The Suffering and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Before beginning our examination of the Agony in the Garden, it would be well for us to be clear on some truths which must govern our approach to all of the Sorrowful Mysteries.
That God, in the infinite Person of Jesus Christ, should become man and choose to die the most horrible death imaginable is, for us mortals who try to penetrate this mystery, virtually incomprehensible. Yet, while the depths of this limitless love may indeed be unfathomable to our human minds and hearts this side of the Beatific Vision, there are indeed some things in this absolutely central truth of our Faith which are crucial for our understanding.
In our examination of the First Joyful Mystery, we quoted rather extensively from Pope St. Leo the Great’s Tome on the Incarnation. Again, in order to gain some insight into the nature of Our Lord’s suffering and death, it will serve us well to consider some shorter passages from this marvelous document:
“In this preservation, then, of the real quality of both natures, both being united in one person, lowliness was taken on by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by the immortal. And in order to pay the debt of our fallen state, inviolable nature was united to one capable of suffering so that (and this is the sort of reparation we needed) one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, could die in the one nature and not die in the other.”
“Both His natures keep their intrinsic quality without defect; and just as the aspect of God does not remove the aspect of servitude, so also this latter does not lessen the aspect of God…. Each aspect performs its own acts in cooperation with the other; that is, the Word doing what is proper to the Word, the flesh pursuing what pertains to the flesh.”
“Although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one person, of God and man, it is only from one of these sources that contempt comes to both in common, and from the other source that glory comes to both in common.”
“For to have possessed one of these [natures] without the other was of no value for salvation.”
It has always been the tendency of heretics and heresies to emphasize one of the natures of Christ at the expense of the other. As evidenced in the final quote offered above, success in such an enterprise absolutely destroys the entire Catholic concept of salvation. The first seven Ecumenical Councils were, in fact, all centered on crushing such heresies, and formulating all of the central dogmas concerning the full divinity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, and penetrating as far as possible into some human understanding of their true union in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ. Again, from Pope Leo’s Tome:
“Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus is not of God’. [1John 4: 2-3]. What is meant by ‘dissolving” Jesus if not the taking away from Him of His human nature and nullifying by the foulest imaginings the mystery through which alone we have been saved?”
Pope Leo in the above passage refers to the Monophysite [One Nature] heresy which emphasized the divine nature of Christ to the point of denying that He also truly possessed a human nature. The other side of this coin (the Arian heresy) denied Christ’s divinity by refusing to affirm that He is consubstantial (homoousious – one in being) with the Father. And finally, to complete the unholy trinity of Christological errors, there was a third heresy (Nestorianism) which effectively declared that there were two Persons in Jesus Christ – a human person and a Divine Person, thereby dissolving any possible unity of two natures in One Divine Person.
In other words, one way or another, it is a fundamental tendency of man in his fallen state to attempt to “dissolve” the great Mystery of the unity of God and man in the Divine Person Jesus Christ. We witness this phenomenon fully blown in the heresies of the major heretics (Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches, etc.), but it is also true that these insidious errors (and their sponsoring demons) are always prowling around, especially among the Catholic intelligentsia, seeking to destroy or severely compromise the integrity of our own faith. Most important, we must also recognize this temptation in ourselves. The fallen human mind, in its pride and conceits, “naturally” becomes restless when it is faced with a mystery which in this life it cannot fully comprehend, and is greatly tempted to leap forward into some sort of false solution which will resolve this tension. This, of course, is where the theological gift of faith can be seen as absolutely crucial, and where, on the contrary, such “leaps” towards false solutions necessarily constitute a denial of this faith.
In regard to the study of the Sorrowful Mysteries which we are about to undertake, we must therefore always keep in mind the following truths.
The depths of the mystery of the union of the divine and human natures in the One Divine Person of Christ is a mystery impenetrable to human discursive reasoning. Our fundamental response to this truth must therefore be humble submission of our intellects and wills to this truth revealed by God.
In respect to the suffering and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, certain rules of language and thought are absolutely essential. These include the following:
During the entirety of His life on this earth, from conception through death (including during His Passion), Our Lord Jesus Christ in His human nature was in possession of the fullness of the Beatific Vision. St. Thomas, quoting St. John Damascene on this subject, writes: “Christ’s Godhead permitted His flesh to do and to suffer what was proper to it. In like fashion, since it belonged to Christ’s soul, inasmuch as it was blessed, to enjoy fruition [the Beatific Vision], His Passion did not impede fruition.” (III, Q. 46, A. 8).
