A Prescription for Life Given By Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane


In past years on the blog, I have generally published the schedule of the Lord’s final week according to the Scriptures (on the Monday of Holy Week). Since I have done this in years past, I presume most of you have seen it by now. If you haven’t, you can read it here: A Chronology of Jesus’ Holy Week

For this year, I thought I might look at some of the moments in the Passion Narrative (this year from St. Matthew) and highlight them.

The first moment occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane and presents a very good stance for Holy Week, indeed for the whole of our life. Jesus was at prayer, and returning to his disciples found them asleep. He says to Peter and the others (and to us),

Watch and pray so that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak. (Matt 26:41)

Let’s examine the saying, and explore what it has to say for us, and to us.

I. Problem – Jesus comes to his disciples and finds them sleeping. Note that these are the leaders of the Church, and this is the most crucial moment in all of human history. A great showdown between light and darkness, between good and evil, between Satan and the Lord, is about to unfold, is unfolding! But the disciples, the first leaders of the Church, are sleeping.

It is a disgraceful reality that is too often still the case, even today. And lest you think that this is simply a way of bashing popes, bishops, priests and deacons, let it be clear that the leaders of the Church include parents in families and elders in communities as well.

Regarding the clergy, too often while our people are undergoing severe trials and exposure to terrible sin and error, we remain sleepy and quiet. Well does the Scripture describe many of us clergy when it says, Israel’s watchman are blind, the lack knowledge; they are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. (Is 56:10)

But many parents too, the leaders of the domestic church, are also woefully out of touch with the struggles of their children. They have little idea what their children are actually watching or listening to; they seem to have other priorities than to monitor their children carefully and teach them with clarity.

Yes, for all of us Church leaders, at the parish level and at the domestic level, we too easily doze off, and dream away, seemingly unaware of the great cosmic battle that is going on all around us, claiming our people and our children.

Or perhaps we do have some sense of the awful battle, but know little about what to do. Overwhelmed and stressed out, we medicate ourselves. Perhaps like the disciples we drink some wine and doze off in the garden while the critical battle unfolds around us. We are overwhelmed, so we tune out; we veer off to diversions, watch fantasies on television, or lose ourselves in virtual Internet relationships while our real relationships languish. Reality is too painful, so we medicate ourselves, and go off to sleep, a spiritual sleep, a moral sleep, even a physical sleep.

Only the pure mercy of God can save us. If the Church or the world were depending on human leaders, we’d be doomed. If the Church were solely dependent on human beings to keep her together, she would’ve lasted 20 minutes, max! Yes, only the pure mercy of God can see us through. Without Jesus awake and sober in the garden, we’re surely lost.

Yes, a serious problem is described here: while the cosmic battle between good and evil unfolds all around us, too many of us are asleep. And while God’s mercy can help close the gap, we must be willing to do what Jesus commands, what he now prescribes.

II. Prescription – Jesus says, Watch and pray! That is to say, “Wake up; come to your right mind; be sober!” To be sober is to have a clear mind, a mind that is aware of what is going on, and that can clearly identify the signs of the times. The sober mind is able to identify the tactics of the enemy, the drives of sin, and know their moves. The sober mind is also in touch with the remedies of Grace and how to apply them prudently. We simply have got to watch and pray!

In particular, our prayer needs to be rooted in the Scriptures and the revealed truth of Jesus Christ. There’s just too much stinking thinking in our world today to think that our mind is going to be anything but polluted if we don’t cleanse it every day with the Word of God.

Our minds are like a sponge. Put a sponge in muddy water and, don’t kid yourself, the sponge is going to come out muddy. How then is the muddy sponge to be cleansed? It is plunged into clean water and rung out; it is plunged back into the clean water and rung out again, and again, and again. Thus our minds, like sponges muddied by the polluted, confusing, and erroneous thinking of the world, must be cleansed daily by being plunged into the clear, clean water of God’s Holy Word.

It is a sobering fact that if you and I are not praying daily and being deeply rooted in God’s Word, it is very unlikely that we will make it.

The Lord’s prescription is bluntly simple: wake up, and keep watch by praying! We somehow find time for everything else. It’s time to wake up and keep our eyes focused on the Lord, to watch him, to listen to him, and to be deeply rooted in the relationship of prayer and obedience to his Word. Otherwise, a terrible peril is upon us which the Lord next describes.

III. Peril – We are told to watch and pray lest we undergo the test, lest we give way to temptation. The Greek word for temptation here is πειρασμόν (peirasmon) and almost sounds like the English word “peril.”

Now don’t let temptation become something abstract. Temptation is the work of Satan to drag you to Hell. Are you clear on that? If you’re not watching and praying, you’re defenseless; you’re an easy target; you’re low hanging fruit; you’re probably not going to make it. If you do not pray, Jesus warns that you will give way to temptation, that is, that Satan will be able to drag you off to Hell, and probably others along with you.

