‘Watch and pray’!
In the Gospel of today, Jesus speaks very plainly about the importance of taking our responsibilities seriously. As Christians, we have been entrusted with a very special task. ‘The Lord gives, the Lord takes away.’ He can come at any time and take account of our stewardship. Like sentries or night-watch men, we must always be on duty.
Life is a gift that is given us for others. The first time that most of us were carried into a church, we were not consulted. The last time that we will be carried into a Church we will not be consulted either! To even think that we can run the show in the meantime by ourselves is totally crazy! When it is all said and done, I might think that I own lots of things, but in the long term, the THINGS in our lives will be around or in other people’s hands when we are gone! As I said last week, ‘a shroud has no pockets.’
Jesus advises us to ‘Watch and pray.’ There is a certain way in which we should remain alert. Any one of us would be amazed if we could really discover just how much of ourselves is dormant and inactive. The Advent liturgies call on us to ‘arise from your sleep’, ‘to wake up’, the Lord is coming, and, like the shepherd, we should be on duty when he comes. We all know only too well that we will die one day, but, because it probably won’t happen today, there is no sense of urgency. So we might think! Our Lord is not asking us to be paranoid about dying that we are on ‘edge’ all the time, and have the undertaker’s telephone number close by our side. Besides, we won’t be the ones calling the undertaker! However, on the other hand, if we fool ourselves by saying, “I won’t die today”, and that idea becomes a habit, we will be in for one big surprise when it does happen. So in the meantime, what should we do?
Our lives these days are so active, our Mobile ‘Phones, (Cell phones) seem to be in our hands most of the day, or within reach! As soon as that little bells rings, or some Music from Mozart plays, we either have an email, a Txt message, or Message….maybe even a phone call coming in. The communication can come from any part of the world! With all this growing technology, we are on ‘the go’ most of the time…..even oblivious to the weather outside, let alone noticing some of the beautiful Poppies in our Garden.
This pre occupation with ‘activity’ has the disturbing power of numbing our awareness of self, let alone the awareness of others, at a feeling level. So, in all this, where does the ‘watch and pray’ fit in? The short answer is that it doesn’t fit in at all, because there is too much noise going on in us, and outside of us and around us, we are sure in trouble. Are we destined to lose our awareness of self and others? The short answer is….yes! If we don’t reclaim some of these deep down instincts, and activate those elements which are dormant, we won’t be within a bull’s roar to do what Jesus says, ‘watch and pray’.
It seems to me that ‘watching’ is about the need to ‘be still and know God’. We need to make a habit of personal reflection and review of life, in terms of the invitations that come to us, and the kind of responses that we make to them. When we hear of a friend of ours becoming very sick…..have we been aware of that through ‘being present’ to someone or did it come through a TXT message? That might be a start for us to STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN. Do we think that we know their needs before we even listen to them with our hearts? Taking a box of Old Gold Chocolates to someone who is very sick may be a reaction not a response from us. Being watchful of someone is a very human and sanctifying moment. Sickness and death in another person, speaks its own language, and it is our watchfulness which will enable us to hear and follow our instincts, as well as the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit. It is through all of that that we understand the language and signs of ‘dying’. Our practiced “watching” will enable us to be aware of a bigger picture, while a loved one of ours is actually dying. This is where the attitude and action of “prayer” comes in…..it is only with these two components working hand in hand do we have the opportunity for us to be really ‘present’ within the graced moments of ‘being with’ some else who is dying. We can sometimes help the person who is dying by giving them our permission to go off to God! Sad as it is to say that, it can often be the right thing to do at that moment.
From my over 40 years of priestly ministry, it is a fact that no one has to go off to God alone! Time and time again, I have been aware, just as you have been aware, that someone else is near the bedside or in the room….a loving someone who has already died. Our ‘watchfulness’ will enable us to be tuned into the frequency of this encounter. It generally cannot be proved scientifically……and we don’t need that in any case……we just ‘know’ what is happening within these graced moments, and our whole body is aware that in death, life is changed, not ended, and that our loved one is but a breath away….
In application to ourselves, if we can embody ‘watchfulness and prayer’ with someone else, we can count on the graced moments happening prior to and during our own dying…….
There is a story told about young St.Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit seminarian, who died on June 21 1591. He used to love playing handball with his fellow students, and one day, we are told that a Seminarian said to Aloysius (who was pretty good at handball) ‘What would you do if you knew that you were going to die in half an hour’s time?’ The answer from Aloysius caught them all by surprise…..he said. ‘I’d just keep playing handball!’ Aloysius knew deep in his heart that in seeking God, all unnecessary trappings in this world can get in the way of pursuing that objective. As a 17 year old Youth, he had this world’s goods at his feet, he could easily have slipped into a life of total pleasure, but deep in his heart he believed that there was something more to strive for, and that was to put into action the life and words of Jesus. Though death was all around him as a young man, he never lived to be ordained. In his care for the poor in hospitals who were dying from the plague, he too caught it. On his death bed we get a further insight into his spirituality and motivation. In his last hours he kept brushing off his head cap and finally explained to the nurses as he looked on the Crucifix,” He didn’t have one on when he died’.
So what does all this mean for us? Life is precious, people are precious. Let’s not be caught by surprise when Christ knocks on the door of our hearts and says, “I would enjoy your company at my eternal banquet, right now, and you will not be alone, because there are others that you know who are waiting for you…”
Fr Kevin Walsh
Stanhope Gardens. New South Wales. Australia
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web:https://realhomilies.wordpress.com/