Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rosary Meditations: The First Sorrowful Mystery – The Agony in the Garden

Scripture References

Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46

The Story in Brief

When the Passover Meal turned First Eucharist was complete, Jesus and His disciples walked out to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus told some of the disciples to wait in a certain place, but He took Peter, James, and John with Him. He began to be sorrowful and troubled and asked the three to stay awake while He prayed. He fell to the ground and said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not what I want but what You want.” When He returned to the disciples, He found them asleep. After warning them to stay awake and pray that they may not come into the time of trial, He went back to His prayer and said nearly the same words. Once again, He returned to find His disciples asleep, and once again, He prayed. While He was praying, He was in so much anguish that His sweat became like blood. An angel came to Him and gave Him strength. When He returned to the disciples for the last time, He told them to get up, for His betrayer was approaching.

Points to Ponder

1. Consider the setting of this mystery. The name Gethsemane means “oil press.” Gethsemane was a garden located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus and the disciples visited there often. Picture the scene, the darkness, the vegetation, and think about the significance of a garden. Remember that Adam made a choice in the Garden of Eden. Jesus made a choice in the Garden of Gethsemane. Reflect on the difference between their choices.

2. Jesus told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Ponder the significance of Jesus' prayer and of prayer in general.

3. Jesus took His inner circle, Peter, James, and John, with Him. Why these three?

4. He began to be grieved and agitated. Jesus was fully human. Reflect on His sorrow. Why was He grieving?

5. The Greek word for “agitated” is adēmoneō. It means to be in anguish, to be troubled, and to be in a great state of anxiety. Picture Jesus in that state, when He was at His most human. No wonder He can understand all our anxiety and distress. Why was Jesus in anguish? Did His human nature recoil at the thought of the cross, or where there other reasons?

6. Jesus said, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with Me.” The word for “I” here is really “My soul,” which can connotate “Myself” in the Greek. Think about the identification between the self and the soul that Jesus used here.

7. Jesus was deeply grieved even to death. This is strong language. Jesus was encompassed with grief and exceedingly sorrowful. He was about to take the weight of the sins of the whole world and all its people of all times onto His shoulders. He was grieving for sinners. Some mystics have said that, in the garden, Jesus could see all the sins ever committed, all the sins being committed, and all the sins to be committed. Meditate on this burden, which was so much greater than that of the physical cross.

8. Jesus asked the disciples to remain close and stay awake with Him. Why? Did He desire human companionship? Did He want the disciples to understand why He was going to the cross? Did He have more than one motive?

9. Jesus moved a short way away from the disciples, threw Himself on the ground, and began to pray. The words literally mean “fell on His face.” Think about Jesus' humility.

10. Luke says that Jesus knelt down. Why is there a difference in word choice between Luke and the other evangelists? How does Luke's wording capture different aspects of Jesus' act?

11. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not what I want but what You want.” Ponder how these words express the relationship between Jesus and the Father. What is the cup to which Jesus refers? In Hebrew, the cup was sometimes a metaphor for a lot or portion. Meditate on Jesus' self surrender. His human will was struggling, yet He surrendered to His divine will, which is identical to the will of the Father.

12. In Mark, Jesus also reminded the Father that “for You all things are possible.” This is a good lesson for us. God can do all things, but He does not will all things. Meditate on God's will.

13. When Jesus returned to Peter, James, and John, they were sound asleep. Imagine how they must have felt when Jesus caught them.

14. Ponder Jesus' question: “So, could you not stay awake with Me one hour?”

15. Jesus continued, “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial...” What might He be referring to? What trials would the disciples be likely to encounter?

16. What did Jesus mean by “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”?

17. Jesus prayed in nearly the same way a second time. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Meditate on the repetition of prayer. Why? God heard the first time. Could prayer be more about changing us than changing God?

18. Jesus came back and once again found the disciples asleep. Their eyes were so heavy. They didn't know what to say to Jesus. Luke adds that they were sleeping because of grief. Think about the disciples' state of mind at this point. Meditate on Jesus' response to them.

19. Luke tells us that an angel from heaven appeared to Jesus and gave Him strength. Some translations say “comfort,” but the Greek word, enischuō, means to strengthen or invigorate. Why would Jesus need strength from an angel? What kind of strength would the angel give to Jesus? Recall that He was fully man as well as fully God.

20. Luke emphasizes the depths of Jesus' agony. “In His anguish He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” Ponder the intensity of this moment.

21. The word “agony” can suggest combat. Some mystics describe Jesus as contending with the devil, who was trying to tempt Jesus into giving up His redemptive mission. They portray the devil as questioning Jesus' identity, mission, and ability to save the world. Consider this idea.

