Watch ye and pray (2016)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 24th July 2016 in Prague, Czech republic
A scholar who was very proud of his knowledge was crossing a big river with a ferryman's help.
During the crossing he engaged in a conversation with the ferryman and asked him: “Have you studied mathematics?“ – “No“, answered the ferryman. The scholar said: “You then have lost a quarter of your life.“
A little later the scholar asked: “Have you studied physics?“ The ferryman laughed loudly and answered: “No.“
The scholar continued: “You then have lost a second quarter of your life.“
After a little while the scholar asked another question: “But you have probably studied astronomy?“ When the ferryman again answered in the negative, the scholar exclaimed: “What a bad luck! You then have lost also the third quarter of your life.“
At this moment the boat hit a rock and water entered to it through a hole. “Can you swim?“ the ferryman shouted at the scholar. “No“, answered the latter. The ferryman then said: “Four quarters of your life will then be lost at a time, if you don't firmly hold to my back rapidly.“
Many people act like this scholar. They study and learn. They are proud, they rise above their fellowmen and boast of their knowledge and deeds. But when they get in a mortal danger, they don't know what to do.
Today's gospel talks about such a man in the person of the Pharisee. He places himself in front of God, compares himself to the others who are apparently worse than he himself and he boasts of his deeds.
It is true that the ferryman is uncultured but he is humble. He does not even think of looking up and comparing himself to others. He does his duty and he knows, above all, what to do when he is in danger.
We can compare him to the second person whom Christ mentions in the allegory of the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, namely the publican.
In his humility he does not even dare to look up. He does not compare himself to the others but sees himself in front of God whom he offended. He humbly beats his breast and says: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!“ He probably does not know as much about religion as the Pharisee but he knows what to do in his need.
This is what comes first and what is most important! We have to be humble and repent of our sins. If we are humble, God grants us his grace. This is what the saint apostle James writes in his letter: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.“ (Epistle of st. James 4:6)
But there is a second point which is not less important for the spiritual life: the vigilance or spiritual collection.
What is to be understood by vigilance or spiritual collection? Why and of what do we have to be vigilant?
Christian vigilance is the attitude of a man by which he pays attention to all his thoughts, judgements, principles, inclinations and desires and by which he tries to prevent all dangers and temptations to sin.
It is a collection of the spirit by which one collects the forces of the soul and directs them only on one object, the honour of God.
The natural weakness of man, the carelessness, the imprudence, the dispersion of the spirit in worldly things, obligate us to be always vigilant, also the obstacles and enemies of salvation (devil, world, desire), their malice and force; and moreover the examples of devout persons, saints and martyrs as well as the uncertainty of the hour of our death.
Before his sufferings Christ talks several times about vigilance in allegories, for example in the allegory of the 10 virgins and in the allegory of the talents.
He also admonishes his Disciples reproachfully in the Garden of Gethsemani: “Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation.“ (Matthew 26:41)
The Apostles, too, use the same words: ”Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.“ (First Epistle of Saint John 2:15)
“Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.“ (First Epistle of Saint Peter 5:8)
Numerous are the examples of those who knew much but failed because they were not vigilant: King David, when sauntering on his roof garden, he saw the wife of Urias taking her bath. He was inflamed with a bad desire and committed adultery. (Second book of Kings/Second book of Samuel, chapter 11.)
When the Disciples went to the Mount Olivet with Christ, Peter said to him: “Although all shall be scandalized in thee, I will never be scandalized.“ (Matthew 26:33)
He sinned because he was not vigilant.
Some rules how to be vigilant:
1. Let us be cautious when dealing with our fellow-men! We have to examine our fellow-men before trusting them. Let us not follow the masses. Large is the street which leads to doom. Many do walk on it! Let us avoid agnostic fellow-men and lectures of other religions. In the past oecumenical meetings were forbidden because they represent a danger for our faith. Let us not read dangerous books and watch dangerous movies!
2. Let us keep a watchful eye on our senses and our imagination!
3. Let us watch our talking. “I will take heed to my ways: that I sin not with my tongue.“ (Psalm 38:2)
4. Let us regularly practice self-examination!
5. Let us pray for the necessary graces and let us receive the sacraments!
The Ten Commandments are the rules of our life, the principles of our faith. Let us be humble and vigilant in all our acts! Amen.