By Alan Fimister | 13 September 2023
There is, the Catechism assures us, before the end of the pilgrimage of the Church Militant and the general resurrection, a passion of the Church, just as Our Lord’s Passion preceded His own glorious resurrection. The first collegial and synodal act of the episcopal college, a wit has observed, was the unanimous abandonment of Our Lord by the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even before that, however, they unanimously fell asleep during His agony.
“Stay awake!” Our Lord and the Apostles endlessly exhort us throughout the New Testament. Every day at Compline, St Peter reminds us, “Be sober and vigilant, because your enemy, the Devil like a roaring lion is prowling about seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, strong in faith!”
At the end of the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins, Our Lord admonishes us “Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.” (Mt 25:13) Yet all ten of the virgins fell asleep.
There are a number of lessons for us here. We really don’t know the day or the hour. Things seem very apocalyptic at the moment but that does not mean this is the end, or near it. Equally, however, neither does it mean that it isn’t. We should be vigilant at all times however things seem to us.
On the other hand, we know that we are dust and that we shall sin. Even if we don’t, to suppose that we won’t would in itself be damnable presumption. We need therefore to keep the oil of the sacraments in our lamps. Without the sacraments, we shall surely perish. We cannot be like those Anglican virgins who played at being bridesmaids and then found it was all “absolutely null and utterly void” and there was not time left for them to go to them that sell, and buy for themselves.
Vigilance — nepsis (νῆψις) — is the great spiritual practice advocated by so many eastern ascetics as the centrepiece of spiritual progress through continual prayer. As the skies darken, we would do well to heed them. This tradition became tainted with superstition and heresy in later centuries after the schism, but its fountains are pure.
In his great encyclical on the church, Mystici Corporis Christi, Pius XII reasserts the dogma of Christ’s Beatific Knowledge, so loathsome to Modernists and Nestorians:
“Now the only-begotten Son of God embraced us in His infinite knowledge and undying love even before the world began. And that He might give a visible and exceedingly beautiful expression to this love, He assumed our nature in hypostatic union: hence — as Maximus of Turin with a certain unaffected simplicity remarks — ‘in Christ, our own flesh loves us’. But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvellous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.”
This is a heart-piercing and heart-breaking truth. Every time we read or hear Our Lord utter a word in Scripture, He is literally addressing us directly. When He said, “Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour”, He knew that you dear reader would read those words in 2023 and He addressed you consciously in His human nature as much as in His divinity, because the one Divine Person of the Word is the only subject of His actions and His godhead suffuses His humanity, like the fire in the blacksmith’s iron. So when Our Lord said to the disciples, “Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak”, He knew that we too were hearing His words and He addressed us also.
Those who were with the Lord on that night fell into three groups. First there was the angel sent by the Father to strengthen Him. It is this angel who, in seeking to observe the watchfulness to which the Lord and His Apostles call us, we must seek to emulate and accompany. Secondly, there are the sleeping disciples and it is they whom we emulate and accompany when we waste our lives in venial sin. Finally there is Judas, the soldiers and the mob who come to betray the Saviour and hand Him over to the world. It is this damned throng we join ourselves to whenever we fall into mortal sin, betraying Our Lord with a kiss when we receive Him in the Eucharist with an unconfessed mortal sin upon our souls.
The eternal Logos, born and suffering in our flesh every day, looks upon us and reigns over us eternally from the tree. “Ever and anon a trumpet sounds From the hid battlements of Eternity”. Let us heed its call and “stay awake”!