Monday, May 1, 2017

God gives us the means to protect ourselves

My daughter asked why lions don’t eat giraffes. I explained that giraffes have long, powerful legs and hooves the size of dinner plates to protect them from hungry lions. When she asked the inevitable “Why?” I told her that God gives each animal some way to protect itself.

And then I realized the same is true of us, only more so: Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matt. 6:26)

My children are obsessed with battling evil. They pretend to put on greaves, use empty toilet paper rolls as oliphants, and shoot string and Styrofoam “rainbows” (bow and arrows) at the bad guys. They prepare themselves for these battles, confident in their ability to defeat the enemy.

I am more inclined to play dead like the possum. The world often feels very hostile. It’s easy to forget that God has provided the means to guard our hearts and minds and souls—that we, as Catholics, are uniquely equipped to deal with the cultural onslaught facing us today.

Though I’m sure the giraffe never sees a lurking lion and forgets his powerful legs and hooves, I often lack spiritual instincts. And what could be more simple than calling on the name Jesus?

To pray Jesus is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him (CCC 2666).

Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan, Raphael, 1518

There are also our Guardian Angels, always present. Even though I say this prayer every day, as part of our bedtime routine, I forget that I have one too. We’re all familiar with the pictures of the angel helping the children cross the bridge, but every one of us (no matter how old) has an angel who can guard us from evils. Otherwise, why would our Heavenly Father have given one to each of us?

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God (CCC 336).

Then there is the most unlikely of spiritual weapons. Refreshing, cleansing, abundant: holy water. When we had our home blessed by priests, the visit left quite an impression on our children. They eagerly dip their fingers into holy water at our parish and in our home, blessing themselves, each other, and us. The two-year-old will find a cup of water and start “blessing everything from bananas to laundry to the fireplace, singing, A-meeeeen.

I have found by experience that there is nothing from which the devils fly more quickly than from holy water. They also fly from the cross, but they return almost immediately. Certainly, the power of holy water must be great; for my part, my soul feels particular comfort in taking it, and very generally a refreshment and interior delight which I cannot express. —Saint Theresa of Avila

We also have at our disposal, on the family altar, hanging from the rear-view mirror, and in our kitchen, the spiritual sword given by the Queen of Heaven: the Holy Rosary. Again there is the contradiction and beauty of the faith: the meek and humble Virgin, blessing us with the mighty weapon of the rosary. She has promised to those who pray this prayer Her protection and graces, as Our Advocate and Mother. As Pope Blessed Pius IX said: “Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.”

And there is that most Catholic of gestures: the sign of the Cross. I still remember that moment when I first dipped my finger in holy water and made the sign of the Cross, thinking, Now I’m Catholic.” And it is something our children began to do very early because they see us do it everyday, everywhere. We cross ourselves entering a church, after communion, during the liturgy, exiting a church, driving past a church, hearing a siren, and driving past a cemetery. Saint John Vianney wrote, He, who when tempted, makes the sign of the Cross with devotion, makes hell tremble and heaven rejoice.

Mark all your actions with the sign of the life giving Cross. Do not go out from the door of your house till you have signed yourself with the Cross. Do not neglect that sign whether in eating or drinking or going to sleep, or in the home or going on a journey. There is no habit to be compared with it. Let it be a protecting wall round all your conduct, and teach it to your children that they may earnestly learn the custom. —St. Ephrem of Syria

And we have the word of God, which the writer of Hebrews calls alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. It is in the Scriptures that we find even more reassurance of God’s protection. In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul assures us of the extent of our divine protection, against which no enemy can possibly triumph, as long as we remain humble:

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:14-18).

While there is ample reason to feel assaulted by the culture, the Enemy makes us forget the overwhelming love of a Father for his Children. Just as the sparrow, the giraffe, and every one of God’s creatures has been given the means to protect themselves from the predator and certain death, we too have been given the means to preserve our souls from the evil surrounding us, to look with hope and joy to the promise of Eternal Life. The battle is ours. The light overcomes the darkness. The gates of hell will not prevail. How could it, when confronted with the supernatural protections offered through the one true Faith?

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