Today’s reading is Mark 13:32-37:
“But as for that day and that hour you speak of, they are known to nobody, not even to the angels in heaven, not even to the Son; only the Father knows them. Look well to it; watch and pray; you do not know when the time is to come. It is as if a man going on his travels had left his house, entrusting authority to his servants, each of them to do his own work, and enjoining the door-keeper to watch. Be on the watch, then, since you do not know when the master of the house is coming, at twilight, or midnight, or cock-crow, or dawn; if not, he may come suddenly, and find you asleep. And what I say to you, I say to all, Watch.”
Christ’s basic message here is clear enough: always be prepared for God’s judgment. We must always be ready to give an account of our lives to God, for the Four Last Things—death, judgment, heaven, and hell—are real, and though we usually like to think of them as distant realities, the truth is that their approach is beyond our reckoning, much less our control: “You do not know when the time is to come.”
The practical implication of this truth is that sanctification is the work of a lifetime, filling our every moment. Just as the man in this parable has left home and given authority to his servants, “each of them to do his own work,” God has also created us in this life, each with our own vocation, our own responsibility. This is our life’s work, the purpose for which we were created, and the path by which God intends to bring each person to Himself eternally.
“Be on the watch, then,” Christ says, “since you do not know when the master of the house is coming, at twilight, or midnight, or cock-crow, or dawn; if not, he may come suddenly, and find you asleep.” The Lord will come for each of us at some time or another: the only question is whether He will find us on the watch, busy about our given vocations, or asleep.
Of course, we are only capable of remaining vigilant by the free gift of God’s grace. One great gift that I have found particularly helpful is the veneration of the saints, which gives us a host of models and centuries of wisdom that can inspire us to stay true to the work God has entrusted to us. Two of the earliest and greatest such examples are Mary and Joseph. The one never wavered in sharing Jesus’ life as his mother, from her glorious “fiat,” “Let it be unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1: 38), to the foot of the Cross, and onward to eternal glory in heaven. The other was resolutely committed to leading the Holy Family in whatever way, and to whatever place, God commanded.
The lives of the saints echo down through the ages: another, more modern favorite of mine is Blessed John Henry, Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), who in nineteenth-century England followed God’s call all the way through the very countercultural move (for an elite Oxford don of his time) of entering the Catholic Church. His famous words bear precisely on the steadfast commitment of which Christ speaks in today’s passage from Mark: “God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. … He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.”
Another great gift is the Church’s liturgical year. At first, it might seem that the calendar could have little to do with this passage: Jesus says here, “That day and that hour are known to nobody,” whereas the liturgical calendar is nothing if not predictable. This regularity, however, helps to keep us vigilant, for the rhythmic cycle of annual feasts recalls and relives the whole of salvation history on a yearly basis. The whole trajectory of our relationship with God, from anticipation of His coming to His ultimate triumph over death, is played out in its entirety each year. The continual passing from season to season and feast to feast helps keep our devotion fresh, offers frequent opportunities to begin anew when we have grown weary, and points ultimately to the Lord’s coming. Though we may not know when that will be, the Church’s yearly calendar helps us always to remain prepared.
By God’s grace, therefore, we hope to remain ever watchful for His coming. St. Peter, using the very same word that Christ uses here, also reminds us that there is another reason to remain alert. In a verse that is prayed every day in the Church’s nighttime prayer, he wrote, “Be sober, and watch well; the devil, who is your enemy, goes about roaring like a lion, to find his prey, but you, grounded in faith, must face him boldly” (1 Peter 5: 8-9). We must be on the watch, then, both for the coming of the Lord and for the roaming of the devil. Either we will welcome Christ into our lives, or be brought to grief and perdition. Our Lord desires the first of these possibilities more than we can comprehend: our hope is that, by his grace and grounded in faith, He will come to find us attentive to the work He has entrusted to us and ready and eager for His arrival.
Jim McGlone ’15 lives in Kirkland House and is concentrating in History with a secondary in Classics.