First Reading Commentary
To understand this Reading more fully, it would be helpful to go back to the Book of Exodus and peruse the passages found in Chapter 4, verses 22-31, and Chapter 11 verse 4 all the way through verse 14 of chapter 12.
While this Reading basically reflects on these verses from Exodus, Wisdom is certainly not to be outdone in providing information as to what these events mean for the future of God's people. These events, although very real in the lives of the Israelites, were as Wisdom teaches us, symbolic - leading to a divine reality.
It was at night that the Israelites watched and waited for the Lord to pass over their houses as their doorposts were sprinkled with the blood of slaughtered lambs. The prophets watched and waited for the coming of the Lamb of God Whose Blood would save His people. Those passages in Exodus tell us that not only were the Israelites required to slaughter the lamb, but they also had to eat it. The reality of this symbolism came to us at the Last Supper and has continued at each and every Mass in which we consume the Lamb of God's precious Body and Blood.
The prophets of the Old Testament watched and waited for the reality or fulfillment. With all this mentioning of symbolism, however, it's important to note that it is only intended as a reference to the rituals of the Old Covenant that would find their fulfillment in the New and Everlasting Covenant. As God's people crossed over from the Old Covenant to the New, there was no rupture. For example, in the Old Covenant ritual of sacrificing a lamb and then eating the lamb, the people of Israel did not eat a symbol of the lamb that was sacrificed, but rather they ate the actual lamb. In the New and Everlasting Covenant, Christ is our sacrificial Lamb; and what we partake of at Communion is not a symbol of the Lamb but instead the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Sacrificial Lamb Who is Jesus Christ.
Keeping watch is still very much a part of our Christian tradition. While the prophets watched for the coming of the Messiah, today monastics, hermits, cenobites and those who adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the wee hours of the night keep vigil, waiting and longing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Our Lord asks the question: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). Our Savior continues: "Watch, therefore; you know not when the Lord of the house is coming. May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping" (Mark 13:35-36).
It's interesting to parallel the first born of the Egyptians being killed with the events at the Garden of Gethsemane leading to Christ's sacrificial act of love. Jesus asked His apostles to keep watch, but they fell asleep. Unlike the Israelites of the Exodus story, the apostles were unable to keep vigil. But in this case it was not the first born of the Egyptians to lose their lives so that the Israelites may be freed from their bondage; instead it was the first born of God Who would be sacrificed so that we may be freed from the bondage of sin and death. But it is the mysterious ways of the Lord that challenge our broken nature. The death of the first born among the Egyptians satisfies a very human desire and longing for revenge – the bad guys got what they deserved. With the Crucifixion of Jesus, however, the good Guy is slaughtered so that the heirs of the fall from paradise may have life eternal. In the unseen world, however, the ultimate bad guy, the devil, really had to take it on the chin because Christ broke the stranglehold of death.
While being awake and at prayer in the middle of the night is not realistic for most of us, we can still keep watch by fixing our eyes on heaven and staying focused on eternal riches. If our treasure is in heaven, there also will our hearts be (cf. Matthew 6:21).
Second Reading Commentary
For the human will, faith is the glue that holds everything together. No matter what happens to us in this life, our faith holds firm the belief of a revealed but absent end as well as a future with a new beginning in eternity.
There are some biblical examples of faith in this Reading. It is faith that the saints held fast to that has led us to honor them. Let's not forget the Virgin Mary's leap of faith that brought about the radical change in her life which made her the Mother of God. Her leap of faith also changed our lives radically. "Yes" or "so be it" are appropriate synonyms for "faith". Our Lady said yes; Noah said yes; Abraham said yes; Moses said yes; Peter said yes; Paul said yes; all the saints said yes. They all said: Yes, I will do what You ask of me Lord. Yes I believe in You and I trust You; so be it, so be it, so be it!
This Reading reveals that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac - even though God promised descendants from Isaac - because Abraham was committed to a personal faith that believed God would somehow be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Therefore, Abraham said yes. He didn't try to apply logic and figure out how descendants could possibly come from Isaac if he was about to be sacrificed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Abraham, because he was strong in faith, became the father of all who believe (cf.
The Catechism goes on to add that from God we have received the grace of
believing in His Son Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (cf. CCC
Faith is a gift from the Almighty. It is faith that leads us to our church doors on Sunday. Sometimes it's good to sit back and reflect on the week that just passed. Consider the times you exercised your faith. It's good to do this because so often we use our faith without realizing it. What did you do this past week that required faith? What decisions did you make that required a leap of faith? When you wake up, for example, you have no idea what surprises are waiting for you that could disrupt what you already had planned for that day. Without even realizing it, our day begins with us exercising our faith because we're confident that God will get us through the bumpy road that may lie ahead. We depend on God for so many things and we trust in Him for so many things and yet it is not often in our recollections. All the money in the world can't buy fruits and vegetables if God doesn't first command the seed to grow. By faith this truth is known but seldom, if ever, acknowledged.
In the Church's Night Prayer (Compline) we read from Psalm 4: "As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for You alone, O Lord, bring security to my dwelling" (Psalm 4:9). The thought of not being under God's watchful and loving Eyes is rarely ever considered – it doesn't really occupy the human mind unless one is faced with something that is life threatening.
It is quite common in the Christian East to pray the "Jesus Prayer". A simplified version of this is to pray the Name of "Jesus" through the rhythm of one's breathing pattern. This not only thwarts off evil because of the powerful Name of Jesus but also is a reminder that God is responsible for each breath we take. If the Almighty turned away His gaze from us for one millisecond, we would cease to exist. Jesus, because He is God, is the only independent Being that has ever walked the earth. In His Human Nature, however, He exercised dependency on the Father to teach us how much we need God.
The words "gird your loins" are familiar to the ancient East. It was their practice to gird up their long garments when they were about to get down to business. And so, what Jesus is saying here is to be ready for His return. In other words, when He returns, will He find us in a state of grace, laboring for the Kingdom, or will He find us drunk, a metaphor for living according to one's own design and not accepting or living out the dignity of a child of God.
Both Saint Gregory and Saint Thomas Aquinas explain the watches as such: The first watch is childhood, the beginning of our existence. The second watch is adulthood, and the third watch is referring to old age.
Realistically, being prepared for our Savior's Second Coming is only part of the story. As a result of our own death, we could meet our Lord face-to-Face before His literal Second Coming. And like the Second Coming, when our time of death will occur is a mystery; therefore, always being prepared is the key.
The Catechism explains: "Everyone is called to enter the Kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this Messianic Kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations. To enter it, one must first accept Jesus' word. This Kingdom shines out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ. To welcome Jesus' word is to welcome the Kingdom itself. The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the little flock of those whom Jesus came to gather around Him, the flock whose Shepherd He is. They form Jesus' true family. He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with His own. Vigilance is custody of the heart. The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to keep watch. This petition takes on all its dramatic meaning in relation to the last temptation of our earthly battle; it asks for final perseverance" (
543, 764, 2849).
Saint Paul is a marvelous example of a heart that was formerly unprepared, and then after his conversion he used every ounce of his strength to prepare the hearts of others. And after his conversion, he had many things happen to him that could easily have convinced him to give up the good fight. Instead his lamp was always shining brightly, prepared to welcome his Master. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians he writes: "We do not lose heart, because our inner being is renewed each day even though our body is being destroyed at the same time. The present burden of our trial is light enough, and earns for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen is transitory; what is unseen lasts forever" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Saint Paul points out that the present burden of our trial is light enough; therefore, by fixing our gaze on the unseen we are not running away from the culture - instead we're bringing heaven's point of view to the culture.