The Association of Priests in the Opus Angelorum is for those who feel called by God to pastorally assist the faithful of the OA in their region and/or for those who want to find some spiritual support in their priestly ministry through clerical reunions of prayer and retreats. The monthly Circular Letter with meditations on the angels in Scripture is intended as an (unofficial) instrument of common formation and as a help towards deeper communion with the holy angels and among ourselves. It is directed to all bishops, priests and deacons who are particularly interested in collaborating with the holy angels and to the members of the Association itself.
We come in the sequence of our “Meditations on the Angels in the Gospels” to “the Angel of Consolation” as Fr. John Hardon called him (Meditations on the Angels, Bardstown, Ky, 2006, 89). Among the many particular accounts in St. Luke’s Gospel there is one about the angel in Gethsemane.
The Lord, “through the eternal spirit, offered himself unblemished to God” (Hb 9:14). With this intention, Jesus went after the Last Supper, “to the Mount of Olives.” He wanted the disciples to be with him, and they “followed him” (Lk 22:39).
There, “He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not undergo the test.’ After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ And to strengthen Him an angel from heaven appeared to Him. He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray’.” (Lk 22:41-46)
With Divine pedagogy, Jesus exhorted the disciples to stay with him watching. He said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test” (Lk 22:41).
Jesus did not want them be scandalized when they would see him struggling in his human nature. But He certainly wanted to give them also a lesson for their future: As He in that night would bear “our infirmities” and endure “our sufferings,” likewise, the next day He would be “pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” (Is 53:4f). Even so in the future the apostles would be confronted and burdened with the problems and sufferings for Christ and his Kingdom in faith. As Jesus had withdrawn himself in solitude to prayer, so too would they need to find their recourse and strength in faith and prayer.
In his public mission Jesus said to all: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). At same time, they should learn from Him to think the thoughts of God and not those of man (cf. Mt. 16,23b). This applies with great rigor to his closest friends: The more we turn to Jesus, the more we are called to share in his suffering; and the more one introduced into his suffering the more one has need to pray as Jesus did in the Garden.
St. Luke does not refer to the extension of this prayer, as St. Matthew and St. Mark do. Instead he mentions the presence of an angel: “To strengthen Him an angel from heaven appeared to Him.” (Lk 22:43)
An angel described himself to St. John the apostle in this way: “I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers who bear witness to Jesus” (Rev 19,10). For sure, all the holy and faithful angels can say this. They decided for the incomprehensible Will of God; they decided for the mystery of faith which transcends natural reason, even that of the angels. They said God is God and who is able to counsel him (cf. Rom 11:32-35)! Therefore, their attitude towards God is humble surrender and readiness to serve in whatever He wishes them to do, be it to announce good news as the Incarnation or Resurrection, be it to bring release to people in extreme need as Elijah or St. Joseph; they are indifferent to where they are sent to serve, in the temple or in Prison. They only care that it is God whom they want to obey in all they do. It should be the same with the disciples: The love of the Lord should secure them so firmly in their union with Christ that their heart rise above all the advantages and honors which worldly affairs and offices might offer them.
St. Luke states explicitly that the angel strengthened Jesus. How was he able to do this, how can a spirit strengthen another spiritual being?
Whoever is in actual physical need as was the persecuted Elijah or the apostles in prison, they can receive physical help and strength from an angel! St. Joseph in his interior struggle received light through a word from the angel. In the extreme suffering of Jesus in his human soul in Gethsemane, scarcely any word or deed avails anything; the strength and support in question consist mainly in confirmation of the presence - like a mother at the sickbed of a child: She secures the hand – and that is all she can give. “The angels are not only messengers of God’s wisdom,” remarks Fr. Hardon, “they are also powers sent by God to strengthen our human wills” (Hardon, 87). The angel was not supposed to free Jesus from this suffering which was so necessary, being the reparation for all sins ever committed! Rather, his presence meant a strength of communion through which his human nature was still able to support still more pain, as St. Luke, the physician observes: “He was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44)
Fr. Hardon states: “If Christ, the living God in human form, needed to have an angel strengthen Him in His Agony, how much more do we need the angels to strengthen us in our trials and sufferings and in our weakness and pathetic disability.” (Hardon, 87) History offers a very strong comment on this.