If you don’t even care enough about yourself to pray, at least get right for the sake of others who are probably depending on you in some way for teaching and example! No priest goes to Hell alone; he takes others with him. And no parents go to Hell alone; they take others with them.

It’s time to wake up and recognize the peril. You will give way to temptation if you’re not even going to watch and pray. Satan can and will drive you to Hell. This peril is real. If you don’t think so, talk to Jesus. He said it, I didn’t.

IV. Prevailing priority Jesus goes on to say, The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.

Sadly, most of us interpret this saying as an excuse, as if Jesus were permitting us to say, “Well, deep in my heart I really want to do what’s right, but I’m really not able to do it because of my weak flesh. So it’s really not my fault. I should get credit for having good intentions in my heart.”

This is not only an incorrect interpretation of what Jesus says here; it is a sinful interpretation. Jesus is not saying that our flesh excuses us. He’s saying that our spirit is willing, that our Spirit by his grace has the capacity to prevail over the weakness of the flesh!

We are going to have to battle against our flesh; that is true; that much is clear. But our spirit, the part of us that is open to God, has the capacity to prevail, if we will permit God’s Holy Spirit to strengthen our human spirit.

In other words, our spirit is to be our number one priority, over and against our flesh. And having this priority, we open our spirit to God’s Holy Spirit, and we will be strengthened. We will prevail over temptation; we will be victorious over Satan’s attempts to drag us to Hell.

Therefore, there should be no excuses here. Jesus says that although the flesh is weak, and we will battle against it until the day we die, our spirit can “will” to overpower the drives of our flesh; our spirit can and must have a priority that will empower us to prevail over the flesh, and any incursions of the evil one.

We must make a decision; our spirit must be willing to watch and pray. We cannot allow the emphasis to fall on the weakness of the flesh. The emphasis must always fall on the prevailing power and priority of the human spirit to be graced by God’s Holy Spirit to win the victory.

Not a bad prescription for life and for Holy Week too!

:Watch and pray that you not enter into temptation. The indeed spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (Matt 2:41)

  • γρηγορεῖτε καὶ προσεύχεσθε, ἵνα μὴ εἰσέλθητε εἰς πειρασμόν  τὸ μὲν πνεῦμα πρόθυμον, ἡ δὲ σὰρξ ἀσθενής. (Matt 2:41)
  • grēgoreite kai proseuchesthe hina mē eiselthēte eis peirasmon to men pneuma prothymon hē de sarx asthenēs (Matt 2:41)

Fr. Francis Martin has been a great teacher of mine. He here comments on the text of Mat 26:41.

11 Replies to “A Prescription for Life Given By Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane”

  1. Good morning, Monsignor Pope. I just want to say that I have enjoyed your posts in the last couple of weeks.

    Also, I admit that in the past, there were many evenings when I did not pray, because like the apostles, I was exhausted for one reason or another. The apostles were exhausted with grief, and yet our Lord says that that is not an excuse to not pray. There is a battle raging! There are many evenings when I am so tired, but I know that it is not an option to neglect prayer.

  2. I use a meditation timer for my daily prayer time. You can set it for different lengths of time. It has a soft bell tone to begin and end my prayer time so it doesn’t jar me when I am settled in prayer. I usually pray in the morning at a particular time. I’ve found that I get into a rhythm when I have a routine and a certain time for prayer. That time rolls around and I feel a pull to go do my prayer time. It’s funny because the room I use to pray in is the small toilet room in my bathroom. I think of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” On the wall I have a crucifix, a picture of Jesus and the cross my father wore as a minister. I have a small altar with symbolic articles on it. I pray on a mat and meditation bench left over from my Buddhist meditation days. I like it because I’m in the position of kneeling, but I can sit for an hour without pain. I think it’s ironic that the most sacred room in my house is my bathroom. I’ve prayed in there for so long that it’s just part of me. I guess God will use anything to get us to build a relationship with Him.

  3. I’m a special case: I find it hard to pray. Over the last 10 years, I have totally lost motivation to do so. Why should I pray? . . . What for? What I’ve asked for hasn’t been given, and I really don’t care about anyone else anymore for a variety of reasons, but mainly because God won’t let me serve people in the way I wanted to. And when I do pray, the pressure rapidly rapidly escalates in intensity & manipulativeness (from my guardian angels/devils) that it inevitably soon leads me into sinful outbursts of anger. It clearly wants me to submit to it, ‘surrender,’ and obey its Will(s), but I refuse to submit to something which enslave me to its every finicky whim, takes away $1000s of my hard-earned dollars, and which burdens me with all of the moment-to-moment responsibilities to find out what it wants, and yet no lasting benefits. Oh sure, it’s gotten me a couple girl-friends, some furniture, etc., but none of that lasted. As long as I am careful to observe the Pillars of the church . . . . What need do I really have of prayer?