22. Jesus prayed a third time using the same words. He then returned to the disciples, who were once again asleep. Jesus asked them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?” How come the disciples still couldn't stay awake, even after being lightly scolded by Jesus twice before?

23. Jesus continued, “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See my betrayer is at hand.” Jesus once again spoke of “the hour.” What did He mean? Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him. He went out to meet it. He had prayed, and He was now prepared. His betrayer, Judas, was close by.

Application Questions

1. What kinds of choices are you making in your life? Are your choices more like Jesus' or more like Adam's?

2. How often and in what ways do you pray?

3. Do you understand that when you are in a state of grace, you are a member of Jesus' “inner circle”? How would a constant recollection of this change your life?

4. Do you turn to God when you are sorrowful, troubled, and in anguish? How have you felt His presence at those times?

5. Do you realize how much sorrow your sins bring to Jesus? How might such a realization make you less likely to commit sin?

6. Are you attentive during prayer? Or do you get distracted? How might you limit your distractions during prayer?

7. What do you believe about the nature and purpose of prayer?

8. How does your prayer change you?

9. How hard is it for you to imitate Jesus and say to God “yet not what I want, but what You want”?

10. How are you at accepting God's will even when it is not your will?

11. Can you stay awake with Jesus for one hour? What does staying awake with Jesus mean to you?

12. Have there been times when you are “sleepy” in your spiritual life? What are those times like? How do you overcome them?

13. How do you handle the trials in your life?

14. When and in what situations has your spirit been willing but your flesh been weak?

15. Do you have a relationship with the angels? How do the angels influence your life?

16. How have you struggled with the devil? Do you rely on Jesus to strengthen you?

17. Are you prepared to meet trials in your life? How might you become more prepared?

Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer

Blessing and adoration – Dearest Jesus, You sweated blood for us in the garden. You suffered tremendous anguish on account of our sins. We bow our heads in silent adoration, Lord, as we recognize Your unwavering, unending love for us.

Praise – We praise you, Jesus, for Your courage. Even though You are God, You are still Man, and as a Man, you had to battle with the devil. But You won! You conquered him in the garden; You conquered him on the cross; and You saved us from his clutches. We praise You, victorious Jesus.

Thanksgiving – Jesus, we thank You for showing us that You can and do understand all our trials, both physical and mental. In the garden, You experienced extreme distress and sorrow. We thank You for accepting Your Father's will even in the face of that pain and choosing to go to the cross for our salvation.

Intercession – Jesus, we lift up to You all people who are experiencing fear, grief, sorrow, distress, and affliction. Hold them close to You, Lord, and calm their hearts. Wrap them in a warm blanket of Your love that they may feel and know Your understand, gentle care.

Petition – Jesus, please give us strength in our hours of fear and anguish. Inspire us to turn to prayer when we are in need and always to surrender to Your will when we must drink from the cup of suffering.

Quotes from the Saints

“But seeing that prayer is the sending up the understanding to God, or the asking of God things fitting, how did the Lord pray? For His understanding needed not to be lifted up to God, having been once united hypostatically to God the Word. Neither could He need to ask of God things fitting, for the One Christ is both God and Man. But giving in Himself a pattern to us, He taught us to ask of God, and to lift up our minds to Him. As He took on Him our passions, that by triumphing over them Himself, He might give us also the victory over them, so now He prays to open to us the way to that lifting up to God, to fulfill for us all righteousness, to reconcile His Father to us, to pay honor to Him as the First Cause, and to show that He is not against God.” - St. John Damascene

“I suppose that there are some who offer here no other cause of His fear than His passion and death. I ask those who think thus, whether it stands with reason that He should have feared to die, who banished from the Apostles all fear of death, and exhorted them to the glory of martyrdom? How can we suppose Him to have felt pain and grief in the sacrament of death, who rewards with life those who die for Him? And what pangs of death could He fear, who came to death of the free choice of His own power? And if His Passion was to do Him honor, how could the fear of His Passion make Him sorrowful?” - St. Hilary

“Our Lord therefore sorrowed to prove the reality of the Man which He had taken upon Him...” - St. Jerome

“He is sorrowful, yet not Himself, but His soul; not His Wisdom, not His divine Substance, but His soul, for He took upon Him my soul, and my body.” - St. Ambrose

“As being God, dwelling in the body, He shows the frailty of flesh, that the blasphemy of those who deny the mystery of His Incarnation might find no place; for having taken up a body, He must needs also take up all that belongs to the body, hunger, thirst, pain, grief; for the Godhead cannot suffer the changes of these affections. - St. Bede

