The Heart of Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross

“More Brilliant than the Sun," a weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy 

The series so far:
PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness
PART 2: What Do We Really Mean By “The Heart of Jesus”?
PART 3: Devotion to the Heart of Jesus and its Roots in Holy Scripture
PART 4: The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament
PART 5: The Heart of Jesus in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love

PART 6: The Heart of Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross

Time to recap: our goal in this web series is to learn to appreciate more deeply than ever before the love of the Heart of Jesus for each one of us, and His divine strategy for driving back the world’s darkness.

In articles 2 through 3, I endeavored to clarify what we mean by “the Sacred Heart,” and “devotion” to His Heart, and in articles 4 and 5, the witness to the Heart of Christ in Holy Scripture. Here in episode 6, we come to the culmination of that divine revelation in the Gospels: the agony and Passion of our Lord.

Let’s remind ourselves at this point of why all this is so important.

As we saw in the opening article of this series, the Son of God revealed to St. Margaret Mary that He has a plan for rescuing the world from the burden of sin and the grip of Satan. The world is not completely out of control and spiraling down into the darkness, as so many Catholics fear! And the first part of our Lord’s rescue plan involves manifesting the infinite, generous, and tender love of His Heart, by reminding us of all that He has done for the salvation of the world through His life, death, and Resurrection. Nowhere are these truths more vividly and poignantly displayed than in the Gospels. Thus, the first part of His strategy to win the world back to His Heart is to bring us back to the Bible, and especially to the light of the truth about the Heart of Jesus shining through the pages of the Gospel story.

Encountering Jesus personally
We need to remember that the Gospels were not just written to give us clear information about Jesus, no matter how moving and inspiring that information may be. They were also written, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to encounter Jesus personally: to get to know Him in our hearts by meditating on His Word. Father James Kubicki, SJ, writes in his book Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2012, p.63):

To know someone personally, (and not just know about that person), you have to spend time with him or her. You must listen. The disciples grew in their relationship with Jesus by spending time with him, observing his actions, and listening to his words. We do the same when we spend quality time with Jesus in the Word. He not only teaches us and forms our attitudes and values, but also shares himself with us.

Whenever we do that — when we draw near to Jesus in His Word, day by day — we find a secret that He shares only with those closest to His Heart. We discover that Jesus can and should be loved not only because of all that He has done for us, but even more, because of all that He is in Himself. Father Verheylezoon explains in Devotion to the Sacred Heart (p.228):

Jesus deserves our love in the highest degree, not only because He loves us, but also because He is supremely lovable in Himself, on account of the virtues of His Heart, particularly His kindness, His love … His meekness, and His magnanimity. As we cannot consider His love [for us] without being moved to gratitude, so we cannot reflect on His lovable qualities without feeling attracted towards Him, and without conceiving a tender affection for Him. And the more we meditate on the lovableness of Jesus, the more our love for Him will be enkindled and will grow.

As we move on now to meditate on the climax of the Gospel narrative, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, let’s remain open to both kinds of “truth” that He wants to share with us through this story: the truth about all He has done and suffered for us, in the Garden and on the Cross, and a personal encounter with the Heart of Jesus Himself, so that we come to know Him with the heart as well with the mind.

Twilight of the 'Possible'
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the divine Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, made the final surrender in His human soul to the plan of the Father to take away the sins of the world (see Jn 1:29). There in the darkness of the night, He prayed: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:36). In the limited, human mind He assumed in the Incarnation, our Lord did not know everything. A finite human soul, after all, cannot contain infinite divine knowledge. He had already confessed to His disciples that the day and hour of the end of the world had not yet been unveiled to Him by the Father (see Mk 13:32). Now He peers into the twilight of the “possible,” and asks His Father if it is possible that the terrible sacrifice for the sins of the world — the Cross that He was already willing to embrace (see Mk 10:32; 14:22-25) — somehow might be averted.

What was it that made our Lord in His human nature shrink from carrying that Cross?

