The Agony In the Garden - ICWG

By Francis Fernandez


Jesus at Gethsemane. The fulfilment of the will of the Father.

After the Last Supper, Jesus and the Apostles sing a psalm in an act of thanksgiving, as was the custom. Then the small group starts out towards a garden on the Mount of Olives which lies close at hand. Jesus had warned Peter and the others that that night all of them – in one way or another – would deny him, leaving him alone. They arrive at Gethsemane. Now Jesus says to his disciples Sit here while I pray, and taking with him Peter, James and John, he begins to be greatly distressed and troubled. He says to them My Soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch! [1414] And he withdraws from them about a stone’s throw. [1415] Jesus feels a tremendous need to pray. He stops beside some rocks and falls down, dejected – He fell to the ground, [1416] writes St Mark. St Luke tells us: He knelt down, [1417] and St Matthew states even more precisely: He fell on his face, [1418] although Jews usually stood while praying. Jesus speaks to his Father in a prayer filled with confidence and affection, in which he abandons himself completely to Him. My Father, he says, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Shortly before this he had told his disciples: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death, so intense was the sadness he was suffering that it could have killed him. This is how Jesus suffers. He who is innocence itself takes upon himself all the sins of man.

He took up man’s sins as if they were his own and offered to pay personally all our debts incurred as a consequence of them. All of them: He would pay for those sins already committed, for the sins which were being committed at that moment in time, and for all the sins that would ever be committed till the end of time.

The Lord not only took responsibility for the sins of others, but made himself one with us, as the head is to the body; He wanted our sins to be called his sins and for this He paid not only with his blood, but also with the shame of these sins. [1419] All those causes of suffering were captured in all their intensity by the soul of Christ.

In silence we watch how Jesus suffers: And falling into an agony He prayed even more intensely. [1420] How we must thank the Lord for the voluntary sacrifice he offered to free us from sin and eternal death!

Jesus falls into such an agony that He sweats blood: Jesus, sad and alone, suffers and soaks the earth with his blood. Kneeling on hard ground, he perseveres in prayer. He cries for you ... and for me: the weight of men’s sins overwhelms him. [1421] But his confidence in the Father does not falter and he persists in his prayer. When his body seems able to resist no longer, an Angel comes to comfort him. The human nature of the Lord with all its capacity for suffering is shown to us in this scene.

In our lives there may be moments of intense struggle, perhaps darkness and deep pain, when we are tempted to lose heart and it is difficult to accept the will of God. The image of Jesus at the Mount of Olives shows us how we must proceed in these moments; we must embrace the will of God, without putting any limit or condition whatsoever to our acceptance of it, and identifying ourselves with the love of God by means of persevering prayer.

Jesus prays in the Garden, Pater mi (Matt 26:39). Abba Pater! (Matt 14:36). God is my father, even though he may send me suffering. He loves me tenderly, even while wounding me. Jesus suffers to fulfil the most Holy Will of God. Following in the footsteps of the Master, can I complain if I too meet suffering along the way? [1422]

The need for prayer in order to follow the Lord closely.

Jesus looks at us with a gaze of expressive simplicity on that night. He looks into souls and hearts in the revealing light of Divine Wisdom. The spectacle of all men’s sins, of the sins of his brothers, files past before his eyes. He sees the deplorable opposition of so many who scorn the happiness he offers them, the uselessness of the generous sacrifice He will offer in vain for so many more. He feels great loneliness and moral pain because of this defiance and lack of response to such an outpouring of Divine love.

Three times he looks for those three disciples of his to accompany him in prayer; Watch with me, be at my side, do not leave me alone! he has asked them. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. [1423] Perhaps in that state of tremendous helplessness He seeks a little company, a little human warmth. But his friends abandoned the Friend ... That was a night when they should have stayed awake, to have prayed. And they slept. They still did not love enough, and allowing themselves to be beaten by weakness and sadness, they left Jesus alone. In them the Lord found no support; they had been chosen for this and they had let him down ...

