It has been my privilege to have made two memorable visits to the Holy Land. Each visit, each place I went, left its mark on my faith, but in both cases, the greatest impact and spiritual intensity came during visits to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. During my first visit with a group of priests, we spent a holy hour of prayer inside the Church of All Nations. There, before the altar, is the rock on which Jesus fell and endured his agony in the garden on the night before he died. There, according to the Gospels, the Lord asked his closest friends to pray with him as his soul became “sorrowful unto death” (Matt. 26:38). It was here that Jesus experienced that terrible loneliness and the anguish of the human condition. These were my thoughts during that holy hour.
My second encounter with Gethsemane was in the company of a group of pilgrims from my parish. We celebrated Mass in the same chapel, and during my homily on the Gospel account of Jesus’ agony in that place, I noticed a lady in our group who was weeping. After Mass, I approached her to see what was the matter. She told me that her son had tried to take his own life earlier that year after a long struggle with depression and mental illness. Her tears flowed because of the hope that Jesus brought to her and her son by the fact that he, too, suffered silent and inward torment of the mind. In my first visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, it was the vertical experience of Jesus’ agony as Son of God that stood out; in the second visit, thanks to the story of this woman and her son, it was the horizontal experience of Jesus as the Son of Man that moved me. Here I share a few thoughts on both the vertical and horizontal implications of the agony of Jesus in the garden where his Passion began.