Psalm 23 has been – I almost wrote ‘on my heart’ of late - but the truth is it has been bugging me for a couple of weeks now!
Even since the double car accidents, the suicide of five priests I have been asked to pray for, and battling a prolonged period of accidie, that evil spirit of discouragement so well known, and battled against by the Fathers of the Desert, - this Psalm 23, - suggested as meditation with true joy on his face when he did so, by my Doctor - has followed me around, stuck in my mind like some tune you hear and can’t shake.
Yes it bugs me, hassles me, even dazzles me!
For many Christians it is the favourite and most consoling of Psalms, and is used frequently when coping with grief, especially at the mourning of a deceased loved one.
So finally a little while ago I caved into it!
I went and put my face on the ground before my Icon wall.
Suddenly it was if I started walking and kept going, like being led somewhere, in my heart rather than my mind and when the journey was over I wrote down what follows:
When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…..
It begins, I am astounded, not with a declaration of You as caring Shepherd but with an odd journey through the valley of death, the dark, shadow valley which seems to cover more of the earth than the Light of Your Risen Self!
It is an immense valley. A valley of many places, as it were.
Sometimes it is the valley of a woman’s womb, where a smiling Little One tries so hard to be beloved, but their little heart pounds with fear.
Death is approaching.
That approach confuses the innocent Little One, who does not understand what they have done to merit execution before they see the eyes of their mother or are held in her arms, or those of their father.
What, I wonder, can I possibly tell this child?
This is the darkest part of the valley to walk, to be in.
The most heart wrenching.
It is so completely anti-person, anti-life, anti-love, anti-You.
I am priest!
You have led me to walk these shadow valleys of death and so my heart must seek to understand the mother of this child, the culture of death which urges her to war against her own child, against her very self, against You, that, somehow, I might proclaim hope, mercy, be light against this darkness.
“Love is stronger!”, echoes in my heart from the voice of the great Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, and so I bend low to the ear of the not-to-be-born-child and proclaim DEUS CARITAS EST! and plead with the heart of the Mother: Love IS stronger.
Then it is as if I am walking in blazing sunlight and swirling clouds of dust yet here too lurks the shadow of death.
“Lord, save us!” rises up, when they see You, though the blood and tears of an immense crowd, mainly of terrified women and children in this desert of Darfur.
I seek in vain, or so it feels in my being with a tremendous ache, for Your rod and Your staff to give them courage.
At first the words shake me until I understand You are asking all of us to BE for them Your rod and staff by protecting, feeding, respecting, loving – ah Sweet Jesus I see Your Face, their pain is Yours, and we, the rest of the world, could so easily comfort You in them if we would but choose to do so – and my heart takes time to pray for the conversion of all governments and peoples that we might truly, and very practically, love one another.
So much violence, so much violation of women and children, such anger and hatred across the world of armies and militias, of those with ‘religious’ agendas, all claiming to be doing what You want!!!
That is the darkest, vilest lie of death – that You want harm to anyone.
I almost choke, I am so shaking against the death swirl of anger trying to silence my voice, but here too all I have to offer is the cry: DEUS CARITAS EST! LOVE IS STRONGER!
How unending the valley seems, stretching through the streets and alleys of Baghdad running with the blood of the innocent; through the poppy fields of Afghanistan, were death comes under the guise of a blood red flower which becomes a poison spreading the shadow of death throughout Europe, North America – indeed across the entire globe – and in the alleys of the great cities, where the young and not so young lay dying a living death of illusion, into the innards of great office towers where greed, manipulation of the goods of the earth oozes forth, the swill of callous disregard for human beings.
I cry out with passion, compassion, yet it almost sounds like the howl of a wounded animal, and we are wounded, we Your children, but is the proclamation of truth: DEUS CARITAS EST! LOVE IS STRONGER!
By then I am wearied and in my weakness cry out: ENOUGH LORD! Enough please, I do not want to see anymore, walk any further!
Do You not remember in the ‘60’s we declared you dead? In the 70’s we refashioned You into our own image and likeness? In the 80’s we declared Your Commandments mere suggestions? In the 90’s, even though You had the audacity to remind us through Pope John Paul that You are the Splendour of Truth, Truth Itself, we chose that everything should be ‘relative’, declaring insanely that it should be held to be true that there is no actual truth!
