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Passion of Jesus
By Br. Leonard Konopka, MIC (Mar 5, 2007)
I am not counting on my own strength, but on His omnipotence for, as He gave me the grace of knowing His holy will, He will also grant me the grace of fulfilling it. I cannot fail to mention how much my own lower nature resists this thing, manifesting its own desires, and there results within my soul a great struggle, like that of Jesus in the Garden of Olives. And so I too cry out to God, the Eternal Father, "If it is possible, take this cup from me, but, nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done, O Lord; may Your will be done." What I am about to go through is no secret to me, but with full knowledge I accept whatever You send me, O Lord. I trust in You, O merciful God, and I wish to be the first to manifest to You that confidence which You demand of souls. O Eternal Truth, help me and enlighten me along the roadways of life, and grant that Your will be accomplished in me.
— Diary of St. Faustina, 615
When viewing the film The Passion of the Christ, I get a sense that Mel Gibson might have taken a page or two out of the Diary of St. Faustina. In a very moving scene in the opening of this epic film Jesus is observed in the Garden of Gethsemane as being alone, something we don't dwell on too often (c.f. Mt 26:36-46).
Some mystics believe this experience caused greater agony to our Lord than even His crucifixion. Jesus realized all the torment that was about to invade His extremely sensitive nature. Nothing could console Him. Even His best friends failed to understand what was really happening. He prayed and asked that this chalice pass Him by, but to no avail. Bowing His head in total submission to the Father was the only solution. He had to accept what had been agreed upon with His Father. There was no other option for Him, and sometimes there is none for us either.
Referring to the Garden of Gethsemane, St. Faustina empathized with what Our Lord endured and was greatly consoled when she identified her suffering with His. She reflected on this quite often as she wrote:
...I am alone, all alone. My soul has become so dimmed that I see only phantasies about me. Not a single ray of light penetrates my soul. I do not understand myself or those who speak to me. Frightful temptations regarding the holy faith assail me. O my Jesus, save me. I cannot say anything more. I cannot describe these things in detail, for I fear lest someone be scandalized on reading this. I am astounded that such torments could befall a soul...I spent the whole night with Jesus in Gethsemane. From my breast there escaped one continuous groan. A natural dying will be much easier, because then one is in agony and will die; while here, one is in agony, but cannot die ... O Jesus, I never thought such suffering could exist. Nothingness: that is the reality ... So many times I have seen the radiance of Your face, and now, where are You Lord? ... But the darkness does not recede, and my spirit plunges into even greater agony ... (Diary, 1558 c.f. # 1394).
We may not be called to experience this degree of suffering. Nevertheless, our Lord and St. Faustina give an example for those who do face their own agony and who are, indeed, alone. Many feel that no one cares, and in spite of having friends near at hand, the awareness of being abandoned or rejected is doubly painful. This is especially true for those who have lost loved ones, have experienced a broken relationship or are terminally ill. And who can totally understand unrequited love? This list can be endless.
A mother whose son has struggled for more than 20 years with a very severe genetic disorder recently confronted me with his dilemma. She had been to many healing services and had gone to the best-known spiritual giants in her area. Nothing seemed to help. She even read to me passages from the Diary of St. Faustina, which were for her a metaphor for what she thought her own son was struggling with, himself. I felt that she had put all this information on one side of the scale and on the other side waited for what I had to say to balance the equation.
How do you respond to someone who was so familiar with suffering, who can quote from the Diary of St. Faustina and appealed for just a crumb of understanding? She felt that she had a right to know and be given some answers. None were forthcoming in her desperate search to alleviate the condition of her son. Being confronted with that kind of experience was perhaps one of the most painful experiences of my life. I could only offer her Jesus and nothing else of substance, because she had heard all of the usual notions of abandoning oneself to God. However, Our Lord taught me a great lesson. He gave me a slight indication of what it must have been like for Him in Gethsemane.
This mother, just like Jesus in the Garden, reached out for help in her moment of great sorrow. She longed for her son to be free of this disease and didn't want to drink the cup of anguish she and her son were being asked to accept. Like Jesus who found His friends asleep three times, she, too, had gone to her friends and found them seemingly "asleep" to her ordeal. These "friends" were in the church, in addition to the doctors and specialists who in spite of their best of intentions all seemed to be asleep as far as she was concerned. None seemed able to stay "awake" to be of help. Her eyes conveyed to me the anguish of a mother who internally was crying out: "Can't anyone stay awake and help me?" Her misery came from the deepest recesses of her soul. I felt extremely sorry for her. Then, an awful moment of realization came to me, and that is: As far as she was concerned, I was probably sleeping as well.
After some time, I became aware that I, like this mother, have to accept the notion that some individuals will indeed symbolically fall asleep at the time of my greatest need. They just can't hear. However, I have learned that my response and attitude to others lack of staying awake can be like our Lord's. Jesus genuinely sought help three more times from his beloved apostles. These were considered His best friends, especially chosen to be at His side. Not being able to receive what He sensed He needed, must have been extremely painful for Our Lord, considering all He had done for them.
Regardless of His own needs not being met, our Lord continued to show the apostles His mercy, compassion and understanding — and with His grace so can we. Our final healing and forgiveness may come when we give others 'permission' to symbolically sleep as He did. We can then be imitators of Jesus who, not on account of - but in spite of - His deep anguish and unrequited love remained merciful. We, too, can sublimate our feelings and humbly admit that, at very pivotal moments in our lives, there may be no one there for us but Jesus. What a glorious and unforgettable moment that will be! Living and staying with that understanding will help us remain eternally grateful.
With St. Faustina we pray:
O truth, O thorny life, in order to pass through You victoriously
It is necessary to lean on You, O Christ, and to be always close to You. I would not know how to suffer without You, O Christ. Of myself I would not be able to brave adversities. Alone, I would not have the courage to drink from Your cup; But You, Lord, are always with me, and You lead me along mysterious paths...
Brother Leonard Konopka, MIC, is on the staff of the Marian Seminary in Washington, D.C. He also provides spiritual direction, retreats, and seminars. Brother Leonard has a leaflet available that has a series of meditations on the five wounds of our Lord. The meditations are intended for use while praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Click here to order Contemplate My Wounds. He also has a CD available with the meditations on the five wounds, interspersed with the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Click here to order A Musical Interlude.