Audio from 10:30 Mass: https://docs.google.com/a/stpius.net/file/d/0B1r8CMMH17Y0bWxEWHZ1Y3J2ZmczempVOFU2cGlTSFdwVmRR/edit?usp=docslist_api
Jesus speaks of a struggle in our world for our own hearts using the imagery of sleepiness during the night watch. Our culture is very sleepy, which shouldn't be a surprise because it is guided by the spirit of the world more than the Spirit of God. You can see this struggle even in the commentary about Black Friday pushing back into Thanksgiving. Some people ask deeper questions about it while others have spiritually fallen asleep, some just say "it's no big deal" and others protest. The sleepy spirit of this passing world is literally working overtime to win the war for our souls.
I've been reading this book called The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which the parish read as a group one Lent a while before I arrived. It is a series of letters from a senior demon giving advice to his nephew demon who is trying to corrupt a male university student - perhaps those are easy targets for little devils to practice on. I first read it in college, so I often felt like the letters were written about me! I was practically looking over my shoulders expecting to see something I didn't want to find!
The senior tempter often stresses the desire to remain hidden and work under the radar - to more or less keep us asleep. If we are unaware, we are less likely to protest and run to God. It's like trying to cook a frog (or so I've heard): if you boil the water first he will not stay in.
There is a struggle like that in every one of our hearts and what the world wants, what the devil wants, is for us to fall asleep - to lose focus and drop our radar and forget about why we are here.
"Watch" in Latin is "vigilate". This is where we get the word vigil from, deriving from the ancient practice of guarding things at night from surprise oncomers hoping for some easy looting. Stay awake or keep watch also get to this point.
The darkness around us can be enveloping. It symbolizes our futures - in fact, this is a fundamental religious experience, one that we all can easily use for family members whose faith is weak. Everyone can appreciate that they don't have any guarantees of what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, or beyond. Our lives are a mystery to us, sitting under the stars surrounded by shadows and half-lights.
But that is only partially true. The other side of the coin is that we have a light placed within us, and that the fire of faith, if we keep it burning, will light up our present and show us through this life, one day at a time. The moon which represents Mary and the saints, who shine the light of the sun even in our darkness will also guide us and remind us that the dawn will one day appear in the East.
Advent is about waiting and waiting is hard. Some people wait years for the right person to marry. I waited years for Jesus to call me to the priesthood. It may take years of constant battle to overcome a particular vice or character flaw we have. Jesus doesn't say it's easy. He just says: watch. And pray!
Watch and Pray! Our prayer is essential to staying awake. Why? Because prayer breaks the mold of the devil's lies. Prayer is a wake-up call that rouses us from the sleep of this world, because it gives us a taste of what we were truly made for. Prayer is an art, a fine art, but different from painting or poetry or music, because it is something everyone is capable of and is always beautiful. Prayer is like breathing or walking – it is so deep a part of who we are and so essential to life, and every time it is a miracle even though we don't treat it as one. And it should be as natural and easy as breathing or walking, too. Because prayer is just spending time with one you love. If you set aside time and say “Lord, I love you,” then you have prayed well.
Watch and Pray. You know, today the Church year begins. The Church is trying to teach us that our New Year's Resolution should be to get ready for Jesus to crash into our lives. Watch and Pray. May Advent help us to live these two commands of our Lord all year round.