It is absolutely true and right to say that Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins. It cannot be said that Jesus Christ in His Divine Nature suffered and died. God, in His Divine Nature, is subject to neither passion nor to any kind of limitation. Quoting Paul Glenn’s summary of the teaching of St. Thomas: “The Passion of Christ was the suffering and death of our Lord as man. We cannot say that the Godhead suffered and died. It is perfectly true that He who died is God. But He is also man, in the unity of the divine Person of the Son. It is the divine Person in His human nature that suffers and dies. The Godhead lives, both in the body of the dead Christ on the cross, and in the separated soul of Christ in Limbo.” (Tour of the Summa, IIIa, Q.46, A. 12).
Again, quoting Pope St. Leo the Great: “Although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one person, of God and man, it is only from one of these sources that contempt comes to both in common, and from the other source that glory comes to both in common.”
In other words, we must not compromise in any way either the full divinity or the true humanity of Our Lord, or their unity in the One Divine Person Jesus Christ. If during this life affirming all of these truths simultaneously appears to be difficult for our finite intelligences, we must yet possess the humility and faith to accept these truths, and humbly await more complete understanding in the Beatific Vision after death. Our minds must find true rest in this infinitely profound Mystery if we are not to be led astray by pride, and the demons which always congregate around such pride.
The Agony in the Garden and the Virtue and Gift of Fortitude
St. Thomas, in discussing the question as to “Whether the Pain of Christ’s Passion Was Greater Than All Other Pains” (ST, III, Q. 46, A. 6), begins by quoting the Book of Lamentations (I, 12): “O all ye that pass by the way attend, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow”.
Thomas considers this supreme greatness of Christ’s suffering from both the exterior (physical) and interior aspects. It was the greatest physical suffering for a number of reasons: because of the specific nature of the death inflicted (crucifixion); because of the perfection of His own physical constitution in which the sense of touch (the source of physical pain) was more acute than in other men; because Christ, in His willingness to suffer for the sins of all men, chose not to mitigate this suffering through the mental acts that other men use to ameliorate such suffering: and because Christ embraced that fullness of pain which would be proportionate to the fullness of salvation which this suffering would merit for mankind: “He embraced the amount of pain proportionate to the magnitude of the fruit which resulted therefrom.”
In regard to the interior suffering of Christ, which of course is the primary subject of the First Sorrowful Mystery, St. Thomas writes: “The cause of the interior pain was, first of all, all the sins of the human race, for which He made satisfaction by suffering…. Secondly, especially the fall of the Jews and of the others who sinned in His death, chiefly of the apostles, who were scandalized at His Passion….”
It is, of course, precisely the fall of the apostles in regard to Christ’s Suffering and Passion which we witness in this First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden.
St. Matthew tells us that twice Jesus returned to his disciples (specifically Peter, John, and James) to seek comfort and solace in His sufferings, and found them asleep. Each time He asked them to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation, and both times they failed in the necessary exercise of the virtue of fortitude in the face of fear, anguish, weariness, and sorrow. As such, they became for all future generations of Christians the archetypal image of all those Christians, and especially bishops and priests, who would fail in fortitude in their defense of all things Catholic. This is especially true in regard to defense of all that surrounds the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Blessed Catherine Emmerich (beatified by Pope John Paul II), in her visions concerning The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, offers an extraordinarily explicit and detailed account of the interior sufferings of Our Lord in His Agony in the Garden. These sufferings, while being caused by His vision and knowledge of the vast multitude and variety of all the specific sins of mankind, were at the same time reducible to one primary source:
“Now, however, he beheld all the future sufferings, combats, and wounds of his heavenly Spouse [the Church]; in one word, he beheld the ingratitude of men.”
This ingratitude of men in all the centuries since Christ’s Passion and Resurrection is centered upon insult and outrage to Our Lord in the Eucharist. After describing the frightful visions experienced by Jesus of all the future ingratitude of men – visions which were replete with demons in terrifying forms (each representing a particular sin) inflicting upon Our Lord “the most fearful outrages, cursing, striking, wounding, and tearing him in pieces”, Catherine Emmerich proceeds with the following:
“It was made known to me that these apparitions were all those persons who in diverse ways insult and outrage Jesus, really and truly present in the Holy Sacrament. I recognized among them all those who in any way profane the Blessed Eucharist. I beheld with horror all the outrages thus offered to our Lord, whether by neglect, irreverence, and omission of what was due to him; by open contempt, abuse, and the most awful sacrileges; by the worship of worldly idols; by spiritual darkness and false knowledge; or, finally, by error, incredulity, fanaticism, hatred, and open persecution. Among these men I saw some who were blind, paralyzed, deaf, and dumb, and even children; – blind men who would not see the truth; paralytic men who would not advance, according to its directions, on the road leading to eternal life; deaf men who refused to listen to its warnings and threats; dumb men who would never use their voices in its defense; and, finally, children who were led astray by following parents and teachers filled with the love of the world and forgetfulness of God, who were fed on earthly luxuries, drunk with false wisdom, and loathing all that pertained to religion…I beheld with terror that many priests, some of whom even fancied themselves full of faith and piety, also outraged Jesus in the Adorable Sacrament. I saw many who believed and taught the doctrine of the Real Presence, but did not sufficiently take it to heart, for they forgot and neglected the palace, throne, and seat of the living God; that is to say, the church, the altar, the tabernacle, the chalice, the monstrance, the vases and ornaments; in one word, all that is used in his worship, or to adorn his house.”
