“What is the mark of a Christian?” asked St. Basil in his work “ Moralia ,” which is a guide to living a morally upright life in the world. “It is to watch daily and hourly and to stand prepared in that state of total responsiveness pleasing to God, knowing that the Lord will come at an hour that he does not expect.”
A true Christian is vigilant, meaning he is ready to hear God’s word and to respond accordingly.
Today’s readings are about vigilance, especially as they relate to the virtues of faith and hope. In fact, vigilance is impossible without faith and hope, for the disciple of Christ stands prepared because he believes in faith that the Lord has come and will come, and because he believes in hope that Christ will fulfill the promises granted through the new covenant, the Church and the sacraments.
The Book of Wisdom was written by a well-educated, anonymous Jewish author living around Alexandria, Egypt, between 180 and 50 B.C. The “night of the Passover” was a definitive moment for the Israelites. “This was a night of vigil for the LORD, as he led them out of the land of Egypt” (Ex 12:42). The vigilance kept on the night of Passover was based on the promise and the “knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith” (Wis 18:6), which had been given to them by God through Moses.
This vigilance was not just a matter of waiting and watching, however, for it also involved the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. The blood of the lamb was to be put on the doorposts as a sign of their faith, and then the lamb was to be eaten (see Ex 12:3-14). This led to two essential acts: the liberation of the people and the destruction of their enemies.
Hebrews 11 is a powerful celebration of vigilant, active faith. It opens by stating that faith “is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is rooted in God’s actions and words in the past, and looks with hope toward the future and “a better homeland, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:16). Abraham, filled with faith, obeyed when he was called to go to the promised land. Vigilant, he responded, even though he was not certain of where God was leading him, but believing that God had a prepared a city for him.
That city is heaven, the new Jerusalem. There is but one holy land, and it was inaugurated by Jesus Christ, who is the new Moses, “the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2). He inaugurated the Kingdom through preaching and teaching, and by establishing the Church, the “little flock” referred to in today’s Gospel. “The Word of the Lord,” states Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), “is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear the Word with faith and become part of the little flock of Christ, have received the Kingdom itself” (No. 5).
Those who listen with anticipation and respond in faith will receive the Kingdom. Jesus’ exhortation to alert faith is meant for all Christians, and especially for the apostles and their successors. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Our prayer should echo that uttered by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, that we will be “completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 260).
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.