The fourth watch of the night
A Vocation Commentary on the Sunday Gospels
The boat on the waves and terrified disciples represents the early church trying to cope with the physical absence of the risen Jesus. Peter’s bold move to what they believe at first is a ghost compels him to imitate Jesus walking on the water. But as he sinks into doubt, panic and fear Jesus rescues him.
Peter’s attempt to walk on the water represents his faithful attempt to copy Jesus’ actions. Sometimes that is how we begin our vocational journey. An individual, a community or even an ideal attracts us, appeals to us and we try to copy that image. But when some stress, opposition or conflict arises we notice cracks forming in the image that we have adopted.
Many people drop out at this point while others employ more force to keep the image in place. Too bad, because the crisis is the wake up call for a different kind of imitation. Peter has imitated Jesus’ external actions but now to be the shepherd of the community he must imitate Jesus’ interior actions, namely solitary prayer to the Father.
Very fitting that the rescuing Jesus approaches during the fourth watch of the night, as we are fourfold beings. St. John of the Cross taught that to experience full union with God the praying person must pass through four nights or states of detachment from anything that would interfere with Divine union.
Through detachment from physical pleasures the soul entered the night of the senses. By detachment from all emotional desires and aversions one experienced the night of the affections. And by detachment from all concepts of God and even one’s own identity one passed into the night of the intellect.
The last night was called the night of the spirit. Through it the soul surrenders all its “souvenirs” of God who then gently washes away the last traces of our fear. This is the kind of prayer that Peter’s vocation now requires. By it he will be able to walk through the chaos of the first decades of the church.
Solitary contemplative prayer is what will help you walk through the chaos that your vocation requires. By imitating the interior actions of Jesus in solitary contemplative prayer to the Father the exterior actions of Jesus will naturally unfold, as you grow deeper in your life in Christ.