instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

And in the Garden secretly

The phenomenon of wanting Easter without Good Friday is well-known. (And perfectly understandable as well; those of us who disparage cheap grace ought to occasionally admit we'd be at the front of the line for it if it existed.)

It occurs to me, though, that there may be a related phenomenon of wanting the Crucifixion without the Agony in the Garden.

It's easy to downplay the Agony in the Garden as little more than the natural human anxiety anyone would experience while cooling his heels awaiting betrayal, arrest, condemnation, scourging, and crucifixion.

But Christ was not simply taking advantage of the down time between the Last Supper and Judas's kiss to slip in a few last-minute prayers. His, "But not My will, but Thine be done," was the final and complete self-emptying in prayer before His death, His formal surrender of all that He was in His humanity to the Father. Without that, there would have been some trace of human ego in the Crucifixion, a blemish in the sin offering for our redemption.

Christians naturally think in terms of following our Lord to Calvary, and in our better moments express a sincere willingness to suffer for and with Him. But I think we sometimes fail to see that, in order to suffer as He suffered, we must first empty ourselves as He emptied Himself. Otherwise, all of our sacrifices, even to death, will be to a greater or lesser degree about us, not Christ. They will be, at least in part, acts of narcissism or boasting directing others to notice our own wonderful wonderfulness, not the infinite mercy and love of the Father.

That self-emptying is hard, perhaps harder than the suffering others impose because it is entirely our choice. Being martyred for the Faith is easy to do, if you have a passport and one-way airfare to certain places in this world. Or, as open book's epigraph says, "She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." But to be genuinely willing to be a martyr, or not, as God's will may be; to exist for an uncertain duration in a state in which you make no demands rooted in your own sense of self; to hand back to the Father everything He has given you, even the really good stuff? Who can bear to do this if he doesn't really have to?