St. John Paul II once mentioned that “Jesus had reproached the apostles: ‘Could you not keep vigil with Me for one hour? Stay awake and pray so as not to give way to temptation: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Mt 26:40-41). But even that warning did not keep them awake.” (Carol Card. Wojtyla, Sign of Contradiction, Seabury Press, NY 1979, ch. 17: “The Prayer in Gethsemane”). It seems that the disciples themselves first would have needed the assistance of an angel in order to assist their Lord.
But then, St. John Paul continued: “In one way, the Church still hears those same words: the reproach addressed to the three Apostles is accepted by the Church as if it were addressed to herself, and she tries to fill the gap left by that lost hour when Jesus remained completely alone in Gethsemane. … the Church still seeks to recover that hour in Gethsemane - the hour lost by Peter, James and John … the desire to recover it has become a real need for many hearts, especially for those who live as fully as they can the mystery of the divine heart.” (Ibid.) Therefore, we may think those devoted members in the Church shall become for the apostles of today what the angel was for Jesus substituting the sleeping apostles.
The reference to Divine Heart recalls Jesus’ request to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1676: “Bear Me company in the humble prayer that I then (in Gethsemane) offered to My Father.” Jesus explained more: “I will make thee share in the mortal sadness which I was pleased to feel in the Garden of Olives, and this sadness, without thy being able to understand it, shall reduce thee to a kind of agony harder to endure than death itself. … Thou shalt rise between eleven o'clock and midnight, and remain prostrate with Me for an hour, not only to appease the divine anger by begging mercy for sinners, but also to mitigate in some way the bitterness which I felt at that time on finding myself abandoned by My apostles, which obliged me to reproach them for not being able to watch one hour with Me … And in this hour thou should fulfill the directions I give thee” (The Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary, TAN Books, 1986, § 57, p. 71).
The Divine Beggar thus calls out to the Saints as representative of all members of the Church. In fact, this call gave origin to the widespread devotion of the “Holy Hour” on Thursday night in reparation for sins and, as is often added, for the sanctification of Priests. Pope Pius XI saw them in union with the strengthening Angel of Gethsemane. In his encyclical letter on Expiation, Miserentissimus Redemptor, (1928), he wrote: “There have been established many religious families of men and women whose purpose it is … in some manner to fulfill the office of the Angel consoling Jesus in the garden; hence come certain associations of pious men, approved by the Apostolic See and enriched with indulgences, who take upon themselves this same duty…” (1928, 19).
Already the Popes before Pius XI had promoted this devotion. Pope Gregory the XVI., in 1836, allowed the Holy Hour to begin at 2 p. m., namely, at the hour when Friday’s matins could canonically be said, and this to facilitate and to spread more widely the practice of it.
The lives and devotions of the Saints give – especially in our times – strong testimony and support to this call to become “an angel of consolation”. It is worth noting the great significance “the prayer in the Garden” had for St. Theresa of Avila already before she became a nun (cf. Life, IX,5): “I wished, if it had been possible to wipe away that painful sweat from His face; … I used to remain with Him there as long as my thoughts allowed me.” (cf. her daughter St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Sacred Face !)
The Holy Hour on Thursday night, particularly from 11 to midnight, was apparently a firm part of the spiritual life of St. Faustina. “Although I was ill, I made up my mind to make a Holy Hour today as usual.” (D 737: cf. 252, 268, 412 …, 1558) On one occasion she says: “I made my hour of adoration from eleven o'clock till midnight. … I called upon the whole of heaven to join me … After the adoration, half way to my cell, I was surrounded by a pack of … demons. One of them spoke up in a rage, ‘Because you have snatched so many souls away from us this night…’.” (D. 319-320)
In the biography of Sr. Lucy of Fatima, edited by the Carmel of Coimbra, one can read that Sister Lucy asked dispense from recreation on Thursday in order to be with the Lord – like the angel
Jesus in Gethsemane was not only surrounded by the attacking demons and the strengthening angel, but also by the prayerful presence of his friends down through the centuries. “It cannot be doubted that then, too, already He derived somewhat of solace from our reparation, which was likewise foreseen, when ‘there appeared to Him an angel from heaven’ (Luke xxii, 43), in order that His Heart, oppressed with weariness and anguish, might find consolation.” (Pius XI, Mis.Red.,13). Dear Brothers, let us be part of the Consolation-Team, and lead many to join it with their Guardian Angels for Jesus sake in humble, but zealous gratitude. We will say with St. Paul: “I rejoice in my sufferings” (Col 1:24).
The texts of the Circular Letters are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission ©2017 • Opus Angelorum, Inc.