"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

‘Stay awake’

he key theme that runs through our mass readings today is ‘Stay awake’ or ‘Be alert’—but alert to what? First, we can find an answer to this question by looking at what the first generation of Christians believed in. The early Christians were a suffering and persecuted church that is why the promise of Christ's return is especially precious to them. This was the context of St Paul when he was writing his letters—1 Thessalonians 4:37-5:7 and 1 Corinthians 7.25-35. It is replete with the pervading belief that the 'last days' or the day of reckoning would actually happen in their lifetime. Paul's first and second letters to the Thessalonians are believed to be the earliest not only of Paul's writings but of the whole New Testament which were written only twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus. However, as time passed and Christ's return did not happen, such a belief began to wane. They started to realize that human and divine time-scales are not the same. In the Psalm today we read, "For a thousand years in your eyes are merely a yesterday" (Psalm 90:4). So there you have the answer to our question earlier about what specifically were the first generation of Christians thinking in the context of stay awake and alert. Be that as it may, to say that even if the end of the world did not happen as they expected, Jesus’s message to be alert rings true until today. The calculation maybe unclear but not the teaching of Jesus. For now, we can dig deeper into the message and leave the rest of the issue to the astro-physicists.
We move into a deeper level of asking ourselves, “What is Jesus telling us about staying awake and being alert—alert to what?" This brings me to my second point. The Gospel consists of two parts, the first is about the command 'be alert' and the second is a parable. If we pay close attention to the parable of the faithful and prudent servant whom the master has put in charge of his household, there is one detail that often slips our mind. Jesus says, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time?” I put emphasis to the last phrase. Why is there mention of food in the parable? You might ask. It seems that the urgency is not really about the end of the world, rather, it is the urgency of the here and now. The master in the parable is no other than God, a God who rations food which is, no doubt, a matter of day to day urgency. Jesus was not indifferent to our need for bodily nourishment. In my reflection, this detail of the servant handpicked to prepare the food leads us to think about the importance of being fed with our daily food, it is something that must be sustained. The one who is put in charge over it must be alert and must not be idle. Jesus acts and thinks like a Good Shepherd who pastures his own flock to where they could get nourishment on a daily basis. Allow me to quote what Richard Leonard SJ wrote in his book (What Does It All Mean? A Guide To Being More Faithful, Hopeful, And Loving; 2017:129).
“Trust the commonplace, the ordinary, the everyday. Live in the here and now. Sometimes we live in an unhealed past or an unknown future, whereas God may be found right under our nose, here and now. The good spirit draws us to deal with our ordinary life, as it is, not as we may like it to be, and there discern his presence. We often look for God in the spectacular and extraordinary, yet he is to be found in quiet and mundane moments. He comes to us poor, naked, in prison, hungry, and thirsty..."
These assertions from Richard Leaonard is the answer to the question we posed to ourselves about why Jesus asks us to stay awake or to be alert. There is truth to the saying, “the devil is in the details.” That is why we must live in the here and now especially during the pandemic. Pope Francis constantly calls us “to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing, a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not." Living in the here and now is to discern the bare minimum and essentials, just like food. During the lockdown, I appreciated so much that there is food ready on the table always. It is a great privilege which so many people around the world do not have. The reason for not being able to live in the here and now is because we either look too far back in the past and pine for the old normal or look too far ahead and miss out on our day to day encounters with people especially appreciating those who are sacrificing for our survival. But of course we do not have to starve ourselves to be in solidarity with the many hungry people in the streets. Start with something little and yet loving thing to do. The command from our Lord to be alert and to be awake is about the small and tiny details in the here and now. I have told our Jesuit novices about how undergoing the two year novitiate formation as an important mission that prepares them for their future mission. Each has to be healthy and fit so that they will be healthy and fit, not only physically but spiritually, emotionally and socially, in the mission area. But the ultimate way to live in the here and now is to be grateful every minute, every second.

For my third and final point, I would like to say that Jesus's concern about food in the parable is not just about eating ordinary food. As much as Jesus recognizes the great importance of physical nourishment, there is another type of food that he has in mind. At one time he said “do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'...your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Mt 6:30-34). Jesus points us to another more important kind of nourishment which must be received on a daily basis too. I have no doubt this is the bread of life which is the very flesh of our Lord. If we have this food then anytime we will be ready, it prepares us to be alert and awake to the final coming of the Master. There is no idle moment for a person who longs for this kind of spiritual food. Every moment in everyday is a spiritual hunger that must be 'filled'. That is why our responsorial Psalm is, "Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!" (Psalm 90:14). But sometimes we are like the servants in the parable. We prefer other kinds of food and beverage—food that perishes and beverage that makes one a drunkard. Indeed, “blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property” (Mt 24:46-47). Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. Thank you po, Fr., for this comprehensive and beautiful reflection.
    Medyo nakakatakot ang Readings kung iisipin at isasa-puso ang talagang kahulugan nito…

    But, aside from that, while reflecting, I just remember some of my wondering moments,.. why the stars seemed to appear much and much more and really uncountable, the longer I gaze at the sky… Then later I realize … It was maybe my desire to see much and much more beauty in the darkness of the night…

    “Staying awake” is also somehow being attentive to the beauty around us even in the absence of light that surrounds us…

    And true enough, you will never appreciate the beauty and the brightness of the stars in broad daylight!

    May you be Blessed by the Lord always…
    Take care! :’)

    1. Thank you for sharing especially about the stars. They are most appreciated when it is totally dark as you have observed. There is not only darkness that makes us see their light but also death, since these light photons were once produced by stars that have died already several millions of lightyears ago. Because of darkness around and death, we see beauty being born for the sake of our own enjoyment. GBU!

  2. Nabullseye ako sa homilee na ito. Thanks for the reminder, not to idle but be alert to the needs of others and to recognize the passing of the Lord in daily moments. Be always in prayerful mode meaning “Be present for He is always present.” With much heartfelt gratitude to you,Fr. Jom! Agannad ka!


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