By: Sr. Clare Hunter
So, I read Fr. Scalia’s zombie piece, and I know that I’ve contracted zombie-itis. Self diagnosed. And of course, now I notice each reference about sleep, or staying awake, in Scripture, and it seems to be popping up in my spiritual reading as well. It’s chasing me! Father is right; Scripture exhorts us all the time to be awake! The best is “stay sober and alert [awake]. The devil is prowling like the roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him solid in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). My thoughts go to the famous “sleep” scene: Jesus finding his closest friends asleep in His time of agony. Don’t we feel the wrench in our hearts as we hear Jesus’ plea, “could you not remain awake one hour with me” (Mk 14:37)? We are not just talking about friends letting a friend down. Their sleep is a profound example of the very definition of sin. Jesus asked them to be in union with Him, to pray, and to be awake, disciplining the flesh so that they could be focused spiritually, praying and watchful. They gave into the fleshly urge to sleep and were not present or alert as the enemy approached to take Jesus.
As I think about Peter, James, and John falling into temptation three times, I have this overwhelming desire to defend them. After all, it had been a long day, actually, a brutal week. Heck, it had been a pretty intense three years! They had just finished a large Passover meal where Jesus had said they are eating His flesh and drinking His blood; they walked a significant distance to the Garden at Gethsemane, perplexed, exhausted and naturally so tempted to sleep. Was the temptation even stronger because Jesus explicitly asked them not to do it? I guess I can relate!
There was someone who was awake. We learn that in the Garden, “a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body” (Mk14:51). I have heard the theory that this young man is in fact the very same young man, formerly known as “rich” (Mk 10:17). Turns out that the young man who went away sad – returned! He did indeed sell his belongings and was following Jesus, literally. Told that keeping the Ten Commandments wasn’t enough, he heard Jesus’ words and acted. A conversion experience that even Jesus’ disciples considered impossible as they gasped in wonder and amazement at Jesus’ instructions. Jesus did not disagree; in fact, He agreed that it is impossible. His reply defines faith: “for human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God” (Mk 10:27). The rich young man surrendered all, and was given the grace to do the impossible because he loved Jesus and desired eternal life. Because of his faith, he is allowed a most intimate experience of adoration, watching Jesus communicate with the Father.
How is it that he stayed awake? Perhaps he can be obedient to Jesus’ words, “stay awake with me as I pray” (Mk14:32) because he has already said “yes” to God in a radical way. Jesus has asked much: the faithful living of the Commandments, the living of poverty, chastity and obedience. The young man has done it. Clad only in a linen cloth, his poverty is so real that he is stripped naked when the guards reach to grab him (Mk 14:52). In his austerity, he has been fasting, from the world, from material goods, and even most likely from food. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “we fast…to check the desire of the flesh…for fasting helps to destroy sin, and to raise the mind to thoughts of the spiritual world.” That young man had plenty of practice controlling his flesh. Therefore, staying awake with Jesus was quite easy. His spirit was willing, and his flesh was not weak.
Zombies are after flesh. Maybe in order to stop being zombies, we should start fasting. I hear the word “fasting,” and I get hungry and irritated. It seems to me, two thousand, no, wait; they fasted in the Old Testament too didn’t they? Shoot! Four thousand years of prayer and fasting probably means there is something to it. St. Thomas notes, “so Saint Paul says in fastings, in chastity (2 Cor 6:5), meaning that fasting is the safeguard for chastity. As St. Jerome says, ‘Without Ceres, and Bacchus, Venus would freeze,’ as much as to say that lust loses its heat through spareness of food and drink.”
If this is true, and we started fasting, I mean, old school, biblical style, would we cease being zombies? Seems there is more than enough proof that we would be more alert, could stay awake, and control our fleshly desires. It would seem possible to do what Jesus asks: follow the Commandments (all ten) and fight against the lures and temptations of the devil, who delights in our weak flesh. I wonder how different our views on sexuality, marriage and life issues might be if we waged a war against zombie-itis and started fasting?