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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no 37)

  “Keep Watch With Me”


Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me”. He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matt. 26:36-38).
 
All four Gospels record the agony of Jesus in the Garden. It is one of the gospel scenes that almost all Christians remember. The spiritual suffering of Jesus, the dilemma and dismay of Peter, James and John—the pathos of the scene is palpable. But perhaps the scene remains with us also for another reason, because we find ourselves in the scene; we share Peter's dilemma and dismay. The words are addressed to us: “Could you not watch with me for one hour?”
 
In order to have his way with us, the evil one does not have to draw us into grave and notorious sins. If we can be simply lulled into spiritual sleepiness and dullness of heart, he counts it as a victory. This is why the call of Jesus to “watch and wait” with him is echoed throughout Holy Scripture. “For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as others do, but let us stay awake and sober” (1 Thess. 5:4-6).
 
In the New Testament, prayer is understood in just this way, as keeping vigil, watching and waiting for the unfolding of God's will. Prayer is the spiritual posture of paying attention, keeping watch for the work of God. By constancy in prayer, we fight off that spiritual drowsiness of one who is forgetful of God.
 
In prayer we fight off the drowsiness that blinds us to the true needs of others; we see others in the clear light of God's love. We watch and wait for the opportunities of love given to us anew every day. In prayer we fight off that drowsiness that dulls our consciences, blinding us to our own sins and our failures to love God. In prayer we begin to wake up to what is needful and urgent and what is not. Watching and waiting with Jesus, the “eyes of your hearts” are enlightened to the wonders of his love for you. (Eph. 1:18; 3:18-19).
 
Which brings us back to that scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the heart of that scene is the suffering of Jesus, but also the spiritual confusion and sorrow of his disciples. St. Luke tells us that St. Peter and the others fell asleep “because of their grief” (Lk. 22:45). This brings us to one of the great mysteries of faith and one of the great challenges to the believer.
 
The inevitable sorrows and griefs of this life can indeed dull our spirits, anesthetizing our hearts to the suffering love of God. Suffering can embitter, suffering can turn us inward in self-pity. “Why me?” Or—as the saints in every generation have proved—suffering can finally wake us up to our true and real selves before God. It can open our eyes to the suffering of others. And especially, as we watch and wait with Jesus, it can become a form of communion with our Lord Jesus in his suffering for us. Through the eyes of faith, suffering (in itself hideous, like his Cross) can be actively accepted, as we learn to pray with Jesus to his Father: Your will be done.


 
 
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