As we enter into this Holy Week, my invitation for you is to watch and to pray. In the gospel, Jesus says, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour.” “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.”
Why do we so often fall asleep while we are praying? I think it may be to avoid the difficulty of it. The prayer that Jesus was entering into was a difficult prayer. He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Remain here and watch with me.” He advanced a little further and prostrated himself saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not as I will but as you will.”
Sometimes we sleep instead of praying because we want to avoid the stress of even acknowledging that there is some kind of suffering in our lives. We avoid God because we don’t even want to give him the chance to help us with our challenges. We would rather pretend they are not there and sleep them away.
Sleep is a great way to avoid suffering. Think of the last time you had to study for a test. Sleep seemed easier, didn’t it? Or that conversation you needed to have with your spouse. Time for a good nap.
Maybe it’s trying to find another job or learning how to have a Zoom conference right now. Or planning for unemployment, grocery shopping, or worrying about the Coronavirus or social distancing, while still needing to grocery shop and fill your tank and provide for your family. Sleep seems easier, doesn’t it?
And yet, Jesus warns us, “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.” This is a time of testing, but it’s also a time of prayer. The test is will we be faithful when faced with suffering?
Will we believe when we lose our jobs? Will we have faith when the world around us shuts down? Will we trust when the church closes its doors? Will we love and continue to love when the world gets violent? Will we be the role models and disciples for our families and children? Will we be there for the poor and the weak? Will we stand together even though standing apart? Will we need to undergo the test, or can we watch and pray that we may not undergo the test?
Here’s the invitation to watch and to pray. First of all, to watch. Watch and notice how the enemy will tempt you. Watch for the times when you are weak, so you may not give in. Watch how God responds to you even when you do fail. Watch all around you for the goodness of God. Watch people. Notice each other. Watch for opportunities to help each other. Watch for people that are rays of God’s love. Watch as you watch your tv’s and iPads and phones. Watch what you are watching. Watch yourself and how you are reacting to all of this, and watch that you are taking care of yourself. Jesus warns us to watch. He also warns us and teaches us how to pray.
The second thing I’d like to focus on is prayer. Jesus says, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Interesting, isn’t it? He leaves his disciples to go over there and pray. He’s showing us something very profound. We need to take time to be alone with God. We need to make time every day to do this, and that’s difficult.
You’re probably all in your house together, but that means telling your spouse, or your siblings, or your children or your parents, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Then go away, and don’t let yourself be interrupted for anything. Go to your room. Go to the church. Go out in nature. In some way, go away to pray. Find a place for prayer in your home. Find a prayer room, or prayer corner, or a prayer chair, and go there. Be alone with God every day.
Not only do we need to pray alone, but we also need to pray together. Jesus said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and watch with me. While we can’t pray together in church, the home is the primary place of prayer. Fathers take charge of your household. You are the representative of God the Father to your family. You are to be St. Joseph fostering your family to be a holy family.
Though we can’t be together at masses this Holy Week, pray together as a family. Pray with your family either in person or online. Pray over the phone with people. Reach out to those who are isolated and alone. Form community, and pray together any way that you can.
Jesus advanced a little farther and fell prostrate in prayer saying, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus prostrated in prayer. We pray with our bodies.
The church traditionally has four postures of prayer. When you don’t even know how to pray just try one of these postures. Pick a posture: standing, sitting, kneeling or prostrating. Go outside. Stand and pray. You may even want to cry out or scream out to God. Go far enough in nature to do that one. Kneel beside your children’s beds and pray with them. Kneel together beside your bed as husband and wife and ask God to bless you. If you’re having trouble believing or having faith, the simple act of kneeling can bring about a profound humility and become an act of faith. Try sitting.
Find a place where you can sit comfortably, where you can meditate and read and journal and rest with God. I think the most powerful form of prayer that Jesus revealed to us is prostrating. That means laying down your body on the ground before God. You can do this anywhere. I think it’s beautiful to do it before a crucifix. Lie down and surrender your life to God and give him all.
Think about the sufferings in your life. We are called to suffer with Christ, to die with Christ, that we may rise with him. Let this Holy Week truly be a retreat. “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.”