Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Garden of Olives:
Saint of the Day, Wednesday, April 4, 1969 (*)
Today I was given this excerpt to comment on Our Lord in the Garden of Olives. It is taken from the Concordance of the Holy Gospels, by Dom Duarte.
"After these words, having recited a hymn of thanksgiving, Jesus went with his disciples beyond the torrent of Cedron, heading to the Mount of Olives, according to custom. They came to a place called Gethsemane, where there was a garden which he entered with his disciples. As they arrived, he said unto them: Sit here while I go over there to pray. Pray you too, that you not fall into temptation.”
“Then he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, and began to feel dread and anguish and fell into sadness and dejection. My soul is sorrowful even to death, He told them. Stay here and watch with me.”
“Moving a stone's throw away from them, He bowed down with his face to the ground and began to pray that, if possible, that hour might pass away from him: My Father, He said, if possible, let this cup pass from me. But let Thy will be done, not mine. And turning to his disciples He found them sleeping, overwhelmed by sadness. And He asked Peter: What? You could not watch one hour with me? Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation, for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
“He walked away again and prayed a second time, saying: My Father, if this cup may not pass away without me drinking it, let Thy will be done. He returned and again found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy; and they knew not what to answer. Having left them, He again went and prayed a third time, repeating the same words. And having fallen in agony, He multiplied his prayers. Then a sweat befell him like drops of blood, falling to the ground. But an angel from heaven appeared, who comforted Him.”
“Rising from prayer, a third time he returned to his disciples and said unto them: Sleep now and rest: behold the hour of the Son of Man has come, and the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners. Arise, let us go. The one who will betray me is near. Jesus was still speaking when Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, arrived – for the traitor knew that place because Jesus and his disciples had gone there many times.”
You see how this whole narration covers the enormous moral struggle that Our Lord Jesus Christ went through in the anticipation of His Passion. He faced the greatest spiritual torments that a man can face on this occasion; and alongside spiritual torments, unspeakable physical torments. This happens to everyone: when the time of pain approaches, he feels anguished and terrified. So also He, who was true God and true man, feeling closer to that juggernaut, that world of pain that He was about to suffer, began to feel fear. And then one sees all the manifestations of fear that arise in Him.
One might wonder how it is that Our Lord Jesus Christ was afraid. Having fear is deemed a weakness, a frailty. It was ridiculous for Him to be afraid. A strong man is not afraid. This is what people usually think. The proof is that movie heroes are not afraid... TV heroes are not afraid... So many people think that no one is afraid or at least a truly vigorous man has no fear. In the history of the Church there are admirable examples of fearless men. There are saints who faced the most terrible situations without fear; who faced the most horrible martyrdom giving glory to God and manifesting happiness at their impending death.
Well, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the very author of holiness; He, the Second Person of the Trinity, who is holiness itself – because God is sanctity – He nevertheless wanted to feel fear. And He wanted all men until the end of the world to know that He was afraid.
How is it that in Him that fear was not an imperfection? How is it that in Him that fear was not a weakness but on the contrary, a perfection? For if it is true that many saints, relieved by extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost, even feel consolation at the hour of torment, it is even more true that without a special grace a normal man, placed in the face of pain – whether physical or moral – is afraid; and that without a special grace, only a fool is not afraid.
It is possible – without a special grace – for a man to know before his crucifixion that he will go through all the torments imaginable and not feel terrorized? He would be a degenerate with a feckless or deteriorated instinct of self-preservation.
This also happens in the soul: The soul has a certain fear of the suffering it will have to endure. Every being loves its own being. The soul loves itself and, given the evils that can come crashing down on it, it is normal that it feels afraid. Nor is one who is not afraid holier than one who is.
Rather, there may be more merit and more virtue in feeling and overcoming fear than in walking into a danger fearlessly, albeit with supernatural fearlessness. For the comfort of all souls that would have to feel fear until the end of the world, Our Lord Jesus Christ would not be comforted during His agony in the Garden. He wanted to go through the humiliation of fear. And thus we see Him considering what He was about to go through; analyzing everything, weighing it point by point, and making the most perfect act of conformity imaginable with God's will. It is as if He said: I foresee everything, I evaluate everything, I know everything and weigh everything beforehand. And as I look at it all, my whole being shudders with horror to the point that I sweat blood in face of what will happen: I beg Thee, O my God, if possible, to take this cup away from me: but if Thy sovereign will is that I go through this, I accept; I will not retreat from my path; I will go forward because I want to do what Thou wilst.
Here we see the supreme determination of Our Lord Jesus Christ, profoundly serious, profoundly true, profoundly effective; because He did what he wanted. He wanted to suffer and in fact suffered; and He suffered all that was before him. And yet, as you can see, He was often afraid. He was afraid the whole time of His agony; there came a moment when He was prostrate with fear. But His Will did not flinch even once; He never hesitated: Eternal Father, I will do it all costs, no matter what.
But we see that He was, as it were, as overwhelmed by grief; we can see that His pain was such that, in His most holy humanity, He seemed to lack the strength to face what He had to face. He could have asked Himself: How will I endure? How will I overcome this difficulty? The answer was given by Providence itself: an angel came. After having sought the moral support and encouragement of His disciples three times, an angel came and comforted Him; when everything had failed him, even the allegiance of those most loyal to him, Providence did not fail: an angel came who comforted Him, that is to say, who gave Him strength.
This is usually depicted as an angel that appears with a chalice which He drinks from and gives him strength. Then, with that strength which came to Him at the last moment of agony, at the moment when the enemy came to arrest him, when His moral torments were at their peak, at that moment He walks to the disciples and says: Sleep now, for the traitor comes; the son of perdition will deliver me. And he points to a contrast which we will analyze in a moment.
