I think one of the most powerful messages for me this Easter season came from Pope Benedict XVI during his general audience address the Wednesday of Holy Week. He made me take a much closer look at what the “sleepiness” of the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before the Lord’s crucifixion really represents.
I always thought that the apostles’ inability to stay awake and pray when Jesus needed them most was meant to remind us of our own human nature; our physical limitations and the struggles against the flesh, which oftentimes prevent us from getting closer to God. While the pope doesn’t deny that aspect of the apostles’ struggle and our own struggles with our physical limitations, as always, he wants us to dig a little deeper.
As Pope Benedict explains, the somnolence mentioned in St. Matthew’s Gospel (see Chapter 26) was more about wanting to remain in our dreamlike state or our own little spiritual comfort zone.
“Jesus said to his own: Stay here and watch,” the pope said during the April 20 general audience. “And this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish of menace in which the betrayer arrives, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for all times because the somnolence of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment but is the problem of the whole of history.”
How many of us have allowed ourselves at some point in our lives to be lulled into a sense of spiritual complacency or sleepiness, where we buy into the political correctness of the culture and refuse to stand up for the truth because it might cost us something? We might actually have to get out of bed and take a stand against an injustice. It is so much easier to pull the covers over our heads, as the pope points out, and stay in bed or in “la la land.” Maybe if we ignore the truth it will just go away.
“The question is what this somnolence consists of, and what the vigilance to which the Lord invites us is. I would say that the disciples’ somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, insensitivity to all the evil of the world,” the pontiff said. “We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them. And it is not only insensitivity to evil; instead we should be watching to do good, to struggle for the force of good. It is insensitivity to God — this is our real somnolence; this insensitivity to the presence of God that makes us insensitive also to evil. We do not listen to God — it would bother us — and so we do not listen, of course, to the force of evil either, and we stay on the path of our comfort.”
Most of us are very familiar with the Scripture readings that encompass our Lord’s journey to Calvary and the Resurrection. However, we shouldn’t limit our study or our prayer concerning these powerful verses to Lent and Easter. I know now that I will never look at the Agony in the Garden the same way again, not after reading the pope’s reflection.
No pun intended, but what a wake-up call. In this day and age of moral relativism, is there really any time for catnaps? As the pope explains, the somnolence of the apostles is more about our own often-tired attitude toward important issues, or maybe even toward our own personal crosses.
In a very real sense, however, as far as spiritual warfare, attacks on the Catholic Church, and our own salvation journeys are concerned, Pope Benedict XVI is telling us if we snooze we really do have an awful lot to lose.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.