Detail from "Christ Leading the Apostles to Mount Tabor" by Lorenzo Lotto (1512).
Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Heb 11:1-2, 8-19
“What is the mark of a Christian?”
asked St. Basil in his work, Moralia, which is a guide living
a morally upright life in the world. How might we answer this
question? To be kind. To be charitable. To give to the poor.
These are all good answers, but St. Basil’s answer emphasized
something else: “It is to watch daily and hourly and to stand
prepared in that state of total responsiveness pleasing to God,
knowing that the Lord will come at an hour that he does not expect.”
A true Christian is vigilant, meaning he is ready to hear God’s
word and to respond accordingly.
Today’s readings are about vigilance,
especially as they relate to the virtues of faith and hope. In fact,
vigilance is really impossible with faith and hope, for the disciple
of Christ stands prepared because he believes in faith that the Lord
has come and will come, and because he believes in hope that Christ
will fulfill the promises granted through the new covenant, the
Church, and the sacraments.
The Book of Wisdom was written by a
well-educated, anonymous Jewish author living around Alexandria,
Egypt, between 180 and 50 B.C. The “night of the Passover” was,
of course, a definitive moment for the Israelites. “It was a night
of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt”
(Ex. 12:42). The vigilance kept on the night of Passover was based on
the promise and the “knowledge of the oaths in which they put their
faith,” which had been given to them by God through Moses.
This vigilance was not just a matter of
waiting and watching, however, for it also involved the sacrifice of
an unblemished lamb. The blood of the lamb was to be put on the
doorposts as a sign of their faith, and then the lamb was to be eaten
(Ex. 12:3-14). This led, then, to two essential acts: the liberation
of the people and the destruction of their enemies.
Hebrews 11 is a powerful, even poetic,
celebration of vigilant, active faith. It opens by stating that faith
“is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things no
seen.” Faith is rooted in God’s actions and words in the past and
looks with hope toward the future and “a better homeland, a
heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). Abraham, filled with faith, obeyed when
he was called to go to the promised land. Vigilant, he responded,
even though he was not certain of where God was leading him, but
believing that God had a prepared a city for him.
That city is heaven, the new Jerusalem,
the dwelling place of God. There is but one holy land, and it was
inaugurated by Jesus Christ, who is the new Moses, “the pioneer and
perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). He inaugurated the kingdom
through preaching and teaching, and by establishing the Church, the
“little flock” referred to in today’s Gospel. “The Word of
the Lord,” states Lumen Gentium, “is compared to a seed
which is sown in a field; those who hear the Word with faith and
become part of the little flock of Christ, have received the Kingdom
itself” (par. 5).
Again, vigilance and obedience are
essential; those who listen with anticipation and respond in faith
will receive the Kingdom. Jesus’ exhortation to alert faith is
meant for all Christians, but he explained to Peter that his words
held a special gravity for the apostles and their successors. The
master, Jesus, has given his servants, the apostles, unique authority
in the household of God. The slothful or ignorant servant will suffer
severely. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Our prayer should echo that uttered by
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, that we will be “completely
vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your
creative action” (CCC 260).
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the August 8, 2010, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)