This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 13:33–37:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

Whenever I hear or read the warning be alert, it takes takes me back to my teenage years. At that time, gag t-shirts were very much the fashion in public schools, at least in Southern California where you can wear t-shirts as fashion for most of the year. (Not so much in Minnesota, especially for middle-aged men.) Back in the day, one such popular shirt carried the message, Be alert — the world needs more lerts! 

Needless to say, being alert and preparing for anything didn’t rank high up the teenage agenda anyway. We spent our time pursuing our fun and passions, and usually ignoring our education until absolutely necessary. We weren’t “lerts” in any form or fashion at all. I made a mediocrity of my high-school career by skipping homework and acing tests, and the latter usually with some last-hour cramming. Put simply, the one top priority of that period of my life was not my educational formation — for which I paid the price in college, where the structure of education changed entirely.

This is the difference between being alert and being prepared. Preparation requires intent, it requires insight, but most of all it requires a commitment to the task at hand. Preparation involves arranging one’s life for a priority in order to ready one’s self to meet it. One could be alert for an upcoming school test, but being prepared for it meant studying effectively, working through the source material, and even literally knowing the day and time, although that’s different than our Gospel reading today.

You know that old, common nightmare about missing the final? Yeah … I can tell you that it’s not entirely a dream. The world needs more lerts.

Preparation is a major component of formation. Effective students form their lives and their wills to the task of studying. Discipleship is the same process, only in a more all-encompassing manner for a lifetime and beyond. In fact, Jesus warns us in today’s parable that our formation to His Word must be a lifetime mission of preparation for His salvation. We do not and cannot know the time and date for our judgment, which means that procrastination could be fatal to our hopes of living in His grace in the next life.

This also has implications for the kind of formation required. A merely performative display will not suffice, because pretense is impossible to maintain for any substantial amount of time. Begrudging acts of charity don’t work either, for the same reason. Those are performances, not transformation, and we are called to transforming ourselves into true disciples. To choose performance over transformation misses the point, and is basically sleeping on watch anyway, as Jesus warns against here.

The only way to properly form ourselves is to do it wholeheartedly, by embracing the Word in our hearts and forming our wills to the Lord. That is how we remain awake during the long watch before the Lord of the house comes to us, or more accurately, how we come to Him. By doing that, we prepare ourselves to enter into the Trinitarian live of pure caritas love, where we empty ourselves out to the Lord just as He empties Himself out completely to us.

That might seem a wee bit tougher than cramming for a chemistry exam — and it is. It’s impossible to accomplish without the Lord’s grace. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this in our second reading today, while assuring them that the Lord will provide us the strength and grace we need:

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this, Paul also alludes to preparation and formation as essential. He reminds the church in Corinth that they have been “enriched in every way” with the truth and grace of Christ. All that they now require is to form themselves to Christ through His spiritual gifts, and that Jesus will help them remain “firm to the end” as they pursue that formation.

That is what we are all called to do in Christ: Be formed, and in doing so, become prepared for eternal life with the Lord with all our minds, hearts, and souls. So yes, be alert, because the world needs more lerts.  But far, far fewer loofs.

The front-page image is a detail from “The Light of the World” by William Holman Hunt, c. 1854. Currently on display in the side chapel at Keble College, Oxford, UK. Via Wikimedia Commons

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.