Tuesday before Ash Wednesday
The Prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ
in the Garden
Today is Mardi gras, Fat Tuesday, especially in New Orleans. It is the last chance to enjoy oneself completely, especially with food and drink. After all, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of a long, relentless Lent. One must gird oneself for this ordeal, much like hibernating animals fatten themselves up on the verge of a cold, lean winter season, so as to survive off the body fat that has been accumulated during the good times leading up to winter.
That’s one way of doing it. But there’s another way, presented in today’s reflection, which is part of what is called "the Passionist Proper", that is, a special spiritual program calendared in for the Passionists on special days throughout the year, one of which is today: THE PRAYER OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST IN THE GARDEN. The Passionists enjoy their own "proper" liturgy (both Eucharist and liturgy of the hours), which departs from that celebrated in the rest of the church today. Hence, the special bible readings, from Hebrews and Luke.
In place of the hibernation approach to the beginning of the Lenten testing season (as Jesus remarks to His disciples in today’s gospel: "Pray that you may not be put to the TEST"), the Word of God recommends prayer, one of the traditional Lenten practices urged on us by the Church throughout her tradition, starting with Jesus’ remark, just cited. Despite the difficulties many of us have with prayer, such as distractions and sleepiness, (versions of our own hibernation approach), prayer is recommended to us today in both scripture readings: "In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to God…" (Heb 5.7), and, in addition to the citation above, we hear: "In his anguish he prayed with all the greater intensity…" (Lk 22.44). We note that prayer rises to prominence before the trial or the test commences.
Is this not true for most of us? We pray most intensely when difficulties beset us. That is the way it should be, given the example of Jesus. And Lent is one of those difficult times when we pray about some issues affecting us, that we have been postponing. And certainly one of our favorite prayers clearly emerges on the lips of Jesus praying in Gethsemane: "…not my will but yours be done." We can pray no better than this. And we notice what likely happens to us frequently when we pray: it fails "to work". Certainly in Jesus’ case, the angel who appeared so as to strengthen Him didn’t remove the test ahead of Him. But there was a benefit: "…he learned obedience from what he suffered." And so with us. No prayer goes unanswered. So let us begin Lent with prayer on our lips and in our heart "that you may not be subjected to the trial" (Lk 22.46).
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.