IN my last general reflection, I wrote of the Great Antitdote that St. Paul gave to his readers to counter the “great apostasy” and deceptions of the “lawless one.” “Stand firm and hold fast,” said Paul, to the oral and written traditions that you have been taught. cf. 2 Thess 2:13-15
But brothers and sisters, Jesus wants you to do more than cling to Sacred Tradition—He wants you to cling to Him personally. It’s not enough to know your Catholic Faith. You have to know Jesus, not just know about Him. It is the difference between reading about rock climbing, and actually scaling a mountain. There is no comparison to actually experiencing the difficulties and yet the exhilaration, the air, the elation of reaching plateaus that bring you to new vistas of glory.
This is a metaphor of the spiritual life, what happens in the soul when you put Jesus at the very center of your life, following Him closely, the way a lamb follows a shepherd. I hear the Good Shepherd calling us right now to His feet… for many are the dangers ahead.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Today, we truly are walking through “the valley of the shadow of death,” or what the popes have called “the culture of death.” But the Psalmist writes:
I will fear no evil, for you are with me… your rod and your staff comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
The shepherd uses his staff with a crook on the end to gently pull a sheep back into the flock when it wanders into danger. The rod is used as a weapon to beat back wild animals or to sometimes discipline a stubborn lamb.
A sheep has to learn to remain among the flock. A sheep that strays or a lamb that becomes lame, becomes prey.
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
In prayer, I sensed the Lord say:
You must remain close to me, child. You are not strong enough to wander from My feet. The wolf is always ready to pick off the lame lamb. When you leave My feet, you begin to follow paths that cause you to stumble and fall, and which injure your soul, making you prey for the wild animals. Thus, you must respond to My rod and My staff that always draw you near, that teach you of your limitations and needs—that is, through suffering. Can you not see My love for you in this? Then do not be afraid nor feel I have abandoned you. Just the opposite: the welt of the rod and the tug of the staff are signs that I am very, very near.
Remain, then, at My feet.
PRAY, NOT PREY
In order not to become prey, you must learn to pray. Jesus said,
My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
Prayer is climbing the mountain, as opposed to just reading about it. St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote “that our whole salvation depends on prayer,” and that:
It is better to pray than to read; by reading we know what we ought to do; by prayer we receive what we ask… Pray, pray, never cease to pray; for if you pray, your salvation will be secure; but if you leave off praying, your damnation will be certain. —St. Alphonsus, Great Means of Salvation and Perfection, p. 240, pp. 60-63, as cited in The Spirituality of the Catholic Church, p. 198
These are serious words, the very same ones that Our Lady has allegedly been repeating over and over again precisely for these times:
Pray, pray, pray!
You have heard me cite here many times from the Catechism that “Prayer is the life of the new heart.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2697 In other words, lack of prayer itself makes us lame; it mutes the voice of the Good Shepherd; it disposes us to follow the voice of false shepherds who would lead us, not into verdant pastures, but quicksand. I cannot tell you how many times prayer has changed the course of my day as I feel the crook of the staff around my neck, and the Shepherd saying, “Go this way, child, this way…”
Prayer has changed my life because ultimately it is not the exchange of words, but hearts—my heart for His; His heart for mine. In prayer, He has raised me up to new plateaus that have brought new vistas of glory, understanding, and wisdom. In prayer, He has led me to green pastures and still waters…
The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2560
While today’s reflection can rightly be read as a warning—for I clearly hear the Good Shepherd signaling the dangers that lie ahead… how I wish that you would hear this more as an invitation! I can hardly bear to sit here and write about prayer when I’d rather you simply took this time to do it! For you will gain more wisdom in prayer than in reading all the books of the world; and you will receive more of God in one prayer of the heart than in a thousand empty words.
The wolves are gathering all around us, prowling like a roaring lion—many of these wolves are already in your homes. It is late in the hour to come to the feet of the Good Shepherd—but not too late— to begin to let Him direct and protect you so that the enemy can do no more harm. For there is very little time left before the Storm of storms breaks loose in all its fury upon the world.
And if you do not know His voice…. whose voice will you follow?
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