National Shrine of
Saint Francis of Assisi

Stay Awake!

by Fr. David May

Reading from the Gospel according to St. Mark: (chapter 13, verses 33-37)

[Jesus said] 'Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; is he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!'

In today's short gospel passage the obvious refrain is: Stay awake. Even in these few verses it's said four times: Stay awake! So let's look at what that might mean, because it seems to be the main theme for today's Gospel and today's liturgy.

In this story (the example that the Lord gives to illustrate what he means) a man travels abroad and he leaves his servants in charge, each with his own task. So that must be the first thing about staying awake: keeping at your task. Whatever the assigned task is, we should be doing it. It's a simple directive, and pretty clear. We say we have 'the duty of the moment'; we say, 'This is what your job is today'. This is what I'm called to do-as cook or as cleaner or as cheesemaker or whatever I'm called to do today. Of course, Ican be un-concentrated and dissipated; I can evade pouring myself into the task. But for the most part we're clear that we're to keep at our task, until he comes.

Another example of not being awake, of not keeping at the task, is worries. If I'm overly worried, I won't keep at my task because I'm worried. My attention is divided, and I'm not there. I'm not 'there', wherever the task is, because I'm 'there' where my worries are. So I'm not with the task; I'm with my worries. We all know that struggle. There's a rare Christian bird who doesn't worry. Most Christian believers are prone to worry, which is why the Lord said so many times: "Do not be afraid; do not be anxious about your life", and all that.

So that's the first and obvious meaning of staying awake: Keep at your task.

The second meaning also seems to be implied here: that there are not just servants who are doing their whatever; there's a doorkeeper. And apparently his task-it's a locked door, probably-his task is to be at the door for the return of the Master. He's on the alert.

I don't know which kind of doorkeeper he is. I figure there are two kinds, you know. There's a doorkeeper who loves his Master, so he's always on the alert for when He's going to come; it doesn't matter to him: cockcrow, midnight, dawn.

I knew a doorkeeper like that once. His name was Brother Ernest Gauthier; he was the doorman at the seminary in Ottawa, and he was at that post for 37 years, 24 hours a day. If there was a knock on the door or a telephone call, Brother Gauthier took it-except for his two week holiday every year, when he went to Notre Dame du Cap, the beautiful shrine in Quebec, where he worked as a doorkeeper for two weeks-to give the doorkeeper there some time off! So, that's one kind of doorkeeper. And he loved Christ in whoever came to the door or whoever called on the phone.

The other kind of doorkeeper is kind of in cahoots with the dissipated servants. You know, he'll give the warning: "He's coming! Get back to work!" He's not really looking forward to the return of the Master.

So there are a couple of kinds of doorkeepers, perhaps. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. This is the kind of doorkeeper who loves his Master. In that sense he can be an example for us.

'Stay awake' means: Be on the alert. It means more than that; it means just praying,desiring his return-'Oh, if only He would come back! It's so much better here when He's come back. So much better here when the Master is in the house. The problems get settled a little more easily. And if somebody needs to talk, He'll listen. He's good that way. I wish He'd hurry up; oh, Come! Please come!'

Christians are meant to be gatekeepers for the world. 'Oh, that you would come and save us, Lord! Look at your people. Look at us, your Christian people. We're so asleep. We're like withered leaves, in so many ways. Come and save us! We've turned away from you and now our hearts are hardened, on top of that. Who can save us but you? You've been our Father; Redeemer is your name. Come!'

We have made this prayer our own. The Church has made this prayer in Isaiah its own, for centuries. And it's for the whole world. When that gets into you, that prayer, you're praying for the world all the time, because there's always something to pray for, someone to pray for, so many. And so the cry deepens, and you're a real doorkeeper, you're a gatekeeper; you're begging him to come. You're awake.

To pray is to be awake. To serve is to be awake. Those are the two obvious meanings. They're the most obvious meanings from our little parable, 'Stay awake'. Serve! Be at your task! And pray that the Master return, that he come, even today. Come!

Suppose that Christ is coming already. Suppose Christ is already here, wanting to live in you and me, right now-which of course is something we believe, since we're joined to Jesus Christ by our Father, in the Holy Spirit.

So, suppose he wants to live in me now. What happens? My task becomes different.

A brother or sister would like to talk to me 'just for a minute', or talk to you 'for a second'; and you really are busy, you know, and it's really not the moment to... But something comes over you (we say we forget ourselves) and you have the compassion of Christ. You listen, and you're peaceful about it. The agitation goes. Without Christ, at our task and even in our prayer, we get agitated.

That's one of the signs, to me, that I'm not with Christ right now: if I'm agitated. I'm listening to you; but inside, I'm thinking, 'I've got to do-whatever'. Or, this comes over you: You're at what you're supposed to be doing, but you really want to be somewhere else-badly! You really just wish you weren't here, now; you really would love to be 'there', not here.

Now, here's the question that Advent poses for us all: Do I really want him to come?With that relentless consistency that he seems to desire? Do I want him in here all the time? Do I really want him, do you really want him to come? Or: How often would you like him to come? How about, as the gospel says here, 'Evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn'? 'Not midnight, Lord. Let's leave off till cockcrow. Well, cockcrow is three o'clock in the morning. No. Let's: dawn. No. How about noon?'

Do I want him to come? Do I want him to be so relentlessly present that I can sing that he's here? What will he want to do next? Whom will he want to love next? How deep will his love want to go-in me, today? Deeper than I went before? Yeah, maybe. Maybe he just wants to be with his Father in me today-a day of quiet and peace. But I'm agitated. Maybe he just wants to be still in me for a little while. But I'm on the run-from him!

And so, Advent is upon us. Do I want him to come? Do you?

Come, Lord Jesus!

- from a homily to the Madonna House community on the 1st Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, 2008

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