Every week I scour the internet and various hard- and soft-bound sources for quotes that I think might make a difference to somebody, somewhere. I know I’m not always successful but I also know for sure that at least once in a while a quote touches someone for the better.
Well, today’s quote touched me. Some might find it off-putting or unmoving but for whatever reason it’s been running through my head like a mantra. It comes from today’s saint, Cyril of Jerusalem, who knew a little something about the topic and who I think would approve of my selection for the times we now find ourselves in.
You know what I mean. These are times where people, feeling driven to desperation out of what I can only describe as panic, are depriving each other and themselves of their God-given dignity, fighting over or hoarding such things as bottled water, rolls of toilet paper, canned food, and hand sanitizers.
St. Cyril once said:
The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.
The road is life and at every turn the dragon lurks – always hungry, always on the prowl, always ready to devour the unwitting, the arrogant, the unbelieving, the slothful. In one way or another, at one time or another, we are all of these; sometimes of our own free will, sometimes under the compulsion of habit, sometimes the result of forces we cannot name and do not understand, but cannot seem to resist.
When we think of the dragon we think of the Devil and it is right to do so, for Scripture does refer to him that way (Revelation 12, for example). There is no doubt that the dragon is the Enemy but there is also no doubt that too often the dragon looks back from our own mirror. Worse yet, the victim does too; we allow sinfulness such a hold over us that in effect we devour ourselves, relent to the darker angels of our nature.
Most recently we have begun to treat the virus as though it were the dragon. That’s easy to understand; insidious, potentially lethal, virtually invisible, it waits not only by the side of the road but perhaps in the air we breathe or the people we touch. That inspires fear, and it should.
However, it also reminds me of St Teresa of Avila’s words, “I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.” While we are right to fear the virus, we should more rightly fear our own fear of it; fear is the true dragon lurking behind the unloving, self-centered actions we have heard and read about recently.
How to combat that kind of servile fear? With holy fear. Remember the next part of St. Cyril’s quote. We go to the Father of Souls. It is God whom we most love, God whom we most fear offending. What pleases God is not fear but faith; that we take advantage of the opportunities He has given us to draw closer to Him and each other.
Where do such opportunities lie in the trial we face today? