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Stay Awake!

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In the Gospel for Thursday of the 21st Week, Jesus reminds us to “Stay awake, for you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” When we read and hear these words, we perhaps think of death, the time of our exit from this life.  That is a valid understanding and it is something for which we ought to prepare, with as little fear as possible.

But we can also have a wider meaning for those words about being awake. Being awake, staying awake is standard teaching by those who teach prayer and meditation. We are encouraged to be awake to the presence of God in our lives at all times.

We say we believe that God is everywhere and with us in every moment, but it is easy to be distracted and forget about that presence as life hands us its various issues and problems and distractions. And we can’t be expected to walk around mumbling “God is here” all day long.

However, that presence of God is still the reality we are to believe. And so it is good for us to occasionally remind ourselves that we are indeed to be awake to that divine presence in everything we do. There is the phrase, “the sacrament of the present moment,” which has been a part of our spiritual tradition for a long time.

The people we recognize as saints in the Church were very much aware of that constant presence.  St. Therese of Lisieux had her “Little Way” of relating with God in ordinary things.  Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa, said we might not do great things, but we can do little things with love.  I’m sure Blessed Solanus was very much aware of that constant presence with his regular focus on gratitude for all things. We could go on and on.

And so, when we hear Jesus say “Stay awake,” it doesn’t have to be a scary thing, but can be a hopeful and encouraging reminder that indeed, God is present to us in every moment. It is up to us to find ways in which to stay awake as we wash the dishes, do the laundry, work in our office or factory, or whatever we do. This may be so simple that we forget to do it!


By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

People who pray often get upset with themselves because they get distracted at prayer. They have trouble focusing on the content of the prayer, whether in private or with a group, such as Eucharist. Maybe the first suggestion is to notice that one is upset, but then choose to simply turn back to the prayer at hand.

Our minds and imaginations are active, taking in all sorts of information, and sometimes it is hard to focus on just one thing at hand. Teachers of prayer and meditation often refer to our “monkey mind.” Our minds can be like monkeys jumping around in the trees. That’s how we are, and there is no need to be upset by that.

We can choose to respond in different ways, beyond getting upset or even angry with ourselves. We try to calmly call ourselves back to what we are doing: private prayer or group prayer, and focus again.

Sometimes the distracting thoughts can be part of our prayer. We might be told to “pray our distractions.” Maybe we are concerned about a problem or about other people we care about. We bring them back with us to the time of prayer.

Another useful point to remember is that, no matter what else is going on, a basic issue with prayer is that we simply “show up.” We come to our time of private or community prayer with the intention of being present. On a given day, maybe that is the best we can do. God accepts our presence and our good intentions. We want to pray, to be conscious of God’s presence, no matter what else is distracting us. God, always present to us, accepts our gift of presence. From Psalm 40: “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.”

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