As we prepare, once again, for the Easter mysteries, the dramatic scene of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden (Mark 14:32-52), is a rich source for our prayer and meditation.
Each person (and maybe even our Church at times) has to face their own ‘Agony in the Garden’ and there is never any clear-cut rational way through these trials.
Often the best one can do is to simply ‘cling to the rock’ like Jesus in Gethsemane and trust despite our emotional distress.
For it is in times of greatest humiliation that we come to real and true depth of soul. When we feel shame or powerlessness, or when we are being abused and cannot defend ourselves, we are certainly vulnerable to despair. But it is precisely through such humiliating times that we can grow deeper in compassion, graciousness and forgiveness, and not fall deeper into hate, anger and revenge.
According to eminent Dominican biblical scholar Jerome Murphy O’Connor, Mark the Evangelist, in his Gospel account of the Agony in the Garden, is telling us that Jesus really and fully ‘broke down’, before the greatest crisis of his life.
After all, it is a human thing to have a mental breakdown if you are about to be tortured to death! This was no make-believe play-acting. Jesus was ‘falling apart’ emotionally.
Some Christians do not like the idea of Jesus having a mental breakdown, of Him being ‘out of control’. But personally, I find it a great consolation.
Our faith as Christians challenges us to accept the human frailty of Jesus, as well as his divine nature.
It’s natural that we all fear pain and the prospect of our own diminishment. We just do not want to think about it. None of us – unless we are masochists – welcomes suffering and death.
However, this acceptance of creaturehood, this coming to peace with our human finiteness and vulnerability, is such an important part of the ongoing Easter journey that we must all undertake.
In the face of the Paschal mystery, as it lives out in our own lives, the keywords are often to: ‘let go’.
This Easter, let’s ponder poet Mary Oliver’s profound advice, as each of us struggles to gracefully navigate our own personal ‘Agony in the Garden’ – whatever that may be…
‘To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.’
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.
This article was originally published in the 2023 Lent and Easter | Autumn edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.