A Vigil in Gethsemane

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We easily see that the Church is wise in her establishment of Lent. We are sinners – selfish, carnal, and earthly-minded – and so it is no surprise that we need a season devoted to intense prayer. To expect ourselves to reach a deeper conversion otherwise is mere foolishness, like going to the Mojave to surf. No, for over two millennia, the Church has studied sin in great detail: she has perceived its root causes, and discovered efficacious cures. Her insistence on the Lenten observances, therefore, is well-founded. We need to pray, but how? We can look to the account of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane for a little guidance.

Having chosen Peter, James, and John to accompany Him during His time of extreme sorrow and fear, Jesus comes to Gethsemane, but, seeking solitude, He separates Himself even from these three, saying, “Remain here, and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38). He goes a stone’s throw away, falls to the ground and prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39). His cruel death and the many sins He will have to bear are so heavy in His mind that blood commingles with His sweat and His soul yearns for life. As He lies tormented, however, the three Apostles, not far away, lie in slumber.

What should they have thought to do with Jesus’ request: “keep watch with me?” What should they have done when their eyelids drooped? For it was late, they had much wine with dinner, and they were sorrowful over their Lord’s foreboding words. Perhaps He only wanted them to do as He did: to push away bodily weakness, to think about His coming death, and to realize for what and for whom it came.

Perhaps that is what He wants us to do throughout our day as well, to think on His Passion and on the sins of the world. Indeed, He does tell us through the Apostles to “Remain here,” that is, in Gethsemane. For in contemplating His sorrows, we see infinite love freely displayed. Christ, who could have simply stubbed a toe or split a nail to save us, decides to pour Himself out completely under scourge and spittle, hammer and nail. Why this prodigality or, to our calculating minds, why this waste? Who can say, but that it tastes of Mercy and sounds Divine? Such was the path chosen by the Father and accepted by the Son; now it is the course through which Divine action surges upon humankind.

And so, in this season of sorrow, a good place to begin in our prayer is to keep our Lord company in Gethsemane, not disturbing Him, not calling to Him, but being with Him in silence, sorrowing over His sorrow, and watching with Him in the night. Thus might we be encouraged upon seeing His great love for us, so that we too, as His members, might drink the cup that passes to us from Him, saying, “Your will be done!”

Br. John Peter Anderson, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE