“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.” (Mark 13: 33-37)
“Watch and Pray!” This is Christ’s command to us as we begin Advent. In both our Old Testament and Gospel readings, this command is tinged with both foreboding and joyous expectation: foreboding for the time until He comes and joy at the expectation of His coming.
We are told to “Take heed” of the foreboding times that Jesus warns of earlier in Mark 13:
“But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them” (Mk 13:9).
“If the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved” (Mk 13:20).
“But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mk 13:24).
The focus of our Gospel reading this week is vigilance in prayer. We are called to be vigilant not in spite of, but very much because of the foreboding signs that Christ gives us. He tells us to be vigilant during these dark times, when the sky and heavens may fall, and we are witness to brother turning on brother: a time when it appears no human being would be saved. Our world, our society, will not refuse to test our faith and strain our belief in Love and Goodness just because it’s the holidays. Turn on the news for 30 seconds and you will see scandal, riots and discord. However, vigilance during these times is also about unquenchable joy– the hope and expectation of Christ’s coming overshadowing our troubling days.
In light of this, we are called to pray. Remember 1 Corinthians from Wednesday’s post:
“…our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end…God is faithful” (1 Cor 1:7).
We are called to persist in our prayers for each other, for the strength of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit and their ability to work wonders in our lives.
Christ calls us to pray, above all else, because it is through prayer that we submit to the workings of the Holy Spirit. It is through prayer that we hear the voice and will of God in our lives. It is through these things that we make ourselves ready to be rescued from ourselves and our sin. We are very much a people in need of rescue. To quote Fr. Robert Barron, “In order to be saved… we have to be in touch with the fact that we have something that we need to be saved from” (Homily, Nov. 27, 2005).
Think back to Monday’s post about being in the first three steps of overcoming our addiction to sin. In order to admit our addiction and weakness, in order to make ourselves save-able, we must first, through prayer, humble ourselves. What better time to humble ourselves than in that season which precedes the very birth of the King of the Universe? (Sometimes it takes seeing great power, in this case the greatest power of all, in order to remember one’s own weakness)
Vigilance is required also because it may be at that one moment where we think ourselves either capable of our own salvation or entirely beyond hope of salvation, that the Lord may come again. This accentuation on vigilance flies very much in the face of how our society “lives for today”. In the philosophy of Carpe Diem, western society has embraced the ideology that living for today means that we have to cram as much sensual joy and pleasure as we can into every single day because we may not wake up the next.
But Advent also reminds us that the Last Day, the Day of Judgment is something to be celebrated; for to those who have been vigilant it is not Judgment but Salvation. Our Catechism teaches us that Advent is the time during which “the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC 524). We have been sustained by Christ, we have been given great faith, innumerable graces and blessed companions so that we might experience His coming with joy! We don’t practice vigilance in prayer only because “the Bible tells us so”. We are vigilant in prayer because we are brimming with expectation.
Judgment Day is coming, and it may seem strange that we would think of it with joy, but this is the same joy that fills our hearts when we look at the nativity, and it carries the same force as the sorrow that we feel when we look upon The Cross, for it is Jesus who is coming, and Jesus is the one of whom of whom it was said,
“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world , but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3)
Take joy in the coming (again) of our Savior: “Take heed, watch and pray”!
Logan Amster is a Vice President of Aligheiri Press and serves as an author and speaker.
Image source: americancatholic.com