“Jesus said to his disciples: “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’” Matthew 24:37-44
What does it mean to be awake? I had this on my mind after reading this Gospel last night, and in my readiness for sleep, I was short for answers. I told myself I would think about it in the morning, but as usual I woke up not to any thought of my own, but to a little boy climbing on my belly excitedly saying, “Time to wake up?!” Before I could even really respond, he went through his usual morning requests for breakfast (this time asking for tacos), wanted to watch “Dinosaur Train” (which he knows he never gets in the morning), and asking for Lucy, his sister, to get up with him (she’s his best friend). His excitement for waking was met with my reluctance to start the day. Before I begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed to tend to his requests, I remembered the Gospel I read the night before, and thought to myself: So this is what God is calling me to? Half of me wanted to stay in bed, but the other half knew I had to get up. I have responsibilities that require my attentiveness and slacking on the job is not optional, or at least, not optimal. So, in my weariness, I looked at my son’s face—so excited for a new day—and thought, if only I could wake daily with the excitement that he has.
Why was I so wanting to sleep, more than wanting to start my day? Because a new day requires me to work again. It requires me to get up, be alert, be ready to respond to my children’s needs and the needs of my husband; to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to run errands, to write, to study, and accomplish the most that I can, in the best way that I can, for the time that I have before I have to get up and do it again tomorrow. And it can be exhausting. I huff under my breath each morning, “Just a little bit more sleep”; a little bit more sleep to rest from the work that I am called to do.
In examining the very simple task I have each day of awakening (and my daily reluctance towards it), I see many parallels in my spiritual life. It is so much easier to rest in the things that leave me spiritually complacent and carefree than to work on my relationship with God and on myself. I allow myself to be spiritually lazy and blame it on the fact that I have got a million other things to do, and very little time to accomplish it all. If I can squeeze in prayer or my daily examination of conscience, great. If not, He understands. I feel satisfied with my day when I have checked off all (or even some) of the boxes on my to-do list and can just collapse on the couch at night to wind down by watching Netflix or scrolling endlessly on pinterest.
The problem that I face in my spiritual life, though, is similar to what would happen if I decided to stay in my bed in my pajamas all day, ignoring my responsibilities and the offerings my day brings me: I would end up a less fulfilled version of myself. If I failed to respond to the calling of the day, I would lose out on the accomplishment and daily opportunities for growth, and I would be less because of it. I have to get up, and I have to work, but it is through that work that I find fulfillment in life.
Today’s Gospel reminds us—no, beckons us—to stay awake! Not to merely thrive physically, but more importantly, spiritually. In the Gospel, Jesus is calling us to three things: to be alert, to work, and to guard. Just like my physical waking is the only way I can serve, love, move and respond, so too is it in my spiritual life. The crutch, though, is that I have to wake myself up to God’s calling—it is not anyone’s responsibility but my own. This requires me to be alert to the opportunities God sends me every day to grow closer to him and to the people around me. This requires me to work (harder than I do to accomplish the daily physical tasks I am called to)—to put in the effort my faith requires that is sometimes even more difficult, trying, and tiresome. This is a calling to be joyful in the face of obstacles, frustrations, weariness, and pain; to make the effort to listen to the Lord (especially by reading Scripture and by setting aside time for prayer), instead of just throwing my petitions at him; to see the value and dignity of every human being I encounter throughout my day; to not fall into the trap our world sets for us of settling in complacency; to strive daily to live a virtuous and holy life; to be aware of Church teachings; and to guard my relationship with the Lord by devoting time to him, and especially by running to the Sacraments.
To be truly awake is to be close to the Lord, and we cannot achieve this without work. We learn who we really are and what we are called to only in and through him, and we cannot grow closer to him if we allow ourselves to stay asleep and be robbed of the gift of his love.
This Advent season, ask yourself: In what ways am I spiritually asleep? Am I truly alert to God’s will for my life and aware of his love? Do I guard my relationship with him, protecting it as my greatest good? What can I do to wake myself up to his love? What is one change I can make this Advent season that will draw me nearer to him?
May this season of Advent be a time of awakening for us all!