Friday, August 29, 2008

Thursday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Sleeping To Stay Awake

Readings: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Psalms 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Matthew 24:42-51
Picture: CC jonnykeelty

On the approximately 3-hour long bus ride from the airport to my final destination, I wanted very much to stay awake. I wanted to take in the scenery provided by the coastal drive. I wanted to notice important information, details about the various exits along the freeway, for example. But the rigors of the flight across the Pacific proved just a little too much – I had tried not to sleep for any extended period on the plane, in an effort to avoid jetlag. As a result, more than half of the precious bus ride found me in dreamland.

This is the experience that is brought to mind as we listen to Jesus exhort the disciples to stay awake and stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. We all know that this is easier said than done. Like what I found on the bus, the desire to sleep can prove too overpowering. We succumb so easily to the zee-monster, and before we know it the scenery has passed us by. Ever so stealthily, the Son of Man may have come and gone, without us being any the wiser. Is there anything we can do to help ourselves stay awake?

Perhaps the first thing is to notice what staying awake entails. While we may think only in terms of staying away from the more obvious occasions of sin – not getting angry with others, for example, or shielding our senses from all less than wholesome delights – Jesus speaks mainly in terms of responsibility for those entrusted to our care. What sort of servant… is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their food at the proper time? A key part of the lesson that Jesus offers us today seems to be that staying awake is at least as much about our need to care for others as it may be about our own struggles with purity. To stay awake and to be ready to welcome the Son of Man who comes at unexpected moments of each passing day, we need to be conscientious in seeing to the needs of those for whom we have some responsibility.

And perhaps it is only when we allow our hearts to be taken up by such preoccupations – when we are more concerned for the ultimate wellbeing for others than with our own comfort – that we come to learn to do what is necessary to stay awake. Perhaps it is only when we gradually become orientated towards the service of others that we learn to care for ourselves in ways that make us more effective stewards of the Master’s household. We learn to get enough sleep and rest when we need it, for example, so that we can be alert and effective in discovering and seeing to the needs of others. We become more aware of and attentive to our own emotional needs, so as to avoid unconsciously burdening others with them. We carefully cultivate our own interior life, not only so that we ourselves can be holy, but also so that others might encounter the Lord in and through us. In other words, we learn to stay awake by getting enough sleep.

As we continue on the bus ride of life, how much of the scenery are we truly enjoying today?


  1. Welcome back, Fr Chris!

    I need lots of sleep. 8 hours is just right; 9 is divine. I once moaned to my GP that I envied friends and colleagues who get by on 5 to 6 hours. His wise reply: "We're all made differently, so to you 8 hours is normal". I have quietly resigned myself to that fact.

    Fr Chris' take home point today for me is simply: serving others keeps us awake. We can serve well only to the extent that we are connected to the Source of our strength and motivation, because service is draining and we need to constantly top up. For me, I'm not always awake because I have taken my faith for granted; I have lost that urgency to evangelize that I so admire in our separated brethren. I have missed seeing "the Son of Man who comes at unexpected moments" and so grew drowsy with the myriad other things that scream for my attention.

    St Monica stayed awake for 30 years; her incredible vigil gave us a great saint and theologian. Ss Monica and Augustine, pray for us.

  2. Fr Chris, glad to see you posting again!

    The scenery on this blog has changed: Now that you're in the US, all the entries in this blog have moved one day back! Last Friday's post has become Thursday's, etc. And those of us who're still in Singapore now read your reflections on the previous day's readings. I used to enjoy moving forward, pondering over the readings and your question for the day. Now, perhaps it's time for us to begin our day looking back on the scenery that has just passed in our lives, repent/rejoice and then resolve to stay closer to our Lord in spirit and in deed!

  3. Being alert is not just to look - sensing the present or the Now. Often the mind is willing but the body is weak.
    Being mindful of another person's need is very taxing. It requires full attention and a large dose of empathy.
    Being watchful is a virtue we must maintain in order to be ready when we are called. A prepared person awaits for the 'summon'.
    Unfortunately my 'being' is often not in tune with my circumstances so I suffer from all the trappings described.
    How can we exist and being who we are, without God's grace?


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