We must always pray, but there are moments when this prayer has to be intensified. To abandon it would be like abandoning Christ, leaving ourselves at the mercy of the enemy. Why do you sleep? He asks them – and he asks us too – Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation. [1424] For this reason we say to Jesus: If you see me asleep, if you discover that I am afraid of pain, if you notice that I stop when I see the cross more closely, Do not leave me! Tell me, as you told Peter, James and John, that you need my affection, my love. Tell me that in order to follow you, in order never to abandon you again into the hands of those who plot your death, I have to overcome my drowsiness, my passions and my comfort ... [1425]

Our daily meditation, if it is true prayer, will keep us alert in the face of the enemy who never sleeps. And it will make us strong so as to endure and defeat temptations and difficulties. If we were to neglect it we would find ourselves in the hands of the enemy. We would lose our joy and we would be left without the strength to accompany Jesus.

Jesus wants us to accompany him today; without prayer, how difficult it is to accompany him! [1426] Our own experience tells us so. Yet if we become strong through our daily relationship with Him, we will be able to tell him in all certainty: Even though I die with you, I will not deny you. [1427] Peter could not fulfil his promise that night because, amongst other things, he did not persevere in prayer as the Lord had asked him to do. After his repentance, he would be faithful to his Master, even giving up his own life for him some years later.

The first sorrowful mystery of the Holy Rosary. Meditating upon it. This scene will help us to be strong in carrying out the will of God.

Meditating on this scene in the Passion can be of great help in making us strong so as never to omit our daily prayer and so as to carry out the will of God in the things we find difficult. Lord, may things be done not as I want, but as you want! Jesus, whatever you want, I love, [1428] we tell him in all sincerity.

The souls of the saints have benefitted greatly from this passage in the life of Our Lord. St Thomas More shows us that Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane has strengthened Christians faced with great difficulties and tribulations. He too was strengthened by the contemplation of these scenes while he awaited decapitation and martyrdom for being true to his Faith. And it can help us to be strong in the face of the difficulties, both great and small, we encounter in our ordinary daily lives. While he was in prison this saint wrote: Christ knew that many people would be filled with terror when faced with the threat of being tortured, and He wanted to encourage them with the example of his own pain, his own sadness, his own incomparable humiliation and fear.

It seems that Christ is making use of his own agony to speak to those who find themselves in such a situation: Be brave, he seems to say, you who are feeble and weak. Do not give up hope. You are terrified and depressed, worn down by exhaustion and the dread of torture. Be confident, I have overcome the world and yet I was even much more afraid and appalled, since my suffering grew in proportion with the fearful knowledge of what was causing it. Look how I go before you along this path that is beset with so many fears. Take hold of the edge of my cloak and you will feel flowing from it the power that will not allow your heart’s blood to be contaminated with useless fears and anxieties.

It will hearten you and raise your spirits, especially when you remember that you are following closely in my footsteps. I am faithful, and will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but give you the necessary grace to be able to bear the test; and it will fill you with gladness when you remember that this transient tribulation you are asked to bear will become a cargo of immense glory. [1429] The saint wrote in these terms knowing he was to be beheaded a few days’ later.

To-day we can resolve to contemplate frequently, perhaps every day, this moment in the life of Our Lord we know as the first sorrowful mystery of the Holy Rosary. In a special way it can provide suitable matter for our prayer when it is more than usually difficult to know just how to discover the will of God in events whose complexities we may not understand. Then, by way of an ejaculatory prayer, we can say Volo quidquid vis, volo quia vis ... – I love what you love, I love because you love , I love it as you love it, I love it for as long as you love it. [1430]


ICWG Fifth Week of Lent – Friday


[ [1414] Mark 14:32-34

[1415] Luke 22:41

[1416] Mark 14:15

[1417] Luke 22:41

[1418] Matt 26:39

[1419] L. de la Palma, The Passion of the Lord

[1420] Luke 22:43

[1421] St. J. Escrivá, Holy Rosary, First Sorrowful Mystery

[1422] idem, The Way of the Cross, First Station, 1

[ 1423] Mark 14:40

[1424] Luke 22:46

[1425] C. O’Shea, The Way of the Cross

[1426] St. J. Escrivá, The Way, 89

[1427] Mark 14:31

[1428] St. J. Escrivá, The Way, 773

[1429] St Thomas More, The Agony of Christ, in loc

[1430] Roman Missal, Thanksgiving after Mass – Prayer of Clement XI

Francis Fernandez Carvajal was born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among his published works are   Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, Overcoming Lukewarmness,Through wind and Waves, and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke

His Series In Conversation with God can Be found Here

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