When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest, He took Peter, James and John with Him and asked them to “remain here and watch with Me” (Mt 26:38). We know the story…just after they promise that they will never abandon Jesus, the apostles fall asleep; they are woken up and warned by Jesus and then fall asleep again, and shortly thereafter they all flee. That promise didn't last too long
St. Jerome said, “The more confident we are of our zeal, the more mistrustful should we be of the frailty of the flesh.” As the Great Fast begins, we might find ourselves quite zealous about our Lenten practices and resolutions. So let’s be warned! Jesus told his apostles the first time He woke them up, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41).
In order to “watch and pray” we’ll need God’s help and we’ll need to do our part to pay attention! Inevitably, we’ll learn that we can’t stay awake and watchful on our own, so we’ll learn that we have to pray for help. And if we’re not paying attention we won’t come to know about God and His mercy, about our own weaknesses and need for growth and about the needs of others and our call to love God by loving them.
We need all that the Great Fast offers us in order to truly “watch and pray.” We need to allow this time to be one that’s different and set apart. It needs to be quieter and more focused. The Great Fast calls us to make a greater effort to pray, fast and give alms. These disciplines help us to be more aware of God, ourselves and others. One way of looking at this is to match up the three: God (prayer), ourselves (fasting) and others (almsgiving). (Of course, this is one way of looking at it; we are actually made aware of all three by each of the Lenten disciplines.) This awareness is the watchfulness that Jesus asks of us, and it leads to the conversion of heart and acts of love which make us more like Him.
“Watch and pray” in order to be with Jesus and also “that you may not enter into temptation.” If the disciples had allowed themselves to be strengthened and receive grace by keeping vigil, perhaps they wouldn't have abandoned Jesus. St. Jerome said, “It is impossible that the human mind should not be tempted, therefore He says not ‘Watch and pray that you be not tempted,’ but that you ‘enter not into temptation,’ that is, that temptation vanquish you not.”
As monastics, we are uniting ourselves and our efforts to “watch and pray” with those whose lives in the world cannot be as quiet and structured with prayer as our lives can. Take heart! We struggle too! But we challenge you to “watch and pray” too, because we know that you too are called in a particular way and are able (with God's help) to answer this call. God is always keeping watch over us to deliver us and free us from evil. Can we not keep watch with Him?