Pope Benedict XVI has designated 2013 the Year of Faith and this is, no doubt, because we need it.
Our faith’s supreme object is, of course, Jesus Christ, and the constant contemplation of his glory will not only sustain our faith as we mourn this Culture of Death, endure the assaults on religious freedom, and prepare for the myriad trials that have and will come. It will inspire us to respond to the challenges of this age, not with fear or anger, but with heroic virtue.
Our departing Pontiff knows this well. That is almost certainly why, among other reasons, he wrote his two-volume work Jesus of Nazareth and gave it to the Church. He knew that an extended reflection on the life and character of our Lord is not simply helpful, but absolutely necessary for pressing on in faith.
We can honor our Holy Father’s legacy by doubling the time and effort we invest in Christ-centered meditation. Yet during this Year of Faith and in this increasingly hostile milieu, what aspect of our Lord’s character should we treasure most often? He is, after all, a many-splendored Savior.
As Jesus Christ teaches his disciples and debates the Pharisees, we observe the excellence of his mind. As he heals the sick and welcomes sinners, we see the beauty of his heart. But as he prays alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, wrestling with the prospect of unimaginable suffering, we behold a glory that I believe is uniquely helpful in these difficult times.
It is the glory of his resolute will.
It is hard to do the right thing. It is well-near impossible when it invites and involves a tremendous cost to ourselves.
Consider what led Jesus to pray, “Father, if it be possible, remove this cup from me.”
There are a number of different reasons why Jesus had good reason to present this request to his Father. The knowledge—almost certainly secured at this point—that the will of God for his Son involved the emotional ache of rejection, the physical torment of crucifixion, and the spiritual agony of bearing the world’s sin upon his soul would have been enough to justify his blood-earnest plea. But at the most fundamental level, Our Lord’s willingness to be executed on a Roman cross meant that he—for our sake and for our salvation—endured the loss of that which he held most dear: the real presence of his Father’s love.
Have you ever met an elderly man, happily married for fifty years or longer, who recently lost his wife? For him, the absence is almost too much to bear. His life is so bound to his wife’s that her departure leaves him feeling separated from himself. It is as if his very personhood has been divided in two.
Now, consider the Son of God, who from eternity enjoyed an unceasing exchange of love with his Father. The joyful love that the Father and Son experienced within the Trinity is represented by the grandeur of creation, as Psalm 19 clearly states: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” So, as we marvel at the mountains or exult over a sunset well-painted by God, we should remember that this is a visible manifestation of the invisible and glorious love between God the Father and God the Son.
Throughout his incarnation, Jesus affirmed his closeness to the Father. So complete was their communion with one another that he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Our Lord basked in the glow of his Father’s glory, and rejoiced to do his will. “My food,” Jesus said, “is to do the will of the Father.” And in John 2:14, we read that Jesus Christ was consumed by a burning zeal for his Father’s glory.
But as he prayed in the Garden, Our Lord was preparing to say goodbye to all of that.
If the blood pumping through our veins suddenly stopped, if the rivers of the world all suddenly dried up, and if every light in the cosmos was suddenly extinguished, I doubt we would come close to representing the shock to our Lord’s soul that was the loss of his Father’s presence. No wonder our Savior cried, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death.”
And yet. Yet—incredibly, unbelievably, mercifully—the King of Glory ended his prayer: “yet not mine, but thy will be done.”
Facing the most overwhelming sorrow imaginable, Jesus Christ galvanized his will and resolved to move ahead. He decided, committed, and succeeded in going forward with the will of God.
Jesus taught us that the servant is not above his master. He was crucified and, in the days to come, his Church will suffer increasing crucifixions. Yet nothing that faces us, no pain or suffering, no amount of grief or loss that we could encounter, will ever compare to what Jesus Christ faced on the night before he was cursed, hung on a tree. Though he faced the prospect of a suffering that human words can never fully describe, Jesus said yes. And he moved forward, entrusting himself to the will and plan of his Father.
No matter what we face, we can do the same. By his grace and for his glory, the Church can resolve to move forward and embrace—even endure—the will of God. But we can only do so through the constant contemplation of Our Lord’s resolute will. That’s what the Scriptures teach us: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”