Labor Day weekend (2019) had 25 of the NY Oblates of St. Meinrad’s Archabbey attended their annual retreat in Ossining, NY. We welcomed several new people. We were blessed, once again to have Fr. Mateo Zamora, OSB was our retreat master, with a series of conferences “A Careful Watch: Vigilance in the Rule of St. Benedict.”

Vigilance is a looking forward to something. It is sober, thoughtful, careful. We care for another; we anticipate something/someone for the future; we are ready to serve. One good example of being vigilant is the Vigil for the Sick and Dying. In context is a team effort (a communal effort) with the person in question. We bear witness to the Hope of being in Christ even when the sorrow is shared. The waiting is for Christ’s coming (the beginning) not for death (the end). Vigilance, therefore, is attitudinal, as we do this because of our relationship with God.

St. Benedict dedicates four chapters of his Rule to keeping the prayer vigil (RB, ch. 8-11). In this case, Benedict teaches that keeping vigil is an ascetical practice of sacrifice. In a world where sacrifice is not a well-accepted idea, the sacrifice of sleep in the Rule is real commitment to something more important: prayer.

In A Not-So-Unexciting Life Essays on Benedictine History and Spirituality in Honor of Michael Casey, OCSO (2017) we are reminded that “The practice of keeping vigil is part of our conversatio. … [the Office of Vigils, for example] actually symbolizes: our heart’s being awake so that we can enter into the mystery, being awake when Christ comes.” In another place, it was said, “This idea of keeping watch is present in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13), and it is very much part of the celibate life.” However, we need to remember that keeping is Christian regardless of marital status.

Keeping with the theme, we started and ended the conferences with Luke 12:35-48:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks…”

When we are vigilant or keep a vigil, there is much waiting. Waiting is more than just biding time, it is an attitude – vigilance requires us to look inward as we look forward… being ready for what is coming. It requires trust, hope, a readiness to serve and a willingness to sacrifice. Regardless of the length of the wait, the waiting/vigil is a difficult sacrifice. We don’t “keep vigil”, the vigil keeps us, it forms us.

We only wait for people and things that we care about, those that matter most to us. We wait out of love.

In each conference Fr. Mateo challenged us to reflect on the following questions, as they related to the many types of vigils we keep:

    • How long did you wait?
    • What did you waiting for?
    • Why did you wait?
    • How did you wait?

We are always waiting for something or someone… we wait in line, we wait our turn, we wait for death, but we keep on living. If we know how long the wait will be, it seems like time is running out, there is not enough time. And yet, if we do not know the hour or the day, time is infinite, there is too much time. Having a sense of deadline makes us more diligent and organized, we take it more seriously, we are less likely to procrastinate.

Thankfully, we don’t often wait alone. When we share our waiting with others, the joys are multiplied and the sorrows are divided. In the waiting room of hospitals, it helps to have some to share the news you are waiting for – both good and bad.

Fr. Mateo also challenged us to be mindful of our words and actions, as we considered how Silence is vigilance over our words – restraint of speech. Silence is Wisdom’s first response (Euripides). This is especially challenging when we are easy with our words without considering how they function in person or on social media (in particular, the media). Our job is to first listen—be present, actively and attentively listening. Be especially careful with other people’s stories. Words have a sacred quality to them. Our words/speech should not be done at expense of the other (RB 6:8). Words should adore the other, make the other more beautiful. This is true because it is the Incarnate WORD of God –Jesus– who sanctifies, redeems and restores us. Read in the Rule 6: Restraint of Speech: good words are sometimes left unsaid for the esteem of silence

Humility is vigilance over our actions and Simplicity is vigilance over our possessions. Watch also what you do to yourself and others, as well as what you have. Humility is our acknowledgement of our lowliness and it is our acknowledgment of our gratitude. Humility is not just about our limitations but also what we can do –how we use our gifts. The converse is pride which is taking credit and it is using the self as the standard. Humility is Christ as the standard.

Culture encourages hoarding and consuming. Our possessions can possess us – they distract us. When we realize we can live without something, we start to let go, detach, so that we can be more attached to God. (MD/PAZ)