Watch and Pray – Good Friday 2019
Have you ever sat keeping watch with a dying person, such as a parent or friend? Recalling that experience is a good means of entering into the stark simplicity of this day.
When St Ignatius of Loyola has us contemplate the Passion of Christ, he says, “it is proper to ask for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish.”
I usually suggest to people who are praying with this that the most significant word there is with. I am with Christ in his sufferings. Let us take time to be with Jesus on the Cross. There is not much to do; being with is sufficient.
What do we do when we keep vigil with a dying person? Well, not a whole lot. Perhaps I can hold a damp cloth to their forehead. Or, I can gently stroke their arms or hold their hands. If I want to be really active I can say the Rosary or pray quietly. But there is not a lot that any of us can actually do.
Yes, the nurses can administer medication and do all they can to keep the dying person comfortable and in no pain. But, even they cannot really do very much to control what is happening to the dying.
I grew in that awareness during my Jesuit year of tertianship (the period of Jesuit formation before final vows). I spent two months helping at Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. I watched as many women and men died. The Missionary of Charity sisters taught the volunteers so much, through their efforts to make sure that no one died alone or in pain.
One of the sisters would ask the volunteers to accompany them to the streets to find the dying, or to just sit with a dying person. It was very uncomfortable at first; we are naturally keen to do something, to be of help, to keep active.
I have often been with dying Jesuits in the past several years. To walk into the room of the dying Jesuit and see people sitting quietly with him – praying the rosary, reading something spiritual, holding his hand – is reminiscent of what I feel when I walk into a chapel with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
You know immediately that you have walked onto sacred ground and that there is a sense of peace and the nearness of God. No one has to say anything. It’s okay to just sit in silence.
That is what is happening in these final days of Holy Week. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus asks his followers to watch one hour with him as he prays and eventually comes to an acceptance of what is in store for him. He does not ask much, just that he not be alone in this moment of agony.
The Gospels tell us about the followers of Jesus – especially his Mother Mary and his closest friends – and how they stayed at the Cross. In neither situation could the friends of Jesus do very much. We know that one friend cut off the ear of the high priest. Jesus asked him to stop using his sword.
We hear that those with him at the Cross looked on from a distance, presumably so that they would not be arrested. So, none of their actions changed the situation. No one was able to save Jesus from the Cross.
All Jesus asks of us at this sacred time is to be with him. We are with him in prayer and presence.