The Feast of Jesus Praying in the Garden is another feast St. Paul of the Cross placed at the beginning of the lenten season in the Passionist Calendar. Lent is a season for prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but prayer is the first.
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, the gospels say. In Matthew’s gospel he brings them up a mountain–a traditional place to draw close to God – and teaches them there the prayer we call the “Our Father” . (Matthew 6, 9-13)
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “in a certain place”, on the plain, in the midst of daily life. (Luke 11, 2-4) He prayed daily through life; the prayer Jesus taught them is more basic than the prayer found in Matthew’s Gospel..
“When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” (Luke 11,2-4)
Mark, Matthew and Luke recall Jesus praying in the garden before his passion; his disciples do not join him, but fall asleep.
They’re sleeping because the flesh is weak, Mark says.
They’re sleeping because they can’t keep their eyes open, Matthew says.
They’re sleeping because of grief, Luke says.
Stay awake and pray, Jesus tells them. Prayer brings you through times of testing and temptation. Some things can only be done by prayer, Jesus tells his disciples who wonder why they can’t drive out a certain spirit. (Mark 9: 29) On our part, however, we are like the disciples, our flesh is weak, we can keep our spiritual eyes open too long, we can be overwhelmed by grief.
Facing the weakness of the flesh as he faces death, Jesus doesn’t wave it away in stoic resignation or look to his own power. “Not my will, but your will be done,” he says. Facing the consequences of his mission, the limits of human power, the “form of a slave,” he depends on his Father for the strength he needs.
In the garden Jesus teaches his disciples how to face life’s trials. He kneels on the ground and humbly looks beyond himself to his Father, “Abba”, who hears him. He falls to the ground, trusting his Father’s strength and not his own. Troubled and distressed, for an hour’s time he simply pleads for help. .
“He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Luke says. Then, an angel comes to strengthen him. The cup of suffering isn’t taken away; he will drink from it, but it will not crush him. God will raise him up.
He teaches us pray as he did and promises to pray with us in our trials.
This feast calls us to pray with Christ. It also tells us to pray with the church. Lent is a time to enter into the church’s prayer, to follow the scriptures, to enter its feasts, to use its devotions.
Father Victor, Nothing like a fine Passionist’s view…. Thank you for your insight and thought on this very sacred moment in time. Frank Murphy
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In the garden of suffering,
Fallen on his knees,
Crying out in prayer,
Blood drops in sweat,
While his followers slept,
Holy One we can call
Blessed Lord, Savior of all.
May our Lenten journey help us enter deeply into Christ’s passion. Let’s pray for each other and for the world.