Just before a deployment I get a curious mix of thoughts and emotions that is difficult to describe. I am sad about being separated from my family and home, anxious about traveling, and excited about the mission.
It's a jumble of humanness that is not even a sum of the emotions, but something more tenuous and larger. The instant the bus or plane or truck sets itself in motion toward the deployment location, however, thoughts crystallize and the burden is somehow lighter. We're moving and the movement occupies the front of my mind. I can focus on my mission.
The First Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, the Agony in the Garden, is a bit difficult for me in the same way. I know what's coming, and there is a certain part of me that wants to “get on with it.” I'm what some call a “Type-A” personality: if danger is coming, let's meet it head-on and defeat it. But there is another part, too, the one that doesn't want to walk that path with Jesus. It is the little human voice within me that knows that I might meet death and may not be the victor in the struggle. The pain is coming. Death is coming. Be afraid.
But life is coming, too, and even though I know that in a few short moments I'll be on to the next Sorrowful Mystery (The Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar) to begin the slow walk up the hill to the Cross, I also know the Resurrection will follow right behind His death. That is the strange mishmash of thoughts and emotions experienced in the Garden. Perhaps our Lord's agony was from the same part of His humanity. He knew what was coming, and even asked the Father to spare Him, but in the end Jesus faced His mission with the strength of a man.
I imagine myself standing between our Lord and the sleeping Apostles. I'm not really part of the scene, but a visitor across space and time. There is Jesus in prayer, and even through the soft moonlight I can see He is in agony. He cries out softly to the Father; I can only make out a few words. I'm not eager to move, and the time in the Garden with Jesus while He prays is spoiled by the knowledge that in a few short moments His betrayer will come with soldiers to take Him on the beginning of the hardest part of His mission. There is a part of Him that steels Himself and whispers, “Let it come; the Father's will must be done,” but another part of Him that night was clearly distressed at the prospect of whips and nails and crosses. It takes a strong man to face the abyss of death; it takes a stronger Man to conquer it. Courage is not fearlessness; courage is being afraid and doing your duty anyway.
We see glimpses of Jesus' courage in St. John's Gospel, as quoted in the Catechism:
The desire to embrace his Father's plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus' whole life, for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation. And so he asked, “And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.” And again, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” From the cross, just before “It is finished”, he said, “I thirst.” (#607)
He did not shy away from what was coming, even at the cost of His life and the pierced heart of His mother.
That courage, to me, is the reason to meditate on the Agony in the Garden, for surely we face our own lesser trials in this life as well. While we don't always see what's coming, we know for certain that our lives must be conformed to Christ if we are to see heaven. In conforming ourselves to the Risen One, we must also conform ourselves to the Crucified One, for they are the same Person. We cannot see the glory of the Resurrection without first experiencing the pain of the Cross. It is precisely those juxtaposed emotions and thoughts that we must deal with in the Garden.
The next time we pray that particular Mystery, let us quietly echo our Lord in accepting the pain that must follow: “Thy will be done.”
Mickey Addison is a career military officer, and has been a catechist at the parish level since 2000. He and his wife have been married for 19 years and they have two children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was previously published on the Rosary Army’s website and is used by permission.