Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

The following is the fifteenth of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life.  The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.

          A few weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Mass of Dedication for our new church building. Though I had heard stories of church dedications, it was my first chance to attend such an event. It was a momentous one, filled with many lasting occasions of joy and celebration, many things which I hope never to forget. Of all the rich symbolism that marked the day, there was one moment that stood out to me above all the rest, and it stayed with me even as I considered this month’s rosary mystery.
          A short while after Bishop Kevin Rhoades anointed the altar with, as advertised, copious amounts of sacred chrism, several women of our parish approached the newly sacred table with white cloths to dry it before the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I found myself mesmerized by their actions, made with such grace, gentleness, reverence, and care. It reminded me of a family preparing for a most important banquet or a mother tenderly wiping the forehead of a feverish child. All movements were filled with purpose and fueled by love. It was a sight that summoned emotion and memory for me more than any other that day.
          As we just concluded Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, many similar scenes played out in our minds while we listened to the scriptures and walked the Way of the Cross. We heard of Mary, sister of Lazarus, anointing Jesus at Bethany as if preparing him for burial. We remembered Veronica’s and Simon’s humble service and the compassionate weeping of Jerusalem’s women. We visualized our Blessed Mother and the beloved disciple as they stood at the foot of the cross during Christ’s final breaths. In all these instances, there was a tenderness and grace present to the Lord during a time of great need.
          However, in another moment of this most sacred story, there was no human tenderness to assist Jesus, and that is during the Agony in the Garden. Jesus implored Peter, James, and John to watch and pray, and he went off to pray with astounding humanity and intensity. Instead of heeding Jesus’ instructions or caring for a clearly distressed man, the disciples fell asleep. It is a time where Jesus could have clearly used some human support, but instead, he begins to feel the abandonment that would reoccur in the coming final hours.
          While we hope to have many people around us in our families and friends to support us, each one of us goes through our own agonies in life, times when we feel abandoned by those who love us, times when we long for help and find little. When these happen, we find ourselves distressed and wearied in the same way that the human Jesus was, but we also find inspiration in his perseverance. He did not abandon his vocation and calling, and he eventually found some human compassion as the road to Calvary continued.
          Even after Jesus’ death, people cared for him enough to take his body down from the cross and prepare it for burial. I imagine a group of people surrounding him, just as the women of our parish surrounded our new altar, gently wiping and cleaning something so sacred. May we be inspired to perform such small acts of kindness for others as well. Though they may seem insignificant in the whole of life, they might be the exact thing that someone needs in a trying time and can remind people that we ultimately are a people of Easter hope. After all, of all the important people and happenings of the Dedication Mass, it was the humble service of holy women with what could have seemed an insignificant task that most helped my heart soar with gratitude for our new church and the people of our parish.