There are many methods we can use while reading sacred scripture to increase its penetration into our hearts and souls. In fact, multiple methods should be interchanged and used frequently. For example, you can pray scripture, you can meditate on a single phrase or word, you can study its historical context, or you can reflect on a particular passage’s symbolic meaning or spiritual reality. The list of ways to engage with scripture in a very meaningful way is long. For this year’s Lenten reflection series, we are going to employ a technique with which you may be less familiar: placing yourself in the shoes of one of the characters of the story.
We are going to begin this series with Peter and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. After the Last Supper, Jesus specifically invited these three apostles to join Him while He prays in preparation for His coming Passion. At this point, Jesus is overwhelmed with agony and other emotions as He anticipates the terrible things that await Him very soon. He does not hide these feelings from His friends and says to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt 26:38, Mk 14:34). After going off to pray for a while, Jesus returns to His friends to find them sleeping. He awakens Peter, James, and John and says to them, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:40-41). As Jesus goes back into prayer, the apostles fall asleep yet again.
It is important to keep in mind that we have the benefit of knowing how the entire story will unfold and at the time, these three apostles did not. It is quite probable that they were tired after celebrating the Passover and thought that the next day would be like any other, so falling asleep likely did not seem to be a big deal to them. However, with that said, their dearest friend asked them to stay awake and pray with Him because He was heavy with sorrow and for their own resistance to temptation. Typically, when someone we love asks us to do something, we should try to respond in love and be there for that person in the way he or she needs us to be. Imagine the sadness Jesus’ heart felt upon finding out that Peter and the others had fallen asleep when He needed them most. While their intention was probably not to hurt Jesus, that sadness was still a consequence of their actions that He suffered. Sometimes, we too, do not intend to hurt people we love, but our actions nevertheless do so. How can we be more attentive to the needs of others in our lives over our own?
There is also another way of looking at the sleeping apostles, which is symbolically. Sometimes we can fall asleep spiritually by becoming complacent in our faith. Jesus tells His friends to stay awake to pray so that they do not enter into temptation. If we fall asleep spiritually, it will become very easy for us to fall into temptation. Many of us have already experienced this situation at one time or another. It is very important that we stay awake and be vigilant in our spiritual lives so that we protect our souls from things that will lead us down a destructive path. We can do this by praying often, which is simply having a conversation with God in our heart. By maintaining a close, intimate, and conversational relationship with Him, we are naturally led down the correct path of doing His will for us. Do not let yourself be caught falling asleep spiritually because it will be Satan who finds you.
Now, of course, I cannot talk about this part of this particular story without mentioning the beautiful practice of Eucharistic Adoration. If you are putting yourself in the shoes of Peter, James, and John, you then have to accept that Jesus is specifically asking YOU to stay awake and pray with Him for one hour. This is an allusion to spending one hour per week in the presence of Jesus Himself as He is present entirely (body, blood, soul, and divinity) in the Eucharist. As mentioned earlier, the apostles did not know at the time the fate that awaited Jesus, but we have the benefit of knowing how He suffered and died for each and every single one of us. Do we really want to reject His request to be with Him for one hour per week outside of Sunday Mass? Can we not find the strength – like the three apostles – to make a simple sacrifice of our time and attention for Him after He found the strength to die in agony for us? Prior to March of 2020, our parish had a thriving Perpetual Adoration ministry. For every hour of every single day, Jesus had at least one person keeping watch with Him in prayer. He was never left alone. Since the chapel has reopened, we have been unable to fill every single hour, thus causing our perpetual Adoration ministry to no longer be perpetual. As a result, Jesus has to be removed during certain hours of certain days so He will not be left alone. This makes it difficult for people who need to be with Him during their own personal situations which occur at all hours of the day and night. Not only that, but those who do commit to one hour per week in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament report that it is life-changing and brings about some of the most beautiful fruit in their lives. If you want to experience this for yourself, commit to spending one hour per week in the presence of Jesus. Yes, we are all strapped for time and our attention is divided between many things, but remember that nothing in our lives should be more important than Jesus asking us to be with Him for one hour. If you heed His call, He will bless and multiply your time abundantly. This Lent, consider where you might make a small, one-hour weekly sacrifice of your time for Him in thanksgiving for the life-giving sacrifice He made for you. Commit to it by signing up with the Adoration ministry for your weekly hour and enjoy the fruit you reap from doing so.
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