By Mary R. Finnegan - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA - 12 February 2016
When Our Lord went into the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked Peter, James, and John to watch with him during the night, the last of his life, as he prepared for the rough journey ahead. The apostles accompanied Jesus into the garden, intending to stay attentive. But, as night descended, they grew weary and fell asleep. When Jesus saw them slumbering, he reproached them. “Could you not,” he implored, “even watch one hour with me?”
This was the first holy hour: Jesus sweating blood, his soul sorrowful even unto death; his companions asleep, wrapped in their cloaks like babes in blankets. How could they, who knew and loved our Lord, fail him? Did the sweet smell of figs lull them as if they were held once more against their mothers’ breasts? Did a warm wind blow and brush their eyelids down and down and down until the soft earth beckoned them to dreams? Did they forget, after all the events of the day -- the Passover meal, Jesus washing their feet, Judas fleeing -- that their master was asking them to accompany him in his agony?
It is easy to look back on those apostles and marvel, even smirk, at their laziness. How could they fall asleep with Jesus before them? But I judge not, for I too try, quite frequently, to do my own holy hour, to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and pray, not just in supplication, but in worship and adoration and thanks. And mostly, like the apostles, I fail. My back aches and my phone buzzes, my mind wanders, my heart grows weary, and there is so much to do -- bills and emails, a kitchen to clean, the book I am reading and, and… I am selfish and self-absorbed, undisciplined and spoiled. My Lord is before me, but I think only of myself. My hour gets whittled down to twenty minutes of prayer and forty of regret.
When my mother was in the long, last days of her dying, I spent nights at her bedside. I promised her, and myself, that I would stay awake and say the prayers that needed saying: Prayers for the Dying, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Rosary. Of course, as the hours passed, my eyes grew heavy and my excuses convincing, until I, like the apostles, slept. I rested my head against a pillow as a tumor worked its way out of my mother’s thyroid, millimeter by millimeter.
At 3 a.m., it seemed reasonable to sleep, but as night retreated into dawn, I woke up and felt only shame. What kind of daughter was I, to fail and fall asleep in the presence of the holy? After a few cups of strong, black tea, I was resolved once more: that night, the next night, and every night thereafter, I would stay awake, alert, attentive. I would pray the prayers that needed praying. Full of promises I had not the strength to keep, I more often than not fell asleep but, like the apostles, I tried again and again. Until there was no need to watch anymore. Until I was bereft at the foot of a cross and there was only a grave to attend to. All of which brought another kind of sleeplessness and its own exhausting sadness.
On that holy night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus did not ask the apostles to do anything. He asked only that they remain at his side and watch one hour with him. During his suffering, he wanted only their attention and companionship. But, of course, it is a difficult thing to watch and not do, to remain and not raise a sword when the high priests and soldiers come. Of all Jesus’ friends and family, only the two Marys and John could manage it. Most of those who had knelt at Jesus’ feet, been healed by his touch, followed him and been fed and saved and loved -- most of them scattered and hid in dark rooms while he dragged his cross to Golgotha. When he looked down from the cross, he saw three, not twelve, not five thousand. In his greatest need, the crowds had dispersed.
Despite this, Jesus did not forget them, nor leave them lonely in their sorrow. He pushed the stone from the tomb and came to them, just as he comes to us in the Eucharist. When Jesus rose from the dead, he did not leave this earth, he did not ascend immediately to heaven, as surely he could have. Instead, he went to his friends, to comfort them and give them strength. His return reminds us that love is stronger than our failings, and that even in our weakness, he leads us to the place of our resurrection. This is what we must remember: he asks only that we watch one hour with him. And though we may fail and fall asleep in the presence of the holy, though we may scatter and hide in secret rooms, he will not leave us lonely in our sorrow, but will return and take us to stand with him, triumphant before an empty tomb.