To begin with, crucifixion was the most bitter and cruel form of execution ever devised by the Roman Empire. It was such a horrible way to die that it was generally reserved for slaves, capital criminals, and political enemies of Rome. Those nailed to a cross sometimes took several days to expire, writhing in agony from slow asphyxiation and excruciating pain. (Notice that even our word “excruciating” comes from the root word “crucify.”) One of the benefits of gaining Roman citizenship, in fact, was that citizens legally could not suffer the penalty of crucifixion (which is why St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded rather than crucified). Again, the divine Son of God came among us and shared with us all the conditions and limitations of human life, including the natural dread and horror of such extreme physical suffering.

It was not primarily the dreadful, physical cost of dying for us on the Cross, however, that drove our Lord to ask His Heavenly Father if there might be another way. Father Verheylezoon reminds us that it was the soul-crushing weight of the sins of the world — that is, the bitter state of alienation from God due to sin that Jesus must bear on His Heart for us, and the recalcitrance of so many sinners, despite all He would suffer for them — this spiritual agony was what nearly overcame Him, so that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Lk 22:44). Verheylezoon explains (Devotion to the Sacred Heart, p. 84):

The sins of men were the real executioners of Jesus. … In the Garden of Olives they reduced Him to a real agony. The thought of the offence they did to His Heavenly Father overwhelmed His soul with sorrow. He was to take upon Himself all the sins, all the crimes and infamies of fallen and sinful man … . Moreover, He foresaw that men, taking no account of what their sins had cost Him, would not desist from transgressing the law of God; that they thus risked making His Passion and Death futile as far as they were concerned; that they would … in some way crucify Him again and again, by renewing without cease [the sins that were] the cause of His Passion and Death [Heb 6:6]. This prevision made him “sorrowful even unto death” (Matt 26:38).

Following His nocturnal arrest, mock trial before the Jewish authorities, and public humiliation by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate (see Jn 18:38; 19:1-5), Jesus our Savior, His Heart broken with sorrow over the sins of all, began His final Via Crucis, offering up His life even for those who murdered him. Father Verheylezoon describes the scene for us (p.68):

His back was torn with scourges, His Head surrounded by a crown of thorns. He was forced to drag the heavy cross to the place of execution, and repeatedly fell to the ground under the crushing burden of the instrument of torture [NB: Ultimately the soldiers had to compel a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the crossbeam for Him; see Mk 15:21]. Stretched upon the cross, His bruised limbs were pierced with rough nails by His fierce executioners, whilst His blood was gushing forth and running down in streams. For three deadly hours He hung upon His transfixed hands, till in His last throes and with a final convulsion His soul was torn from His tortured body.

The Man of Sorrows
The saints never tire of meditating on the love of the Heart of Jesus, manifest in His Passion and Death. In the 18th century, for example, St. Alphonsus Liguori summed up the reflections of many of the friends of God when he wrote in The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ (Brooklyn: Redemptorist Fathers, 1927, p. 112-113):

Jesus on the Cross! Behold the man of sorrows foretold by Isaiah. Behold him on that infamous tree, full of exterior and interior sorrows. In his body he is torn with scourges, thorns and nails: blood flows from every wound …. In his soul he is afflicted with sadness and desolation, [save for his holy Mother and the apostle St. John] he is abandoned by all … . But what tormented Him most severely was the horrid sight of all the sins that the very men, redeemed by his blood, would commit after his death.

We should never forget that all that our Savior suffered was voluntarily undertaken by Him: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mt 26:53-54). What amazing, unfathomable love for His Heavenly Father and for us must have welled up in the Heart of Jesus to enable Him to embrace such a horrible death for our salvation. Above all, it was the apostle St. Paul who summed up the mystery of Divine Love, unveiled on Calvary.

While we were yet helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:6-8).

This series continues next week with Part 7: From Jesus Onward: The Heart of Jesus Lives in His Church
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