Noting that Luke’s Gospel reveals that Peter, James, and John had fallen asleep prior to Jesus’ Transfiguration, Pope Francis urged the faithful during his Angelus reflection Sunday to call on the Holy Spirit to awaken their desire to pray.
“The drowsiness of the three disciples appears to be a discordant note. The same apostles then fall asleep in Gethsemane too, during the anguished prayer of Jesus, who had asked them to keep watch (cf. Mk 14:37-41). This somnolence in such important moments is surprising,” the pope observed on March 13, the ninth anniversary of his pontificate, speaking to a large crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
“However, if we read carefully, we see that Peter, John and James fall asleep before the Transfiguration begins, that is, while Jesus is in prayer. The same will happen in Gethsemane. This is evidently a prayer that continued for some time, in silence and concentration. We may think that at the beginning they too were praying, until tiredness prevailed,” he continued.
Pope Francis observed that as followers of Jesus, we are prone to the same weaknesses as the apostles, and often miss the opportunity to converse with God at important moments of our lives.
“Perhaps in the evening, when we would like to pray, to spend some time with Jesus after a day of rushing around and being busy. Or when it is time to exchange a few words with the family and we no longer have the strength. We would like to be more awake, attentive, participatory, not to miss precious opportunities, but we can’t, or we manage it somehow but poorly,” he said.
“The strong time of Lent is an opportunity in this regard,” Pope Francis continued. “It is a period in which God wants to awaken us from our inner lethargy, from this sleepiness that does not let the Spirit express itself. Because — let us bear this in mind — keeping the heart awake does not depend on us alone: It is a grace and must be requested.
“The three disciples of the Gospel show this: They were good, they had followed Jesus onto the mountain, but by their own strength they could not stay awake. This happens to us too.”
The good news is that the Holy Spirit desires to help us do what we cannot accomplish on our own.
“Like [the apostles], we too are in need of God’s light, that makes us see things in a different way: It attracts us, it reawakens us, it reignites our desire and strength to pray, to look within ourselves, and to dedicate time to others,” the pope said.
“We can overcome the tiredness of the body with the strength of the Spirit of God. And when we are unable to overcome this, we must say to the Holy Spirit: ‘Help us, come, come, Holy Spirit. Help me: I want to encounter Jesus, I want to be attentive, awake.’ Ask the Holy Spirit to bring us out of this slumber that prevents us from praying.”
In conclusion, Pope Francis posed a simple challenge.
“In this Lenten time, after the labors of each day, it will do us good not to switch off the light in the room without placing ourselves in the light of God. To pray a little before sleeping,” he urged.
“Let’s give the Lord the chance to surprise us and to reawaken our hearts. We can do this, for instance, by opening the Gospel and letting ourselves marvel at the Word of God, because the Scripture enlightens our steps and enflames the heart. Or we can look at the crucified Jesus and wonder at the boundless love of God, who never tires of us and has the power to transfigure our days, to give them a new meaning, a new, unexpected light,” he said.
“May the Virgin May help us to keep our heart awaken to welcome this time of grace that God offers to us.”