By The Hermits, Apr 18 2020 09:40PM
The Corona virus has confronted us in the West with fear. Despite economic problems and real poverty on a fairly vast scale there has not been this fear for a very long time. Not a few people feel that this pandemic is being exaggerated, and that is nothing compared to the Spanish Flu in 1918, nor is it to be compared with the horror of the Black Death in the mid fourteenth century, but it is fear nevertheless. That eccentric poet, artist, and mystic Caryll Houselander was asked how she managed in London during the Blitz and she said something like “One was just afraid” (I have to say it is nearly 24 years ago that I read her biography, and I no longer possess it, so my memory will be rusty). I think I know what she means; one simply has to admit the fear and act on it.
Christ in Gethsemane is afraid. What does he fear? Obviously he fears the agonies and torture of what he will go through from his arrest until his death. That however is only a very small part of it. He knows that all the sins of the human race will be poured out on him, and that his humanity is unable to cope with it. That is why the angel is sent to him to give him strength in this tremendous battle with evil. He has known from his birth to the agony in the Garden that he would suffer death on the Cross, and that Satan would hurl all the evil that he could at him, but now in his humanity he has to experience it in the flesh. A man may be called to die for his country and prepares himself for it, but when the moment comes it will feel very different for the simple reason that fear at imminent death is something almost impossible to imagine. It really is about feeling it rather than thinking about it.
Thus St. Peter can say he will never deny Christ while in the afterglow of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, but when faced with the possibility that his association with Christ might lead to his own death, he crumples under the questioning of a young serving girl and denies that he ever knew Christ. How does Christ confront this fear? Very simply; by bowing before his Father’s will. This was no easy thing, otherwise he would not have made that desperate prayer:
“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”(Luke: 22, v.42”)
Christ sees the almost infinite ingratitude of Man towards God. All the seven deadly sins process before him dragging millions upon millions of souls to Hell over the course of human history. He sees idolatry, sexual immorality, avarice, cruelty, murder, envy, greed, and the endless woe of the domination the weak and poor by the wealthy and the powerful. He sees how in particular women will suffer at the hands of ma, be that man a husband, a lover or a conquering soldier. He sees such heart-rending scenes as the continual raping of German women by Soviet Soldiers as they invaded Eastern Germany and took Berlin. He sees the millions dying in the Gulags, or being brutally done to death in Pol Pot’s killing fields. He sees the fear in the Concentration Camps and Death Camps. He sees the endless orphans caused by war or starvation. He sees the desolation experienced by the millions of Africans and native American Indians enslaved by supposed Christian nations from the 15th century until the 19th. He sees the burgeoning of abortion in Russia from the 1920’s onwards and its explosion in Western Europe beginning in Britain in 1967. He sees the relentless arms race of the 20th and 21st centuries.
He would have been gripped with horror at the wholesale sexual immorality of Western youth from the 1960’s onwards, and the utter disinterest of millions upon millions to the Gospel that he preached and the mercy that he offered. He knew that for the majority of mankind his death would appear futile, and would not save the majority of men. Nowhere would this be more true than among supposedly committed Christians, Priests, ministers, popes, cardinals and religious would desert their Lord and Master whom they had promised to serve, because they had become to comfortable, immoral, lax and utterly lukewarm.
The most bitter pain that would far outweigh his actual agonies of the scourging and the Cross is that this vast multitude of damned souls simply could not be bothered with God or their eternal salvation. They were too preoccupied with life, either eking out a living, or saturated with comfort, to give much time, or even little thought for God. No wonder God in the Old Testament represents himself to the prophets as a wronged husband whose heartless harlot of a wife gives him no thought, no consideration and absolutely no Love. No wonder Christ was afraid.
God the Son is crushed by grief, overwhelmed by the immensity of his coming Passion and wonders in his humanity how he can suffer all this. Added to this he must feel as if he is the epitome of sin, that he is the great rebel. He must feel as if he is defying the Father, though he knows this is not true. The whole of The Father’s wrath descends upon Christ like some immense rock and crushes him into nothing. It is as if every part of his body is steeped in the sins of all who have ever lived, and he will feel something of the despair of the damned. This he will feel infinitely because he is God, and more so because he is not only God incarnate but love incarnate.
And so ultimately though his passion, seen from the observer’s point of view, is nothing compared to the extraordinary sufferings of some men, who have had to undergo the most terrifying tortures before they died, looked at from Christ’s perception, the suffering which is mental, physical and spiritual, is so dreadful that for all eternity the Elect in Heaven will be amazed and eternally grateful for Christ’s Passion, and the Damned will bitterly bewail their loss and understand their incredible thanklessness before such unbelievable sufferings.
In the light of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane, the sufferings of the pandemic can be seen in a much better light. Christ has defeated evil and has redeemed us, and opened the gates of Heaven for us. He has taken the terrifying and poisoning quality of fear from us, and shown us how to tranquilize that fear; by looking at his terrible sacrifice which defeated the tremendous evil of Man, Christ nevertheless continues to love every man and woman who has ever lived, with the intensity of the most passionate of lovers.
St. John says that perfect love casts out fear, and so Christ on the Cross perfects his human love to the highest degree and casts out the deadliness of fear for us all, but for this to happen we must unite our wills with his and say:
“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”
This then is best and perfect way, and will console us in this truly frightening Corona pandemic.