by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
I hope he doesn't mind me sharing this. A friend expressed some grief with these words recently: "I don't know...I consider the clergy the Special Forces of God, but when leadership (Pope? God?) appears to be waning, what do you do? What do we do? Pray and die? I am getting angry, confused, and frustrated."
We'd been discussing the torrents of evil growing daily, so I wrote the following for him, which may be helpful for any of you reading here as well?
Pray and die isn't such a bad outcome. We're mortal and die in any case. Prayer is like that spoonful of sugar (Mary Poppins) that helps such medicine go down. I don't want to die, but then again, this life isn't eternity, and I do want to get there (no more tears, no more sadness, pills and pain, etc.). Anger is understandable. We're not supposed to accept evil, and if we can do something about it, anger will embolden one to carry out what needs to be done. Confusion, frustration and depression, too, are understandable, when one feels overwhelmed, spun around (from all the lies) and occasionally doesn't want to get up and continue to suffer meaninglessly--but then (me smiling) our Guardian Angel kicks us in the butt and says, "get going, soldier; just a few more miles and you're home free." Gosh, we forget our angels, their providence, God's predestination having placed them there at our side and prompted the first stirrings of faith and virtue within when we were too young to fully understand.
Now that Advent is upon us, if you get a chance, you might do well with what we used to take in the seminary once a month. We called it "a day in the desert," that dry and arid part of life where you don't seek distraction or comfort but a solitary time (even an afternoon might do) away from the preoccupations of life that drive us relentlessly. The Church Fathers sought the desert to confront the devil within, their weakness, temptations, their feelings and moods, to sort out reality from the winds of change that surround us too often. I would go and sit on a hill apart from the community near the school campus, or later, drive to the beach when I got a car, bring a bible or favorite spiritual reading, a bottle of water and paper and pen. Then I'd ask God to take over and guide me through the process of abandoning myself to his will, that I might accomplish what he wants rather than what I want or even what I (mistakenly) think he wants. The time away will do you good, clear your head, free your spirit for the time being so you might face eternity bravely and say, "I'm coming for you!"
For those of you reading this, I'll be praying for you as well as my friend this Advent.
Peace and Joy (Pax et Bonum)!
Fr. Jon Atchley
St. Bernard of Clairvaux offers a lovely sermon which follows, on the holy angels that guard us. That we have these celestial friends as champions to protect and guide, is a great consolation to help counter the fear and confusion that seems to permeate most of what we do these days.
"He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways. Let them thank the Lord for his mercy; his wonderful works are for the children of men. Let them give thanks and say among the nations, the Lord has done great things for them. O Lord, what is man that you have made yourself known to him, or why do you incline your heart to him? And you do incline your heart to him; you show him your care and your concern. Finally, you send your only Son and the grace of your Spirit, and promise him a vision of your countenance. And so, that nothing in heaven should be wanting in your concern for us, you send those blessed spirits to serve us, assigning them as our guardians and our teachers.
"He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways. These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence; respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf. They are here to protect you and to serve you. But even if it is God who has given them this charge, we must nonetheless be grateful to them for the great love with which they obey and come to help us in our great need.
"So let us be devoted and grateful to such great protectors; let us return their love and honor them as much as we can and should. Yet all our love and honor must go to him, for it is from him that they receive all that makes them worthy of our love and respect.
"We should then, my brothers, show our affection for the angels, for one day they will be our co-heirs just as here below they are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.
"Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous way to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are loyal, prudent, powerful. Why then are we afraid? We have only to follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell under the protection of God’s heaven."
"I myself will send an angel before you to guard you as you go and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Give him reverence and listen to all that he says." - Exodus 23:20-21