“…’My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me’. When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?… Watch and pray…’ Then he returned again and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open’ (Segments from Matthew 26:38-43)
That was 2000 years ago at the garden of Gethsemane, the night before Our Lord was crucified, as he waited, and prayed, in a state of immeasurable anxiety before his arrest and execution.
For me it accurately reflects the state of the world and our culture during this trial (or chastisement) of the COVID-19 pandemic. With most of the world shut in due to the Coronavirus, Our Lord asks us to keep watch, and pray. But how many of us are are sound asleep?
Are we “awake”? Are we keeping watch, faithfully and frequently in prayer? I’m finding that for so many of us it can be said that “They could not keep their eyes open”, as if we really are asleep during a time when we should be awake, alert, and keeping watch. The Lord comes and chastises us for our habitual and systemic state of slumber, he tells us to wake up, to keep watch, to pray, and yet still we fall asleep and take our rest again. He scolds us again as we hide out in our homes and indulge in our pleasures like the people in Edgar Allan Poe’s Mask of the Red Death. To a degree I’m guilty of this, too! We remain spiritually and intellectually sound asleep. I can almost hear the Lord saying “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?”
An Hour, or Wasted Time?
An “hour”, in biblical terms often wasn’t referring to the passage of 60 minutes. “The Hour” generically referred to some significant moment. Jesus referred to, or mentioned “an hour”, “the hour”, or “my hour” all the time, referring to different significant moments (See John 2:4, Matthew 26:45 for 2 examples)
I am discovering that so many Catholics are scared or worried. So many are talking about the politics surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, they’re talking about China, the economy, they’re stocking up on pleasure and comfort items. They’re asleep. They don’t see this “hour” for what it is and so they aren’t “keeping watch” as they should be—that is to say they aren’t living this “hour” as they should.
I can imagine Jesus making a surprise, momentary appearance, saying “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Are you still asleep and taking your rest? Too busy watching Netflix? Too busy on your smartphone? Even when I send such a blunt sign as this pandemic that has gripped the entire world, you just can’t keep your eyes open? Keep watch and pray!”
The Hour Has Come
This pandemic is “an hour”—a significant moment. Life has literally come to an abrupt stop in most of the world as people are shut up in their homes. Many churches are closed and masses are closed to the public, and that by itself is significant. Schools are closed. Economies are being rocked. Stores and businesses are closing down or are temporarily closed. We are all being told to stay separated from one another. These are all serious things that signify the gravity and seriousness of this “hour” and they signify the reality that this is not just an ordinary inconvenience in the human order, it’s something much more significant.
This is “an hour”; a significant moment. It’s the hour of God’s justice. It’s the hour of God’s special mercy. The hour when God shook the world and commanded us all to wake up, to change, to renew our faith. It’s an hour when God is demanding the attention of all every person in the world—all humanity—at the same time, in a direct, personal, and unambiguous way. Such things only happen by God’s permission and he only permits it when the world needs a serious wake-up call. Are we all awake yet, or are we going to roll over and go back to sleep? What each and all of us do during this trial will define us.
During this hour, we should all keep watch and pray. I don’t know what we should be watching for, to be fair and honest with you. But I know we should be watching for something. We should be spiritually and intellectually alert rather than dulled and numbed by our comforts and pleasure. The Lord is trying to teach us something. He is trying to reveal something. Some thing that he wants us to learn, individually and universally. Some thing that he wants us to take from this. Keep watch.
We should be praying. A lot. Pray for God’s protection. Pray for deliverance from this pandemic. Pray for the recovery of those who are infected. Pray for God to have mercy on us—on all mankind—for all the sins we have committed that have resulted in what I sincerely believe to be a world-wide chastisement.
Don’t squander this hour. May God help us all to stay awake and to live through this hour the way he intends.
Recall, pray and reflect on Psalm 88:
O Lord, my God, I call for help by day; I cry out in the night before you. Let my prayer come before you, incline your ear to my cry…I am shut in so that I cannot escape. My eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.
Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!