On The Alert

A U.S. Army officer told of the contrast in his pupils during two different eras of teaching at the artillery training school in Oklahoma. In 1958-60 the whole attitude was so nonchalant that the instructors had a problem trying to keep the soldiers awake at their lectures. During the 1965-67 classes, in contrast, the military men, hearing the same basic lectures, were paying special attention and took numerous notes. What made the difference in the class of 65? They knew that in less than six weeks they would be recruited for the war in Vietnam.

In life also we have a battle that we have to fight. The Catechism speaks of three enemies – flesh, world and devil. We need to be on constant vigil.

Augustine is one of the biggest saints in the Church. Before being baptized and becoming a Bishop in Hippo, he led a life of sin.

One day however, as he was sitting alone on a bench in a deep crisis about the meaning of his life, he heard a boy or a girl chanting over and over from a neighboring house: “Pick it up, read it; pick it up; read it.” Here is what happened next in Augustine’s own words:

“Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon.

I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the Apostles’ book. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”

The Lord had come. Augustine heard him. He was attentive.

While on a South Pole expedition, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton had to leave back a few men, promising that he would return. However when he tried to go back, the way was blocked by huge icebergs until one day an avenue opened in the ice and Shackleton was able to go through. His men quickly scrambled aboard. No sooner had the ship cleared the island than the ice crashed together behind them. Commenting on their narrow escape, the explorer said to his men, “Thanks be to God you were all packed and ready to go!” They replied, “We never gave up hope. We knew you would come. So, whenever the sea was clear of ice, we made ourselves ready, saying to each other, ‘He may come today.'”

If only we wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in the same way!


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.