How we can ‘keep watch’ with Christ in our own sufferings

This Good Friday, our Lord will ask us once again that agonizing question that He asked of Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Mt 26:40, Mk 14:37). 

What does it mean to keep watch with Christ?

Five Missionaries of Charity gave a silent yet eloquent answer on the morning of March 4, 2016, in Aden, Yemen. As on every other morning, they had just attended Mass and eaten breakfast at the convent and, around 8:30 a.m., were on their way to the men’s and women’s homes for the elderly, where they served. Two Islamic State terrorists dressed in blue entered the compound; they shot five Christian Ethiopian men running to warn the Sisters and four other female workers who were screaming, “Don’t kill the Sisters!” The Sisters split two by two in two directions, while Sister Sally, the superior, ran back to the convent chapel to warn the priest. The gunmen caught and shot first one, then the other, pair of Sisters, but, unable to find Sister Sally, left the compound before the police arrived at 10:30.

Later that day, Sister Sally related the events to her regional superior, Sister Rio, who told Sister Adriana, the Sister writing down the account: the Sisters “were so faithful — ISIS knew exactly when they leave and when to break in. And because of their faithfulness, they were in the right place at the right time and were ready when the Bridegroom came.”

Sister Rio’s response, one of heroic hope, likens her Sisters to the five wise virgins in Christ’s parable about the Kingdom: 10 virgins are invited to accompany the Bridegroom to the wedding feast, but only five bring oil for their lamps. Unlike the five foolish virgins who must leave to buy oil, the five wise virgins are ready when the Bridegroom arrives. Christ concludes this parable with the admonition: “Therefore, keep watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13).

“Keeping watch” means keeping faith with Christ in the little events of daily life; it means being where we are supposed to be, doing our duty by our family and our work. It means being on time, keeping our belongings neat, curbing a curt word, extending forgiveness generously, smiling when we do not feel like it — all for love of the Bridegroom. Giving our lives to Christ from moment to moment is another way of giving our lives for Him — another way of martyrdom. Sister Sally, who was deeply saddened not to have died alongside her Sisters, nevertheless participates in their martyrdom in a different way by continuing to “keep watch” each day. And so can we.

This Good Friday, we can respond to Jesus’s heartrending question in the Garden by beseeching His Father with the words His Spouse, the Church, uses each night at Compline: “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that, awake, we may keep watch with Christ and, asleep, rest in His peace.”

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.