Tonight I’ll partake in the Maundy Thursday custom of making a mini-pilgrimage to nearby churches in order to pray before repositories of the Blessed Sacramentto “watch one hour” with our Lord during his agony in Gethsemane. My friends and I will travel down Manhattan’s East Side, starting after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, going to St. Catherine of Sienna, Our Lady of Peace, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Agnes, Our Saviour.
As I walk, I’ll have these words on my mind from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, on the practice of a Holy Hour:
Seven times in the Gospel of John, the word “hour” is used, and in each instance it refers to the demonic, and to the moments when Christ is no longer in the Father’s Hands, but in the hands of men. In the Garden, our Lord contrasted two “hours” - one was the evil hour “this is your hour” - with which Judas could turn out the lights of the world. In contrast, our Lord asked: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?”. In other words, he asked for an hour of reparation to combat the hour of evil; an hour of victimal union with the Cross to overcome the anti-love of sin.
Secondly, the only time Our Lord asked the Apostles for anything was the night he went into his agony. Then he did not ask all of them . . . perhaps because he knew he could not count on their fidelity. But at least he expected three to be faithful to him: Peter, James and John. As often in the history of the Church since that time, evil was awake, but the disciples were asleep. That is why there came out of His anguished and lonely Heart the sigh: “Could you not watch one hour with me?” Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.
Companionship. Companionship, and precisely the failure to accompany Christ, succinctly describes the journey of Lent and the viator to perfection. It’s why the Holy Father remarked to his Wednesday Audience this week that the betrayal of Judas seen in the readings of Spy Wednesday (Mt 26: 1425) marks the beginning of Christ’s Passion, his “way of humiliation”: Christ is betrayed by his own friend, is subsequently stripped and beaten, and makes his way of the cross to the most humiliating death.
I’ll ask myself if I have really accompanied Christ throughout this Lenten season. And I’ll know, with John Henry Cardinal Newman, that “my hard and stony heart, my proud heart, my unbelieving, my impure heart, my narrow selfish heart” made me blind to the companionship Christ offered to me:
O my God, how can I look Thee in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovableor rather so awfully increasing! Thou loadest me day by day with Thy favours, and feedest me with Thyself, as Thou didst Judas, yet I not only do not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time. Lord, how long? when shall I be free from this real, this fatal captivity? He who made Judas his prey, has got foothold of me in my old age, and I cannot get loose. It is the same day after day. When wilt Thou give me a still greater grace than Thou hast given, the grace to profit by the graces which Thou givest? When wilt Thou give me Thy effectual grace which alone can give life and vigour to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine?
Although we will be actively visiting as many altars of repose as we can, we’ll hope to learn what St. Thomas Aquinas meant when he defined charity as “the friendship of man for God;” this friendship, this charity, is the inheritance mentioned at the washing of the feet, the Eucharist instituted at the Last Supper. “‘Could you not watch one hour with me?’ Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.”