“But what means His bending of knees? of which it is said, And he kneeled down, and prayed. It is the way of men to pray to their superiors with their faces on the ground, testifying by the action that the greater of the two are those who are asked. Now it is plain that human nature contains nothing worthy of God's imitation. Accordingly the tokens of respect which we evince to one another, confessing ourselves to be inferior to our neighbors, we have transferred to the humiliation of the Incomparable Nature. And thus He who bore our sicknesses and interceded for us, bent His knee in prayer, by reason of the man which He assumed, giving us an example, that we ought not to exalt ourselves at the time of prayer, but in all things be conformed to humility; for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” - St. Gregory of Nyssa

“It is indeed impossible for the soul of man not to be tempted. Therefore he says not, Pray that you be not tempted, but, Pray that you enter not into temptation, that is, that the temptation do not at last overcome you.” - St. Bede

“There were, I conclude, two ways in which this cup of Passion might pass from the Lord. If He should drink it, it would pass away from Him, and afterwards from the whole race of mankind also; if He should not drink it, it would perhaps pass from Him, but from men it would not pass. He would fain therefore that it should so pass from Him as that He should not at all taste its bitterness, yet only if it were possible, saving the righteousness of God. If it were not possible, He was rather willing to drink it, that so it might pass from Him, and from the whole race of mankind rather than against His Father's will shun the drinking thereof.” - Origen

“That by His second prayer He might show Himself to be very man. It goes on: And when he returned, he found them asleep again; He however did not rebuke them severely. For their eyes were heavy, (that is, with sleep,) neither wist they what to answer him. By this learn the weakness of men, and let us not, whom even sleep can overcome, promise things which are impossible to us. Therefore He goes away the third time to pray the prayer mentioned above.”- Theophyl

“Having concluded His third prayer, and having obtained that the Apostles' terror should be corrected by subsequent penitence, He goes forth undaunted by the prospect of His own Passion to meet His pursuers, and offers Himself voluntarily to be sacrificed. Arise, let us be going; as much as to say, Let them not find you trembling, let us go forth willingly to death, that they may see us confident and rejoicing in suffering; Lo, he that shall betray me draws near.” - St. Jerome

“But He prays, that the cup may pass away, to show that He is very man, wherefore He adds: Take away this cup from me. But remembering why He was sent, He accomplishes the dispensation for which He was sent, and cries out, But not what I will, but what you will. As if He had said, If death can die, without my dying according to the flesh, let this cup pass away; but since this cannot be otherwise, not what I will, but what you will. Many still are sad at the prospect of death, but let them keep their heart right, and avoid death as much as they can; but if they cannot, then let them say what the Lord said for us. - St. Bede

“Now every art is set forth by the words and works of him who teaches it. Because then our Lord had come to teach no ordinary virtue, therefore He speaks and does the same things. And so having in words commanded to pray, lest they enter into temptation, He does the same likewise in work, saying, Father, if you be willing, remove this cup from me. He said not the words, If you will, as if ignorant whether it was pleasing to the Father. For such knowledge was not more difficult than the knowledge of His Father's substance, which He alone clearly knew, according to John, As the Father knows me, even so have I known the Father. Nor says He this, as refusing His Passion. For He who rebuked a disciple, who wished to prevent His Passion, so as even after many commendations, to call him Satan, how should He be unwilling to be crucified? Consider then why it was so said. How great a thing was it to hear that the unspeakable God, who passes all understanding, was content to enter the virgin's womb, to suck her milk, and to undergo every thing human. Since then that was almost incredible which was about to happen, He sent first indeed Prophets to announce it, afterwards He Himself comes clothed in the flesh, so that you could not suppose Him to be a phantom. He permits His flesh to endure all natural infirmities, to hunger, to thirst, to sleep, to labor, to be afflicted, to be tormented; on this account likewise He refuses not death, that He might manifest thereby His true humanity.” - St. John Chrysostom

“Many are shocked at this place who turn the sorrows of the Savior to an argument of inherent weakness from the beginning, rather than taken upon Him for the time. But I am so far from considering it a thing to be excused, that I never more admire His mercy and majesty; for He would have conferred less upon me had He not taken upon Him my feelings. For He took upon Him my sorrow, that upon me He might bestow His joy. With confidence therefore I name His sadness, because I preach His cross. He must needs then have undergone affliction, that He might conquer. For they have no praise of fortitude whose wounds have produced stupor rather than pain. He wished therefore to instruct us how we should conquer death, and what is far greater, the anguish of coming death. You smarted then, O Lord, not from your own but my wounds; for he was wounded for our transgressions. And perhaps He is sad, because that after Adam's fall tile passage by which we must depart from this world was such that death was necessary. Nor is it far from the truth that He was sad for His persecutors, who He knew would suffer punishment for their wicked sacrilege.” - St. Ambrose

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