Matthew 24:37-44
   From Bad Sleep to Good
 by Rev. Paul Scalia

       Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Jesus said to his disciples: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

There are two different kinds of sleep. There is the healthy sleep — the “good night’s sleep” we do not get often enough. When we do get it we might say, “I slept like a baby” — because we associate it with innocence. Sometimes it is termed the “sleep of the just,” because it conveys that clarity of conscience that enables peaceful rest. Our Lord displays this most of all: He sleeps peacefully in the stern as the storm at sea and the anxiety of the apostles rage around Him (cf. Mk 5:35-41). He, the eternal Son, is completely at peace in the bosom of the Father (cf. Jn 1:18). He is perfectly innocent and just. Nothing — not even a storm — disturbs His rest.

But we know that there is another kind of sleep — a sleep contrary to our good. Even our children’s stories teach this. Snow White is condemned to a sleep not of her choosing — a sign of evil’s power. Again because of evil’s work, Sleeping Beauty’s entire kingdom must sleep until a savior arrives. And Mowgli is put to sleep by the wicked Kaa. But in reality this “sleep” is not usually physical. It is a spiritual fog, an intellectual stupor. It indicates not innocence and integrity but sloth and laziness. So we say that someone is “asleep at the wheel” or needs to “wake up and smell the coffee.” And the saddest occurrence is in the Garden of Gethsemane, when sleep overcomes the apostles — both spiritually and physically. 

The world tempts us into this kind of slumber. Our fallen human nature happily cooperates. And the devil encourages it all. Our creature comforts lead us into that sleepy attitude ripe for neglect. Jesus teaches this danger in the parable of the rich fool, who fails to prepare for eternity, saying to himself, “You have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (Lk 12:19). Indeed, our material wealth slowly but surely anaesthetizes us to the needs of the soul and the call of our Lord. This somnolence reduces the vitality of the spiritual life. It takes effort to stir oneself to pray. The examination of conscience requires a wakeful subject, and Mass calls for full, active participation — not sleepy pew-sitting. 

Likewise, this spiritual slumber dulls our reason. Intellectually, we grow accustomed to the path of least resistance. It takes effort to think rightly and vigilance to oppose error. The sleepy soul easily slouches into the pat phrase, the sound bite, the unquestioned theory: “born that way;” “love is love;” “reproductive rights;” “choice.” A little rational thought would pop the balloons of modern jargons. But we have difficulty waking up to think. And of course this sleepiness leads to moral decay as well. The moral life requires watchfulness to avoid occasions of sin and to resist temptations. With our stupor we cannot seem to do that. But we do not rush headlong into sin so much as sleepwalk into it — omissions here and negligence there, until we are far down the path. It is a gradual descent.

Our Lord comes to wake us from our spiritual, intellectual and moral slumber. Hence mother church begins the liturgical year with His command, “Stay awake!” (Mt 24:42) He desires not a mere physical wakefulness but a spiritual vigilance and alertness, a keenness of spirit — to watch constantly for Him. This is a daily task, rubbing the sleep from our spiritual eyes so that we can see Him more clearly and choose Him more strongly. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep” (Rom13:11). It requires periodic “wake up calls” — making the morning offering upon rising, stopping to pray the Angelus, making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, pausing to examine our conscience. These little practices make the soul vigilant. They shape us into sentinels watching for the Lord. 

The wonderful paradox is that when we respond to His call to wakefulness He will lead us to rest. Vigilance here brings us to the eternal rest He promises. “Stay awake,” He commands. And elsewhere He says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Only by heeding the command can we respond to the invitation.

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