“Watch and pray”, says the Gospel. This exhortation recurs repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments. Why is mindfulness so fundamental to Christian spirituality?
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“We need nothing but a watchful mind,” said Abba Poemen (b. c. 340), considered one of the greatest figures of the Desert Fathers and the master of discernment. Vigilance, a virtue that Pope Francis also invited to work daily in his general audience, this Wednesday, December 14 with this exhortation: “Watch over your hearts!”
The fathers of the Desert have all spoken of this notion, which they call in Greek “Nepsis”, pictorially “the guard of the heart”, “the guard of the mind”, or even sobriety – much more vital than energy sobriety. It is a kind of beacon in the middle of the nights of our souls. It is the virtue that the Christian must seek above all else, because it is what removes pride and leads to humility, queen of virtues and the straight path to holiness.
Vigilance, a struggle against oneself, under the gaze of God
Spiritual vigilance consists of perpetual introspection. It is the look that the soul has on itself. His goal: to allow a constant conversion and a clear and honest look at the state of his soul. It thus prevents all illusion, all self-satisfaction, all self-satisfaction. Being vigilant therefore means systematically questioning ourselves, questioning what we must try to do better to overcome our demons. Which means… knowing your demons.
“Know thyself,” said Socrates. To know oneself as a Christian comes down to being able to identify one’s weaknesses – which does not exclude looking at them with benevolence – because these weaknesses generally lead us to commit sin. The devil is cunning. He generally presses “where it hurts” and therefore does not always have to look far to give us an opportunity to fall. So he’s cunning… and lazy. Knowing where we are weak, he will take advantage of this to slip into the interstices of our soul. Of our faults and our weaknesses, he will simply make the best weapon against ourselves. He’s just waiting for one thing: for us to let our guard down.
Of course, all this will only find fruit if we place ourselves under the deeply loving gaze of God. The aim of vigilance is to seek the divine will. It is therefore above all an attitude to adopt vis-à-vis God, an attitude of listening and observation, followed by action. It must allow us to make the necessary space to welcome the Holy Spirit and let him act in us.
Concretely: working on one’s own lucidity
What concrete actions can a Christian take to remain sober and lucid?
Pray. Pray, pray and pray, relentlessly. This is certainly the major recommendation left to us by the saints and fathers of the Desert. Without prayer, the Christian can do nothing. In the morning, we can pray to the Holy Spirit to come and inhabit our soul and guide each of our actions, our words and our thoughts. Throughout the day, praying to Christ, however briefly, is arguably the Christian’s most formidable weapon. The fathers of the Desert prayed unceasingly, without any interruption, with the prayer of the heart, which consists in pronouncing the holy name of Jesus, until this prayer became like a second breath, a psalmody of the heart: “Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. »
2to examine oneself, to examine oneself
Consulting with your soul, making a daily diagnosis. At the end of the day, for example, it is possible to do a brief examination of conscience, paying attention to the points on which we know we are weak: have I fallen? If yes, why ? What should I do tomorrow to do better? The followers of Saint Ignatius of Loyola retreats will surely know this technique, both concrete and useful, which requires rigor and endurance but which really helps with vigilance! Take a small notebook and write down at least one grace received during the day, then the errors or sins committed. It is often the same ones who will come back, but no discouragement! Going to confession regularly is also a real exercise in the purification of the soul. It is a kind of resurrection which is offered to every Christian, which also helps us to know ourselves and to improve ourselves.
3To shut up
Regular silence is essential to educate our soul to vigilance: the noise of the world is our enemy. This does not mean that we must flee this world in which we are called to live. But you have to manage to get away from it to refocus on the needs of your soul. It will then be easier to remain in control of your desires and impulses, of your thoughts. Do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed, to achieve inner serenity, that which the fathers of the Desert call “hesychasm” in Greek.
Every Christian can reach, with his will and the grace of God, this state of interior vigilance. It is then that we will become saints from watchmen.