I had not seen this statement from Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter Triduum, but it’s certainly something worth reflecting upon in these times:
The Pope was keen to stress that Christ’s rebuke to his slumbering apostles – “stay awake and keep vigil” – applies to the entire history of the Church. Jesus message, the Pope said, is a “permanent message for all time because the disciples’ sleepiness is not problem of that one moment, rather of the whole of history, ‘the sleepiness’ is ours, of those of us who do not want to see the full force of evil and do not want to enter into his Passion.”
Indifference to God, essentially, breeds an indifference to evil. This is why the Romans, though they prized self-sufficiency, ultimately failed as a society. By turning plunder into law, Roman society essentially bent itself towards the Greek virtue of autarkes by plundering those outside or within the boundaries of the empire. When their enemies became strong enough, the western and still thoroughly pagan Rome collapsed, while the Christian East survived for another 900 years.
The civitas dei won out over the civitas homo precisely because Roman autarkes was replaced by Christian agapos. Byzantium thrived because she understood that society was required to protect the individual, while pagan Rome collapsed because the world of “might makes right” found Rome at the mercy of the barbarians, rather than vice versa. Rome became ambivalent to the evils that surrounded her, while the Christian East remained vigilant and steadfast.
Pope Benedict XVI’s reminder to “stay awake and keep vigil” is a powerful reminder for the times, I think.