The Vatican II document Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests states:
“But the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through his flesh – that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit.”
All that pertains to the guardianship of this absolutely central Mystery of Catholic life and worship – its integrity, defense, and administration – descends from Christ through His Apostles to the Bishops and their priests. It is their most sacred duty not only to administer this most holy Sacrament, but to teach thoroughly the doctrine concerning what constitutes its reality, and also what is necessary on the part of all the faithful for its reception. This of course necessitates the teaching of the nature of sanctifying grace, and the nature and consequences of receiving Our Lord in mortal sin.
The Catholic Church teaches that to knowingly or culpably deny even one doctrine of the Catholic Faith is to lose sanctifying grace (and thus charity, or the state of being in God’s friendship), and to fall into mortal sin. And, of course, to commit even one grave moral sin results in the same loss. The Council of Trent solemnly declares:
“In opposition also to the subtle wits of certain men, who, by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent, it is to be maintained, that the received grace of Justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost; thus defending the doctrine of the divine law, which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelieving, but the faithful also (who are) fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liars with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners, and all others who commit deadly sins; from which, with the help of divine grace, they can refrain, and on account of which they are separated from the grace of Christ.” (Session VI, chapter XV).
According to Pew Research Polls (and basically verified by other polls), we have the following statistics in regard to the acceptance of serious mortal sins among American Catholics: 50% of American Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in “most or all cases” (and surely a much higher percentage believe it should be legal in at least the “hard” cases such as “life of the mother”, rape, and incest), 70% believe gay marriage “should be accepted by society” (this figure is up 12% in just the past 10 years), 89% believe that artificial contraception is morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all, 85% believe it is acceptable for unmarried couples to live together outside of marriage, 76% believe that unmarried, co-habiting couples should be allowed to receive Holy Communion, and over 60 % believe that divorced and remarried couples (without an annulment) should be allowed to receive Holy Communion (this last statistic may have grown significantly since the data collected here came before the apparent endorsement of such a practice in certain instances by Pope Francis in “Amoris Laetitia”, and before being put into practice by a significant number of bishops), . All this would make it almost certain that over 80 % of Catholics in this country embrace at least one of these errors (and this without even considering infallible dogmatic teachings of the Faith such as Transubstantiation, Original Sin, Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, etc.).
Holy Scripture and the Church also teach that anyone who receives Holy Communion while being in mortal sin not only commits sacrilege (“guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord”), but also “eateth and drinketh judgment to himself” (1 Cor. 11: 27-29). What duty, therefore, can be more incumbent upon every priest in this present age of apostasy from Catholic Truth than that of very carefully explaining from the pulpit the nature of both mortal sin and Eucharistic sacrilege, of being very specific in regard to the sins enumerated above, and declaring emphatically that anyone who commits these sins, or denies these teachings of Christ and His Church, must not receive Holy Communion? To be silent in regard to this obligation entails not only complicity in “re-crucifying” Christ, but also amounts to confirming the vast majority of Catholics in mortal sin. This is not charity or mercy towards souls.
Of course, any priest who would fulfill this obligation would almost certainly and immediately begin losing many parishioners, and this translates into a large loss of revenues. It is necessary first of all, therefore, that a priest who is to be faithful in preaching these truths makes the fundamental choice of serving God rather than Mammon.
It is also true that when any priest chooses to follow Christ by preaching these truths, his bishop will be besieged by outraged parishioners. The minimum reaction by the bishops of most dioceses will be an order to tone it down, and possibly even to make a public apology to his parishioners. If such a priest continues to preach these truths, he will likely face suspension of his faculties.
Even more important, however, is the question as to whether priests are willing to follow Christ and be a sign of contradiction to “the world, the flesh, and the devil”, or whether they choose to abet, especially through their silence, the descent of the Church into the cesspool of this modern world. The latter, of course, is precisely the course upon which the priesthood almost universally embarked after Vatican II – which every Sunday found the priest in the pulpit preaching about love, mercy, and forgiveness, while the vast majority of the faithful were amalgamating their faith to the world and succumbing to the mortal sins enumerated above (and others), and which destroy their life in God. We also cannot fail to note that this silence rebounded upon the priesthood itself with a huge loss of vocations, desertions from the priesthood, and the descent of many into every conceivable form of “filth”. As Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.” (Mt. 5:13).