It seems, we human beings, mostly want to stay in the valley, undisturbed by the cries from Darfur, ignoring the violation and exploitation of children, seeking relentlessly to feed our appetites by consuming everything, and everyone, we can lay our hands on.
I think my reluctance to walk further in the valley, is because of my own complicity in the merchandizing of death when I give into anger, refuse forgiveness, forgo trust in Divine Providence, choose to doubt Our Father has given us the greatest of gifts: You our Redeemer.
You keeping walking, and little by little I begin to understand that only by following You can anyone make this journey, which is really the pilgrimage of life even when we must, occasionally, encounter the valley of death or temptation, without harm, for You are at my side…..
In my ears echoes the cry of the Angel of Fatima to the visionaries: Penance! Penance! Penance!
It happens as suddenly as it began.
The journey ends.
The valley itself, which seemed so unending, is indeed limited – because by Your ‘love-is-stronger’ passion, death and Holy Resurrection, You have conquered sin and death.
You are greater than the valley. Your Light greater than the darkness!
My heart now understands: You have not merely been showing me the reality of the immense suffering of my brothers and sisters, the many places in the valley of the shadow of death where they are forced by other human beings, or their own sins, to dwell – no!
You have been teaching me indeed:
The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
It is when I allow anger, frustration, self-pity, doubt, greed, any number of things or persons of a toxic nature, to ‘lead’ that I forget who indeed IS the Shepherd, You!
You the Lord of history, You who are love!
What is this thing that shall become the no-thing I shall never lack?
How often I fall into the mistake-trap of thinking it to be stuff of some kind: food, clothing, shelter, relationship with another.
In truth we have been created for none of that.
They are mere means to sustain us [ if not abused, otherwise they are lethal ] enough in this life that we might receive the one-thing, the every-thing, for which we have been created – which is not some-thing, but someone, You!
Deus Caritas Est and You, Love, are stronger, greater, more complete than all else.
The green pastures, the quiet waters, these places of light, life, to which You yearn to take us my heart finally understands ‘where’ this is – it is no place outside of my being – rather it is the garden enclosed of my soul where, in stillness, if I but wait upon Your timing, listen for Your Heartbeat indeed I shall experience, again and again and again, You who are the very restoration of my soul, my strength.
Fear populates the dark valley.
Fear can only scare me if I choose to forget, or doubt Your Divine Mercy promise I am with You always until the end of the age.
That is Your protecting from evil.
The prayer of others, my prayer for those whom You have shown to my heart, pleases You and You graciously allow that our prayer, and penance, on behalf of others, - for an end to death, abortion, terrorism, hatred, poverty, all sin – becomes part of Your protective and comforting rod and staff – when it is selfless prayer in union with You and the true rod and staff: Your All-Powerful Cross!
You have anointed my head with oil, literally on the day of my Baptism and Confirmation, in a way every time I have been filled to overflowing in the cup of my being with Divine Mercy in Sacramental Confession.
Lavishly for me and all priests too You anoint us the day of our ordination with the gift and mystery of Your own Priesthood!
All of this, all creation, all of Your Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death, Your Glorious and Holy Resurrection, has been, and in a real way continues to be preparation and fulfillment of the table set before me in the presence of my enemies: the banquet of the Most Holy Eucharist, Yourself, true sacred food and drink!
Who are these enemies, truly?
Not the human agents I think are my enemies, though they may act us such, not the abortionists, terrorists, hate mongers, as cruel and death-dealing as they are.
Mine and everyone’s true enemies are evil spirits, whom we must be wary of, all the while fearless, for our protection is Your Risen Pierced Heart Self, You, the goodness and kindness which will follow me all the days of my life – and Your gift of life forever IS Your Love, Your Mercy, Your grace.
All-Loving Shepherd I am grateful for where You have led this day, grateful for Your patience and mercy, grateful that within the mysterious gift of Baptism, having become a member of Your Mystical Body the Church, in truth I already dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
DEUS CARITAS EST!
LOVE IS STRONGER!