WATCH, FOR YOU KNOW NOT THE DAY YOUR MASTER WILL COME.This injunction was given by the Lord more than once to his disciples, and it made a deep impression on them. But they understood its significance only after they had failed the great test that came upon them at the time of our Lord's passion and death. After the resurrection, however, they were better equipped to grasp its import and acted accordingly. Already in the Acts of the Apostles we hear of Christians praying at night and passing the night in listening to preaching. Before long the practice grew up among the more fervent among the laity of rising at night to keep watch in prayer so as to be ready when the Lord should come. Even when the conviction that his second coming would take place in the near future waned the practice of prayerful Vigils was maintained, especially by those who dedicated themselves to a life of seeking God apart from society, the monks.
What Jesus meant by "watch", of course, meant much more than observing such vigils. In other parables he brings out the necessity to be prepared at all times to answer to God for our behavior and dispositions. We, as his followers, are to remain observant of our behavior in all circumstances, striving to avoid sin and doing our duty. We are generously to give ourselves over to good works in view of such readiness, as he brought out in his parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The oil in their lamps, the fathers tell us, is charity which burns with love for God and for neighbor. If we review the various stories and parables in which Jesus spoke of the need to watch, we discover that he meant for us to preserve our hearts free from passionate attachments to the pleasures and satisfactions of this world. Greed, ambition, sensuality, power- these and concerns of a similar kind are the thorns that choke the good seed and prevent it from yielding a crop that the Father stores in his eternal barns.
The early monks understood that this teaching of Jesus was of fundamental importance for the Christian and stressed it in word and in practice. They spoke often of the primordial task of the monk to watch over his own thoughts and heart. The person who wishes to pray and to purify his heart must guard it at all times from disordered thought and desires. The passions take root very readily in the soil of the imagination and are quickly transplanted in the heart whence they lead to all manner of disorders. Jesus himself had already pointed out that it is from the heart that the passions arise and make a person unclean in God's eyes. Evil desires already defile one once they are consented to, and soon lead to sinful acts that separate us still further from God. Entertaining pure thoughts requires that we recognize and reject all images, desires and thoughts that are opposed to the law of God and of nature. Holy reading, vigils, separation from worldly ways and avoidance of those activities that distract and stir up passions were all employed by the faithful committed to seeking God. They learned to devise a way of life efficacious so as to achieve this purification of the inner faculties that Jesus enjoined upon his followers.
In view of fulfilling this task imposed on all the faithful, let us too learn to employ these means of arriving at that state of mind and heart which allows us to draw near to the Lord with confident faith in his mercy. His words and his sacraments are given to us precisely to purify and cleanse the chambers of the heart and to enlighten the eyes of our soul. The word of the Lord is pure enlightening the heart. The Eucharist is a never failing source of contact with the Lord who is purity itself and who comes to us to prepare us for himself. May we employ these means of grace with constancy and with faith that the Lord will come to assist us with his grace as we strive to obey his word telling us to watch so that we might be found ready when he comes to take us with him into the Kingdom of his Father.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger</P>
Return to Index.
Go to Archive.