“Vigilance” is a concern for many people today. The terrorist attacks in Paris, Lebanon and the Sinai just to name a few call to mind the need for vigilance. Leaders of free states around the globe have been calling for people to be careful and mindful of security and precaution. Perhaps most recently the city of Brussels in Belgium is a good example of this. The need for vigilance is stressed so that a people may, to the best of their ability, avoid situations that might be dangerous.
“Vigilance” is a theme that we encounter as we begin the season of Advent. While there are similarities to the “vigilance” mentioned above, there are certainly differences. While in the context of terrorism we might use “vigilance” to avoid danger, in the context of our faith we use “vigilance” to anticipate an arrival. It is this anticipation that bolsters our hope and intensifies the joy we experience at Christmas.
Awareness, preparation and action are characteristics of our vigil.
Jesus promises his return at the end of the world. At that time he will come back. The bodies of the dead will be raised. He will gather all into the “New Jerusalem” of our heavenly Father. Jesus will present all the faithful to the Father, as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. All evil will be destroyed. Death, destruction and corruption will be no more. His reign over all creation will reach its completion or perfection.
The first characteristic of vigilance therefore is awareness. Being aware of the basis of our hope, Jesus’ promised return, firmly grounds us in life. The goal of life is union with our heavenly Father where the experience of love and mercy is complete and uninterrupted. This awareness helps us focus our daily living. It gives us purpose and meaning to our lives here on Earth.
Part of awareness is the recognition of those attitudes, decisions, forces, influences and behaviors that either help us or hinder us on the journey to the fullness of life. Jesus teaches us this distinction and offers us an abundance of examples in the Sacred Scriptures. He still guides us and assists us through the presence of His Spirit. Being aware keeps us alert and focused, not in fear but in hope. To this end Jesus says: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness, and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”
The second characteristic of vigilance is preparation. As in any anticipated event, preparation is important. Being prepared for the return of the Lord requires the conscientious cultivation of the virtuous and the good in our thoughts and actions; chief among these are love and mercy. From the time we awake to the time we sleep our days are full of opportunities to develop as faithful disciples of Christ Jesus.
In responding affirmatively to these opportunities we prepare ourselves for His return. Two ways we can highlight our preparation during this Advent are prayer and study. Perhaps we take on something simple with regard to prayer and study. Sometimes the most effective preparation is doing a small thing consistently and well. For example, take five minutes of quiet prayer in the beginning of the day, every day. Perhaps at the beginning of that dedicated time read a few verses from the Gospel of the day (for daily mass – see ).
For study and intelligent reflection on the faith take a book on a specific topic and read a few pages every day. If it’s hard to set this time aside, get a CD and listen to it while driving. Many parishes have book, pamphlet and CD racks full of valuable resources for faith formation. Prayer and study help accent our vigilance in daily life.
The third characteristic is action. Being aware of the Lord’s return as well as his abiding presence and love motivates us to prepare. As we prepare for his return our vigilance is heightened along with the awareness of the life that flows from His love and mercy. This in turn leads us to a decision – to act or not to act. We encounter the bountiful love of God and we are asked to respond in like love. This love is one that moves us outside of ourselves to love God and neighbor. The “action” is the choice of choosing and doing good.
God has an impact and design for all aspects of life (both for the individual and for all humanity). Our vigilance is assured when we discern his plan, the Good, and act on it. Sometimes this may mean changing a behavior. Sometimes it might be letting go of a behavior or attitude. Sometimes it might be developing an already present virtue. Sometimes it might be adding a specific good action to my pattern of life.
The goal of such vigilance is reflected in these words of St. Paul from First Thessalonians: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.”
Vigilance is an important aspect of discipleship. Jesus tells us that we do not know the day or the hour of his return. Keeping vigil helps us to anticipate his arrival so we are always ready to recognize and greet him on his return. At the same time, it helps us to recognize his abiding presence among us and in us.
Vigilance reminds us that we are not alone, we are never alone. Jesus is with us and he will lead us through the toils, troubles and anxieties of life. Vigilance reminds us that with Christ Jesus there is no need for fear. Vigilance fills us with hope.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.