“Then going out Jesus went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not undergo the test.’
After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.
When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.’ Luke 22, 39-46
The Passionists remember The Prayer of Our Lord in the Garden in their liturgical calendar on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Lent is a time of prayer for the church. St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century preacher and founder of the Passionists, spent many years during Lent preaching in the poor towns of the Tuscan Maremma, trying to awaken “those who sit in darkness…through the trumpet of God’s word.” He insisted, though, it couldn’t be done without prayer.
Where can we learn to pray at this time? Surely, on the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion. He prayed in the dark olive grove while his disciples, who would soon abandon him, slept a short distance away. The executioners had not yet come, no scourging, no thorns, no nails had touched him, but here in the dark, Jesus faced death in all its many forms.
Wouldn’t he see before him the awful death by crucifixion, which a criminal faced, a traitor’s death? The Romans publicized that kind of death to frighten and keep order. As a stark warning they crucified their victims outside the city gate. The execution place was chosen for all to see.
But Jesus faced other forms of death too. He faced the prophet’s question: “Have I toiled in vain?” The sleeping disciples nearby, the towns that forgot the healing signs he worked, the powerful enemies who sought to destroy him and rejected his teaching. “Have I toiled in vain? Have I failed, have I accomplished anything ?”
Jesus does not pray in many words or set forms. “Father,” he prays to God who cares from him.
“Let this cup pass from me,” he prays from his fears and hopes. “Not my will but yours be done,” he gives himself into his Father’s hands.
His fears are real, so real that “his sweat becomes like blood falling to the ground.” St. Vincent Strambi says Jesus’ bloody sweat is “the voice of his heart, proclaiming his great love and sorrow.”
“An angel came to strengthen him.” God hears and cares and strengthens. “Pray, persevere in prayer.”