that we should err were we to think that the knowledge of all these sufferings was the principal cause of the mental grief and anguish of our Lord. For no matter how fearful these sufferings were, the Redeemer had anxiously desired them and intensely longed for them. No matter how heavy, how shameful the cross might be, no matter that to many it was a folly and a scandal, it would also bring salvation unto many; for Christ Himself it would be the foundation of His glory; to the heavenly Father it would bring infinite honor.

It must then, have been something else that made the Soul of our Savior tremble; it must have been something else that could engage the Man God in a struggle between His will and His emotions. It was sin. “The sorrows of death surrounded me: and the torrents of iniquity troubled me”–Ps. 17:5. The heavenly Father imposed an immense burden on the Son: all the injustice of the whole world, the sins of all nations, the sins of all times, the sins of the rich and the poor, the powerful and the slaves, the sins of parents and children. These iniquities did not sully Christ’s pure Soul, but they pressed His Body to the ground.

To us, indeed, who know so little of the supernatural, sin often appears in more subdued colors. We excuse it: we consider it a mere weakness. We fear at most the penalties of sin threatened by God’s anger. But the Soul of Christ saw, clearly and distinctly, not only the entire series of sins, from the disobedience of Adam to the Abomination of Desolation, but also all the malice, the revolt, the contempt, the dark ingratitude, the refusal of Love, contained in each and every sin. Even when we recognize the wrong done to Almighty God by our sins, we take it little to heart, because we love God so little. But the Soul of Christ, which sought nothing more strenuously than the glory of His heavenly Father, and which loved Him with an immeasurable love, a love greater than that of all the Cherubim and Seraphim, felt most vividly the wrong inflicted on the Divine Majesty by sin.

It is good to often consider this sorrowful mystery of the Rosary. Let us firmly resolve to flee from sin and to often receive the sacrament of penance. Henceforth we must live so as to justify the hope that when we are in the agony of death, the agony of Christ may bring us, not despair, but solace: not ruin, but salvation. Amen.