Was Christ praying to avoid His Cross when, in Matthew 26:39, He prayed, "Let this chalice pass from Me" — or was He praying to share His Cross for the salvation of souls?
Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, asks whether "Christ's prayer was always heard." The first proffered "objection" claims Christ prayed that the "chalice of His passion might be taken from Him ... yet it was not taken from Him" (ST III, q.21, a.4, obj.1).
But when replying to this objection, St. Thomas cites, among others, St. Hilary of Poitiers, whom he paraphrases:
He does not pray that it may pass by Him, but that others may share in that which passes on from Him to them; so that the sense is, As I am partaking of the chalice of the Passion, so may others drink of it, with unfailing hope, with unflinching anguish, without fear of death. (ST III, q.21, a.4, ad.1).
Saint Thomas observes if Christ was praying that "other martyrs might be imitators of His Passion," then "His prayer was entirely fulfilled."
Thomas notes that Christ, as man, had a natural repugnance to suffering, but clarifies that "neither the divine will nor the will of reason in Christ was impeded or retarded" by any passion (ST III, q.18, a.6, co.). While the Angelic Doctor allows that Christ may have been teaching us to conform our will to God's, he also countenances that Christ's prayer in Gethsemane wasn't owing to fear swaying Him.
Sharing the cross of redemptive suffering with future Christians was the means of reducing the number of lost souls — Christ's main concern conveyed in Church-approved private revelations to the 20th-century mystic, St. Faustina Kowalska. Day nine of the subsequent Divine Mercy Novena recounts Christ telling the Polish nun, "My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out, 'Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.'"
Learn the value of redemptive suffering in season two of Church Militant's Premium show The One True Faith—Pain and Suffering.