A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The contemplations of the Third Week invite us to enter into the paschal mystery (the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) with Jesus. We walk with him from the Last Supper[2] to his agony in the garden[3], to his arrest and trial[4], and finally to his crucifixion[5], in “sorrow, compassion and shame[6],” as human sinfulness rises up against Jesus and seeks to destroy him. Here, we contemplate Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

During the First Week, we considered our complicity with human sinfulness and what we ought to do in gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.[7] Now, as we enter the Garden of Gethsemane at Jesus’ side, we recognize that our sorrow and shame has moved beyond our individual culpability to recognize the complicity of all of humanity in Jesus’ fast approaching suffering and death on a cross.[8]

As the disciples finished their last meal together, they sang a hymn and departed for the Mount of Olives. Along the way, Jesus predicted their betrayal, all the while promising to reunite with them after his resurrection.

“You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mk 14:27-28)

A crucial Markan theme has been stated.

“Jesus will be slain, and his death will lead to the scandalizing and the scattering of his disciples. They will all flee. But he will not abandon them. As the risen one he will gather his scattered disciples and lead them, as a shepherd leads his sheep, into Galilee.”[9]

Then, demonstrating once again he was in control of the events surrounding his coming passion and death, Jesus predicted Peter’s betrayal of him. It was in stark contrast to the model of discipleship he had taught the disciples earlier (Mk 8:34-38). While Peter takes the lead in his denial of Jesus, he will not be alone. The other disciples will follow his example.

Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you. “And all of them said the same. (Mk 14:26-31)

After arriving in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus began to pray with his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, nearby. In doing so, he began to recognize his control of events was slipping away. With it came a growing sense of powerlessness and fear before the forces of evil that would soon overtake him.

He said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mk 14:32-36)

Jesus returned from his prayer of anguish three different times to his favored disciples, the same ones who had witnessed his raising a 12 year-old girl from the dead (Mk 5:37-42), his transfiguration (Mk 9:2), and, along with Andrew, his eschatological discourse on the coming of the Son of Man (Mk 13:1-37). Although they had witnessed some privileged moments in Jesus’ ministry, they were still unaware of his true identity. They were asleep each time Jesus returned to them, seemingly oblivious to his imminent arrest. Despite his fear, Jesus’ commitment to his Father’s will remained steadfast. Ironically, Jesus’ disciples commitment to him had failed.

The third time Jesus returned to them he said,

“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See my betrayer is at hand.” (Mk 14:41-42)

Jesus’ prayer before God had not been answered. The cup of anguish he faced had not been taken from him. God was now increasingly silent, and Jesus would soon standalone before all of humanity. Nevertheless, he went forward with total self-abandonment, faithful to God’s will and trusting that God would have the final say as the forces of evil coalesced around him. It is a dramatic moment in Mark’s gospel, and it offers insight into Jesus’ consciousness.

“For all his unconditional commitment to God’s design, so amply shown throughout the Gospel, the reader is allowed into the inner recesses of Jesus’ mind and heart, to find two things: terror and a determination to accept whatever God wants.”[10]

Jesus’ passion had begun. Neither his unique relationship with God, nor his power to heal human suffering and forgive sins would shield him from the suffering and death he was about to experience. Jesus’ disciples, who had followed him along the way to Jerusalem without understanding who he was and what was being asked of them, will now abandon him. Interestingly, Jesus’ fear will dissipate as he assumes an air of equanimity, trusting that God is at his side to ultimately vindicate him. It is this grace that will accompany him during the final day of his life.

Jesus’ journey to the cross is a brutal historical reality, and it is from this reality that his resurrection receives its proper meaning. While some Christians prefer to focus on the ultimate triumph of the risen Christ and minimize his death, this undermines an essential tenet of Christian faith. That is, without the cross there is no resurrection. Jesus’ suffering and death are prelude to his resurrection and God’s love triumphing over human sinfulness. They also offer hope to those who would follow him today. Authentic disciples of Jesus accept the suffering that comes from living as he did, all the while trusting that the God who raised him from the dead will do the same for them for their fidelity to the values he lived by.

Let us accompany Jesus in his hour of need in the Garden of Gethsemane. May we take on his fidelity to God’s will, accepting whatever suffering may come our way for witnessing to the kingdom of God Jesus preached. In doing so, let us deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, remembering that those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mk 8:34-35)

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] L. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Sections 190-98.

[3] Ibid., 200-03.

[4] Ibid., 208, 291-95.

[5] Ibid., 296-97.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Ibid., 197.

[8] Ivens, Understanding the Exercises, 154. Undoubtedly, solidarity with Jesus is a personal experience that ought to elicit a deepened sense of our love for him. However, “while the Third Week (dwells) on the for me of the passion, (we) must not privatize it. A habit characteristic of Ignatian spirituality is seeing both the human race in its totality and every individual with whom one deals in relation to the passion and death of Christ.”

[9] F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 288.

[10] Ibid., 292-93.