22 October 2009

A Carthusian's Reflection on Vigilance

This reflection is based on the Gospel of Luke, thus all Scripture references are from that Gospel. The reflection seems quite appropriate for the times we now live in.

At the start of His public mission Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days in the desert (cf. 4:2). Defeated, the tempter withdrew from Him (cf. 4:13). This defeat was repeated at each of the exorcisms carried out by Jesus. But in God’s plan, Satan had his hour, the hour of the final temptation, the hour of the Passion. Then “he entered into Judas, one of the Twelve” (22:3), and succeeded in bringing about the death of Jesus.

Now the disciples also entered into a period of combat. It had been predicted by Jesus: “They will arrest you and persecute you… By your endurance you will gain your souls” (21:12-19).

The Gospel evokes the eschatological temptation, the temptation of the last days, in terrifying, apocalyptical terms: hate, death, anguish, pseudo-messiahs, and cosmic chaos – “The powers of the heavens will be shaken” – before the coming of the Son of Man – “with power and great glory” (21:26-27).

The Church has never, in fact, been lacking in sufferings, and certainly is not without them today. There is no return of Christ, He has not shown Himself, and remains invisible; He does not answer our prayers or our desire (cf. 17:22). So we start to doubt, we no longer have faith, we despair of God (cf. 18:8). Why? Because we have to wait in faith until the very last day. Or else it seems that our prayers are not changing anything; and some of us tend to become drowsy, and to live carelessly, exactly as it happened on the eve of the flood and before the destruction of Sodom; they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building (cf. 17:28).

But there will be a sudden intervention of God in the world and in the lives of each of us: “There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left” (17:36). “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (22:31). Everyone of us is to be sifted like wheat. Everything in us that is merely straw will fly away in the wind; only the grain will remain, that is, if anything remains at all. Our faith itself will be sifted , even perhaps to the point of falling away.

Will the Christian, the solitary, who feels the weight of the absence of God, the long silence of the Lord, this Lord to Whom he is supposed to be speaking, persevere in truly believing? Is it not one our temptations to sink secretly, almost unconsciously, into despair, while continuing to live in a body – in quite a reasonable one, but one that is empty of a soul, one of which the practices and beliefs of what is merely an ideological structure are devoid of value; where there is no real expectation that this will change anything at all in a world in which we are installed at ground level, quite a refined ground, perhaps, but nothing more. As for the irruption of the Other in this closed system, we are too polite, to humble to think that this concerns us personally.

Fortunately Christ has prayed for us (cf. 22:32). His prayer awakes in us a faith in which we pray so as “not to come into the time of trial” (22:40, 46), just as Jesus Himself prayed in His agony of anguish on the Mount of Olives. He has taught us to ask, in the Pater: “Lead us not into temptation” nor to the tempter, there behind the temptation.

All those who have a role of pastor in the Church, and Peter, the first, are to strengthen the faith of their brothers (cf. 22:32). But this is also true, in the communion of the Church, of every Christian whose faith has come victoriously through a time of testing.