Years ago, I received an unusual visit from a woman selling religious prints. On her suggestion, I purchased an image of Jesus kneeling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. I kept the picture and wondered about its significance over the years. Only later did I understand its relevance to my life.
Today I see this image of the Agony in the Garden as God as a sign of God preparing and strengthening me for the difficulties I would encounter on the road ahead of me. Obtaining the picture was a reminder to me to continue to be faithful to prayer and fasting as a means of preparing for the future. The scene of Jesus in the Garden is normally associated with Lent and the preparation for Good Friday and Easter. How can the remembrance of the Agony in the Garden apply to the season of Advent?
As Jesus retreated from the world to the Garden to prepare in prayer for his darkest hour, there are times in life when we are called to wait and pray in preparation for the events of life so we can gather strength and courage to do God’s will. Advent is a time of prayerful preparation for the coming of the Infant Jesus into our hearts at Christmas. Just as Jesus withdrew from the world to prepare for his Passion, the Church invites us to take time to retreat from the busyness and bustle of the commercial aspect of Christmas to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation through prayer and sacrifice.
At times, the path of silence and contemplation can seem to be a difficult and lonely one. Jesus experienced loneliness and anxiety when he discovered that his closest friends were asleep while he prayed to the Father in the Garden. While the world tells us to find our joy in constant noise and activity around the Christmas season, we hold a priceless secret–that true peace and joy are to be discovered in Him alone. We find this peace and joy when we follow St. Teresa’s of Avila’s advice and frequently “take time to be alone with him who we know loves us” through prayer. Only when we commit to time with him will we be able to hear his voice and recognize the many ways he communicates with us through the working of the Holy Spirit. If we commit to daily reflection during the Advent season, our hearts will be prepared to welcome Jesus at Christmas time.
John the Baptist exhorts us, in the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!“ (Matthew 3:2) and to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Matthew 3:3) The Gospel reading from Matthew for the First Sunday in Advent also emphasizes urgency and reminds us to watch and pray to be ready for the coming of Christ. The reading concludes with the passage:
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
In addition to time for prayer, fasting is an important component of preparation and “staying awake” for the coming of the Child Jesus at Christmas. Most of us are blessed with everything we need and more; we experience abundance without the pain of poverty and need that the less fortunate in the world experience. It is necessary to make conscious sacrifices and to deny ourselves of some conveniences and sense pleasures during the season of Advent to remain fully awake and aware of the voice of the Lord speaking in our hearts. When we make sacrifices and experience need and deprivation, we unite ourselves with Mary and Joseph in their poverty, as they traveled to Bethlehem and as they searched for a place to welcome the Christ Child.
When I see the image of Jesus in his Agony, it still today reminds me of the necessity of prayer and penance at all times, but especially in times of preparation, as in Lent and Advent. Through prayer and fasting, we are purified from the effects of sin and remain open and ready for God to bless us with his gifts of peace during the Advent season and at Christmas. Let us prepare our hearts and encourage our families to do the same as we await with joyful anticipation the coming of Our Lord at Christmas.
Copyright 2019 Christina Mayeux