by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
“Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mk 14: 37)
This is the question Jesus posed to Peter when the Lord found him sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane. What would have happened differently for Peter had he prayed in Gethsemane rather than slept?
As we continue this series of reflections on the Passion of Jesus, we come to the portion of the Passion narrative after the Last Supper where Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus asks Peter, James and John to accompany him as he prepares himself for the terrible ordeal that is about to unfold.
In Matthew’s account (Mt 26: 36-46), Jesus is described as feeling “sorrow and distress.” Jesus even tells his disciples: “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” In other words, Jesus was undergoing a stress so intense that it could kill. St. Luke’s account describes Jesus as “in such agony” and praying so fervently “that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk 22: 44).
Jesus asks Peter, James and John to remain with him “and keep watch with me.” Then, we are told that Jesus falls prostrate in prayer.
The description of the prayer of Jesus in the garden is very instructive for us. Jesus first asks the Father that “this cup pass from me.” In other words, Jesus is appealing to the Father to be freed from having to endure the passion and crucifixion.
I find great comfort in this request of Jesus to be spared suffering and death. In so doing, Jesus has in effect given us permission to pray to be relieved from things that are difficult and burdensome. In the Gospel, Jesus frequently responded to such pleas to lift another’s burden. It is normal and healthy for us to ask God to free us from, or to keep us from, troubles and suffering. Fortunately, we know from our own experience that very frequently God does what we request, keeping us safe and healing us.
Yet, if we are going to use Jesus as a guide for our own prayer, then we must also imitate the second half of his prayer to the Father: “Not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus trusts the Father completely. Though humanly speaking, he wants to avoid Calvary, ultimately Jesus desires even more to do the will of his Father.
In our prayer, we must be honest with God by expressing our hopes and our true feelings. It is important in our prayer to express to God what we think is best for ourselves, for our families and for all those we love.
Yet, in the end, we too must trust the Father and surrender to his will for us. We can only do this if we are convinced that the Lord desires only what is best for us and those we love. If our prayer is to be truly patterned after the prayer of Jesus, then we must ask for the grace to conform our will to God’s will.
While Jesus is prostrate and anguishing in prayer, Peter, James and John are prostrate in sleep. The Gospel describes them barely able to keep their eyes open. I can sympathize with the apostles and their inability to fight off sleep. At the same time, one has to wonder how they could sleep after witnessing the enormous stress that their friend Jesus was experiencing.
Jesus did not ask them to pray for him at this time, but he encouraged them to pray for themselves. When Jesus finds them asleep the first time, he says to Peter: “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Peter could never have imagined, when Jesus spoke those words, how imminent was “the test” that he and the other apostles were about to face. His failure to pray left Peter vulnerable to be overcome by fear during the Passion of Jesus.
This portion of the Passion challenges us to watch and pray with the Lord so that we will have the strength to face whatever challenges we may encounter as we strive to follow Jesus faithfully. What sort of difference would a weekly hour of eucharistic adoration and prayer make in our lives? Are we really too busy to give Jesus just one of the 168 hours he gives us each week?
What difference would an hour of prayer make in our daily lives? For many, it may simply not be possible to go to an adoration chapel every day. Yet, we can pray in our home or in our apartment. We can pray in the car or while walking. With our responsibilities and schedule, perhaps it is not possible to carve out daily an entire hour for prayer. Yet, we need to find opportunities in our schedules to make time to pray, even if it is only for 10 or 15 minutes.
God does not need our prayer. We need to draw into God’s presence to experience his love and mercy. We need to open our hearts to the Lord to receive the wisdom and strength to follow him in our daily lives.
As we meditate on the Passion during this Lenten season, Jesus is asking us, just as he asked Peter: “Could you not keep watch for one hour?”