The Apostles failed in fortitude in the Garden of Gethsemane. Their failure is understandable, for they were then responding to Our Lord’s Agony with their own weak human natures which had not yet received the Pentecostal Gift of the Holy Spirit which is called Fortitude. Our Lord, in fact, offers no condemnation to them when He comes and finds them sleeping: “Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Mt. 26: 45).
The very opposite is seen after these same Apostles received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We fail to realize the extraordinary difference the Sacrament of Confirmation (our own Pentecost) is meant to create in our own souls. The Apostles, all of whom were cowering in fear before the descent of the Holy Spirit, now burst forth from their hiding place to proclaim everywhere the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ. All, except John (and John survived only through supernatural intervention), were martyred for this witness. It is in fact martyrdom which is the ultimate test of the Gift of the Holy Spirit which we know as Fortitude.
A very different spirit has now permeated the priesthood. The apparitions to Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres (1563-1635), which we covered extensively in The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, and which deal extensively with the crisis in the Church during the last half of the Twentieth Century (and now obviously extending into the Twenty-First), include the following:
“Then, Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Mother Mariana as He was in the Garden of Olives, kneeling in mournful, ardent prayer. She was given to understand the most bitter sorrow that overpowered His Sacred Heart in those moments when, feeling the tedium of life, He said, ‘My Father, if it be possible to take from Me this bitter chalice, do so…but not My will, but Thine be done.’ She saw that the greatest interior torments of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were the ingratitude and indifference of those souls who, chosen among millions to be His spouses and ministers, abandoned Him in the most absolute solitude. This, despite the fact that He would live under the same roof with His spouses and descend into the hands of His priests at the simple call of their voices at the most solemn moment of the Consecration of the Holy Host and Chalice.”
Virtually the entire priesthood (at least in the West) has now been bullied by the world, and by a hierarchy seeking inclusiveness and a false ecumenism towards this world, into a silence, and therefore a profound loss of the Gift of Fortitude, in regard to the “hard” teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church. Even those priests with strong “conservative” sentiments who might occasionally say something against abortion, contraception, or divorce and remarriage, seem to do so in a half-hearted manner, and certainly almost never firmly specify these beliefs and practices as mortal sins which absolutely forbid the reception of Holy Communion. Preaching against homosexuality as an abominable sin is even more unthinkable, and might indeed lead to secular prosecution.
Equally important, we must see all these mortal sins as being sustained and promoted by a culture which provides its seeds and nourishment: a scientism which reduces all of created realities (including spiritual, mental, and emotional) to reductive “atomism” (material causation) and evolutionary progression : economic systems which demand usury and the making of money fecund (including such things as the stock market); public, secular education, which of necessity always becomes irreligious and anti-religious; the promotion of, and addiction to, unending technological and material progress; addiction to ever expanding varieties of entertainment and recreation which become increasingly violent and purveyors of impurity; the almost universal acceptance of immodesty; and last, but not least, the descent of all value systems, morality, and religious belief into a permissive relativity.
All of these subjects, and more, are fully worthy of a true pastor’s teaching office, and can even be considered as necessary to his efforts to protect his flock from the work of Satan, who prowls about the world seeking to use every cultural institution for the ruin of souls. This is especially true in regard to children and the education which they receive. And yet it is almost impossible to imagine, for instance, a priest now standing in the pulpit and telling all those in his care that they should do everything possible, and expend every resource necessary, in order to avoid sending their children to public schools. In stark contrast to such modern timidity, it certainly was not impossible to imagine, and was indeed a very common practice, for priests to preach these necessary truths only 70 years ago. It was, in fact, Pope Pius XI who, in his encyclical on the Christian Education of Youth (Divini Illius Magistri, 1929) taught these truths to the whole world.
To be a priest true to Jesus Christ in such a world as we now have with us is to invite almost certain martyrdom (whether “wet” or “dry”). The fact that there are so few martyrs (at least in the lands dominated by Western culture and liberal democracy) is in itself a profound testimony to the almost universal loss of the Gift of Fortitude among the descendents – both bishops and priests – of the Apostles. It is such a priesthood, according to mystics such as Blessed Catherine Emmerich and Mother Mariana, which was the greatest source of pain and sorrow for Our Lord in His Agony in the Garden.
Most of our individual churches have become temples of massive sacrilege, and therefore almost certainly the habitation of all the devils depicted in the visions of Catherine Emmerich concerning Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden. And this, despite all the gentle sentiments of love, forgiveness, mercy, and inclusiveness that each week waft forth from the pulpit. It is here, in the pulpit, where the local priest must take his stand either for Belial or Christ: “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” (Mt. 12:30). It is here where he succumbs to silence, or speaks the Word of Truth which is the life of Christ and the only light by which he and all his flock may be drawn out from all the evils of this modern world.