You see what this means. Our Lord often allows those whom He truly loves to attain the highest point of torment, and everything seems lost. Strictly from the standpoint of His holy Humanity, everything seemed lost or Our Lord; He prayed, He fully resigned himself all the time to the divine will, but He was prostrate before the suffering. Men did not succor Him. And by a mysterious design of Providence, His Blessed Mother was far from Him. He suffered all alone but did not flinch. An angel came and comforted Him.
How many times in our spiritual life we have situations like this! To tell the truth, my dear friends, if we take human life seriously, this is what human life is like from beginning to end. The whole time, to a greater or lesser degree, man has before him torments that await. And true courage is not to close our eyes to these risks, trials or torments, but to face them head-on: indeed there is such and such danger, there is that other danger. I will not close my eyes to this but will look at these dangers with the confident eyes of a man who, though he can be crushed by pain, knows that at a given time, Providence will come to his aid. This man therefore marches toward pain like Our Lord walked toward the Cross: without a step back, without hesitation, without one moment of weakness. Since we must take the cross of all the way to the top of Calvary and die, let us take the Cross to the top of Calvary and die there. An angel will comfort us to do that.
How many times in our lives we face sacrifices that we believe we will not have the strength to make. The answer is: Indeed we will not. Our Lord was God and man, and most perfect in His humanity. What are we? Nothing; we are not worth anything. How are we, conceived in original sin and burdened with other sins, going to face pain? Only with the help of grace and having recourse to Our Lady. Let us look pain in the face and walk calmly towards it, because Our Lady will help us. That is what we should do.
How often, in the most difficult times of life in the Group, I notice in one or the other of those who help me a certain irritation when I start to foresee: It is possible that such a thing will happen, then some other, and then yet another? We need to take measures and make arrangements with such and such and avoid this or that danger. And I notice in my collaborators a kind of exhaustion. I say: My dear friends, do not fail to look at everything, to caulk the leaks on the ship, to take steps to avert danger; but look at everything with confidence that Our Lady will help. That is what we must consider in this sublime example that Our Lord gives us.
When the days of the accomplishment of Our Lady of Fatima profeties come, have no illusion. I am not sure that anyone who comes to me and says he is not afraid of these days is necessarily going to be more courageous in it. I think it may well happen that souls who are afraid of these days but have a supernatural spirit, will have courage in it. But if there is too much suffering, let us remember Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Olives and ask that He, by the merits of that episode in His life, give us courage in our lives.
Each step of Our Lord’s Passion brings special merits. The Agony in the Garden is His moral passion. It brings above all special merits for those who have moral pains, moral sufferings. We should ask Him, by the merits of His Agony, to give us a sublime moral courage that can be a pale reflection of the courage of which He gave us an example.
Now, it is interesting to see His attitude with His disciples. He tells them, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Stay here and watch with me.” Anyone would be moved at hearing that. What did His disciples do? They went to sleep! The Gospel says that when He woke them up later they were at the same time so confused and oppressed that they did not even know what to say. Finally, Our Lord reprehends them.
This reprehension deserves our meditation: "Sleep now and take your rest: behold, the time has come and the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinners. Arise, come, for the one who will deliver Me is near.”
Why this “Sleep now and take your rest”? It means, you have slept and now the extreme hour has come, there is no longer any point waking you up. There is no longer any reason for you to watch with Me as I had asked: Since you have slept until now, go on and sleep because your time has passed! The time you had to console Me and pray with Me has passed to no avail. Souls will come to this garden from all over the world to commiserate with Me for my torment, my suffering! But you slept through it. And let it be said for all time that you were sleeping at this hour. You let it go by. I do forgive you, but this hour has passed!
He now makes a contrast between the sleep of the apostles and what is going on. His textual words: “Behold the time comes” – and now comes the poignant contrast, as he summarizes all that will happen – “the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” It is the horror of horrors: the Son of God, God Himself, is about to be delivered. And He will be delivered into whose hands? He will be handed over to sinners: sin will have a temporary victory over the Son of God. And you were not on My side at this time. If I had needed you to fight, you would not have fought; you were good for nothing. This happened, and you had no zeal. You did nothing.
I say that we now are at this time. If the Church were mortal, she would already have died or would now be moribund. The Catholic Church is suffering everything; everything except death. And we may say that she finds herself at this time when sinners lay their hands on her to give her the last buffets and make her suffer the ultimate humiliations.
How do we spend this time? Sleeping? You may say: no, Dr. Plinio, we sleep no more than you do: seven or eight hours a day.
Quite true. But the problem is not sleep, it is different: Do we have the Church in mind at this time? For us, to sleep is to pay attention on our little persons: I, me, myself, my little things, comforts, conveniences, self-love, money: that’s what matters. At this time of suffering for the Church, this is to sleep. When Our Lady asks us all to fight, react, and be concerned about this, that is to sleep. And the sinners are about to inflict the last torments upon the Son of Man.
There is one more sentence, which I read without comment. The hour would not be fully described if only sinners laid their hands on the Son of Man. The Gospel says:
“Jesus was still speaking when Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, arrived – for the traitor knew that place because Jesus and his disciples had gone there many times.”
Our Lord warned them at the very last minute so that, when He had finished speaking, the traitors were coming, the executioners, the sinners, were near. But with the sinners came a hideous merchant: the one for whom it would had been better had he not been born: the traitor.
In other words, sin came with its most disgusting expression, and the Passion began with a kiss: the filthiest kiss in history. Know where to look for this treachery, and understand this passing hour.
Let us ask Our Lady to give us the grace not to imitate the apostles but to know how to suffer with Our Lord at this hour.
(*) Without author’s revision.