My agony in the garden

My heart skipped a beat when I saw the missed voicemail on my phone. Excusing myself from a meeting, I stepped out into the stairwell and listened to the message from my mechanic.

It was Wednesday of Holy Week, and I was praying for good news. My car had been experiencing major troubles in previous weeks, and while the fix was costly, I was willing to put up the money to get home for Easter. Yet, when I listened to the message from my mechanic asking me to call him back, I knew it wasn’t good. Dialing the number, I prayed for strength. He picked up, and I tried not to cry as he told me the drive shaft had broken and total repairs would well exceed a thousand dollars if I chose to follow through. I thanked him and quickly called my parents to give them the update.

Ten months earlier, I had moved four hours and a state away from my closest friends and family for my first job post-college. During this time, I found a wonderful Catholic community at my new parish and around the city, but I was eager to be home for Easter.

With the exception of my junior year of college when I was in Honduras for a service trip, Holy Week had always been spent with my family, allowing me to enter into the familiar traditions of a parish community that had been my spiritual home since I was 5 years old. But this year was different. After Good Friday Service, I would drive the four hours in silence and prayer and be home before the sun set, allowing me to experience the first half of Holy Week with my new community and Easter with family as I always had.

Or so I had planned. That call changed things.

Before returning to my meeting, I called my mom, who quickly offered (not for the first time) to rent me a car for the week to get me home and back. I didn’t reject the idea but told her we would talk that evening.

Later that day, I found myself at my parish for a weekly young adult night of adoration and Mass. Looking up at the Eucharist in the monstrance, I kept asking myself and Jesus why I felt so alone. Lent had been an abundant gift of community. In those seven weeks, my friendships with other young adults in the area grew rapidly, and my new city truly felt like home. One couple I had grown close to were hosting a big Easter party, and part of me had been sad that I would miss it during my travels to spend the feast with my family. I specifically remember telling God on my way home from their house the previous Sunday that I was so grateful to have friends who made it difficult to leave them for Easter. Others had been very gracious to drive me to and from work when my car was in the shop. And still others had insisted I let them know if I ever needed a ride anywhere.

And yet, sitting in adoration, surrounded by some of these dear friends, I had never felt so alone. Later that night after I called my parents and decided against the rental car, I went to bed and sobbed into my pillow. I don’t remember ever sobbing that hard before.

It was my agony in the garden. There I was with friends — friends who truly cared about me and would go out of their way for me — but I felt alone because I wasn’t in control.

After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with his apostles, his closest friends, and he wept blood. So deep was his anguish, even while surrounded by those he loved so dearly. He was God, but he entered into this agony, allowing this loneliness to wash over him.

The next night on Holy Thursday, a fellow choir member picked me up. Afterwards, a few friends and I drove around town, stopping at seven different churches in honor of how Jesus was paraded seven times between the garden and the cross. I, too, felt like I was at the mercy of others, dependent on who could drive me to each Holy Week Mass or service. Control was out of my hands.

I believed God wanted me to enter more deeply into his passion in a way close to my heart. The physical crucifixion is not a pain I will likely endure, but the deep wound of loneliness, of lacking control, that is something to which I can relate.

And Christ was not lonely just because his friends fell asleep during his agony or denied him before his passion. No, he is also lonely for us when we reject him or deny him or fall asleep to his presence in our lives.

That Easter, I stayed with the couple hosting the Easter party. They picked me up for the vigil Mass, and I was able to sing the songs I had practiced with the choir throughout Lent. And then on Easter morning, I joined my friends and their 2-year-old in preparing the meal for all those who would stop by during the day.

While the week was marked by deep loneliness, the feast of our Lord’s resurrection was a reminder of the community who had walked with me and supported me in these difficult times. They, too, were family. This, too, was home. And Christ was at the center of it all.

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