    1. Hi Agapatos, I’m no expert at prayer, but I imagine its opening our hearts
      to a best friend, our parent, our significant other, and thanking them, telling
      them they matter, sharing things with them, etc. You don’t have to always ask
      for things from them. You just want to spend time with them, enjoying their
      presence. Over time, when you are really close to each other, its like they know
      When somethings wrong and they offer to help us. Same goes with prayer to
      God, the saints, and our blessed Mother Mary.

      God bless you and protect you!

    2. Hi agapatos, the number one reason to pray is to offer adoration and worship to God. God doesn’t do bad things to people. People do bad things to people most often. If you have trouble praying to God for a length of time then say a short prayers or arrow prayer, like “blessed be God” or “have mercy on me a sinner” or “Holy mary pray for me”. Short prayers like that. God gives ” good” gifts in his own time. I suggest you read Msgr pope’s previous essay “what are you praying about? Is it what God wants you to pray about?” Here’s the link: http://blog.adw.org/2014/03/what-are-you-praying-about-is-it-what-god-wants-to-to-pray-about-really/

  4. I am having no success in purchasing “Faith that transforms us”, “New evangelization”. Kindly advise. Purchase instructions not functioning to allow purchase. PLEASE HELP.

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  5. Agapatos: Try this–Before the Blessed Sacrament (or anywhere you find comfortable), sit quietly and simply pray “As You know and as You will, Lord have mercy.” I have found it helpful when my prayer life dries up or when I am insistent on my own way. The two often coincide. As to why one needs prayer–because it is the relationship–not just the dialog–with God.

  6. Prayer is for your benefit, Agapatos; not for God’s. He wants you pray, not because He needs it, but because it will help you know Him, which He wants more than anything, because He loves you more than you can believe. If you don’t pray, you will find yourself moving away from Him. It won’t be Him moving away from you, though; that will never happen. God can handle your anger, by the way. Lift it up to Him and let him deal with it. Release it to Him.

    Thank you, Monsignor Pope. Your writings are very, very good. I am a big fan. You are a blessing to me and many others.

  7. Agapatos, the need you have for prayer is so that you can come into contact with the Creator, Redeemer, and true lover of your person – the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him is everything you could ever need or want because you were created for Him. May God bless you ,brother, and pour His holy Spirit out upon you.

  8. Agapatos, I refused to set foot in a Catholic church for 22 years. Fortunately, God was patient with me, and eventually brought me to my senses and back to the faith. If you are having total trouble praying, you really ought to ask yourself whether you could possibly be in the state of mortal sin. Not according to your own subjective feelings or emotions or state of mind, but rather according to the objective norms as established by the Catholic Church. These are the same in 2014, in 1914, in 1814, etc. If you have to answer “yes” then you really need to find your way to a confessional, get those sins confessed and receive sacramental absolution, and then carefully do the penance prescribed by the priest, to the letter (not more and not less).
    While I agree totally with all of the above comments about the absolute need for daily prayer, one-on-one with Jesus Christ or God, I would caution everybody out there: Satan has become more and more powerful, the more the world turns away from God and to anything & everything else. Early after my return to the faith, I noticed that if I did not go to confession every 2-3 weeks, then I became so dried up, prayer became disgusting and repellent to me, and it became more & more difficult. By making it a personal point to get to confession that often, it is like the ground is being invisibly watered from below. The plants on top flourish, leaves and foliage, flowers & fruit. Prayer comes easily. If I don’t get to confession that often, then the above disgust and repulsion set in.
    Also, there is some sacramental grace from going to confession such that, if you honestly confess what is going on in your sin-life, you will most definitely receive the grace to work through it and eventually get past it.
    Also, I strongly recommend you daily do some structured mental prayer, such as the Divine Mercy chaplet, the rosary, or another form of prays, which requires you to say the same simple mental prayers (our father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, etc.) over and over again. Also, to pray in your own words. As long as your prayer is based on all sincerity & intellectual honesty, and is respectful, it will be most acceptable to God. You should certainly feel free to tell God, “I am faced with disgust over prayer; I am finding these horrible things going on in my life; I fell like I am “stuck” and cannot get out of this mode of being. Please help me, O God!” And then expect that the answer may be something you could not possibly have imagined.
    Lastly, due to some unique personal issues, even though I have now been back in the Church for well over 20 years, I still have problems praying the aforesaid simple mental prayers. I have multiple copies of some holy cards & flyers containing all of them (Apostle’s Creed, Our Father, etc.) and I have to keep them right in front of my nose to get through my prayers sometimes. And this, after 20 years! But God has been tremendously good and patient with me, and He never minds when I have these problems.
    I apologize for the length of this comment, but I think it is important to bring these matters up, as they may help you to work through your own personal situation. I am definitely praying for you during this Holy Week.

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