On the evening of March 24, 1522, Ignatius of Loyola went to the monastery of Montserrat. There he spent the night in prayer — standing or kneeling, but never resting or relaxing. He remained vigilant. At dawn, having placed his sword and armor at the altar of Our Lady, he put on a beggar’s cloak and followed Christ. Such vigils were not uncommon in his day. And still now monks and nuns rise early to pray and people remain in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. They are watching, remaining vigilant for the Lord.
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival” (Lk 12:37). What Ignatius did that night, we must do throughout our entire lives. Vigilance is essential to the Christian life. Indeed, the great enemy of faith is not persecution but slumber. The Church thrives under persecution. At those moments she sees her purpose more clearly and more perfectly resembles her Spouse. Ease, comfort and complacency — these threaten the Christian life far more than persecution because they breed a spiritual stupor, a dullness of soul and a forgetfulness of the Lord’s return.
We might speak of someone “losing his faith.” But people do not lose their faith as they lose glasses or car keys. Rather, they grow complacent and comfortable, tired and sleepy. They fall into a slumber and fail to form their lives by the Faith. Even as they sleep, their faith is taken from them. “I was so full of sleep,” Dante explains, “when I first left the way of truth behind.”
Against this spiritual stupor we should cultivate a vigilance of mind and heart. We must remain, first, “mentally awake” (as the Boy Scouts pledge). Many fail to guard their minds against the world’s skepticism, cynicism and doubt. They allow the world’s pernicious theories to infiltrate their thoughts. Even as they might continue to practice the Faith, they become intellectually sleepy. Their thinking becomes more and more formed by the world. Before they know it they judge their faith in terms of the world, rather than the reverse.
Intellectual vigilance requires us to monitor closely what we listen to, read and watch. All media communicates ideas. If we want our faith to remain intact, we must learn to filter out those ideas. Even better, we ought to seek out that media that places in our minds good thoughts and trains our thinking in keeping with the mind of the Church.
Second, we must maintain a vigilance of the heart. In the end, vigilance is a function of love. Because we love Christ, we remain wide-awake — “waiting in joyful hope” — for His return. Consider the vigilance needed in marriage. If the spouses do not guard their hearts, their mutual affection will soon be lost. Divorce and infidelity do not just “happen.” They occur when one or both of the spouses fail to keep the heart vigilant for the other. Something or someone slowly comes in between them. They find that their love has been defeated through a lack of vigilance.
In the same way, Christ’s Bride must guard her heart and daily renew her devotion to Him. Just as spouses must remain vigilant, so also we must guard our hearts so that nothing and no one damages or robs our love for Christ. We do this most of all through a healthy prayer life — through vigilance of prayer. We cannot pray only when it comes easily and makes us feel good. As Ignatius’s vigil reminds us, our prayer must continue when difficult and challenging. Christ calls us to remain wide awake at midnight or before sunrise — that is, to pray even when it becomes difficult, inconvenient or boring.
In the world’s view, Ignatius would have been much better off praying during the day. And according to the world, we should relax and make ourselves at home. But we choose vigilance instead of comfort, so that at Christ’s return we may find ourselves seated at His table and Him waiting on us.