The summer seems to be racing by at such a rapid pace (but then it always seems to do so!) and I think that soon we will be beginning to enter what we call those “dog days of summer.” Hopefully, we have had some opportunity to get away, or to relax a little, or to visit with family and friends. On the horizon now are thoughts of the fall and perhaps of getting ready for the return to school (the ads have been on the TV for some time already). With all this in mind, the Gospel this Sunday is very timely, with the strong message about being alert, prepared and ready.

Jesus uses several images to remind his disciples (including us, of course!), to be ready and waiting for his return. We are to “gird our loins and light our lamps.” In the time of Jesus, people wore long and loose-fitting robes. If they had to perform a task, then they had to tie up (or gird) the robe so that the task could be accomplished. Lamps were lit as a sign of welcome and also (before the days of electric light) so that people could see, so as to be able to work or to move. Both these visuals would, therefore, be a clear sign of being awake and ready for action. All this would be doubly true for the servants in a household awaiting their master’s return!

Another helpful way to understand our Lord’s words, is to remember that being “vigilant” is closely related to keeping vigil. We certainly know about keeping vigil: perhaps by the bedside of a sick or dying loved one or waiting for some important news. We are awake, alert and attentive. We can easily see how this would also apply to our faith. However, we also know that it can be very easy for us to go into a sort of autopilot mode or become complacent in terms of our faith, or our prayers, or our relationship with God. This can then also numb our awareness and dampen our enthusiasm in trying to live as Jesus’ disciples, especially in all the daily pressures and circumstances of our life.

Sometimes, however, events can disturb this numbness or wake us up. For example, we have endured another summer of violence both at home and further afield. There is almost a dread of turning on the TV or of looking at the news online in case we see yet another dreadful case of violence or hatred. Such things are certainly a wake-up call for the need to be awake and vigilant: that is to proclaim instead a Gospel of hope, joy, love and peace. This is the perfect antidote to evil. Pope Francis, in his visit to Auschwitz and during the time of the World Youth Day celebrations, spoke about the need never to forget, to be vigilant for the presence of evil and to be proactive in meeting violence and evil with goodness and the truth and joy of the Gospel.

How can we make sure that we remain vigilant and proactive? Luckily, we have many ways of staying awake spiritually (and these are far better than caffeine). We have the sacraments to feed us and to keep us awake. A daily examination of conscience can keep us alert and grounded, and there are even several apps for this (such as Examen). This examination is particularly helpful in watching for developing bad habits or dispositions that can so easily grow in us, if we are not vigilant. Notice too that they often begin as small matters. As St. Francis de Sales wrote about watching for the small, but not good, things: “although wolves and bears are undoubtedly more dangerous than flies, they never cause as much discomfort or try our patience as much. It is easy to avoid homicide, but how difficult it is to avoid anger over little things.” We can also snatch daily moments of prayer: in the parking lot when we arrive at school or work, or when we are waiting at a red light (although do also watch the light!). There are thousands of ways of being awake and vigilant.

Jesus’ words in the Gospel are so timely and so encouraging for us. The Lord asks us to be alert and aware as his disciples and also to be active and proactive in proclaiming and living the Gospel. We might say that it is actually an invitation by Jesus for us to be His antidote to violence or hatred. We can do this by following his example of love, prayer, compassion and service in all our daily actions, dealings and words. The days may be getting noticeably shorter as the summer continues on, but we know that the light of Christ can shine ever brighter: a light that is very much needed and desired.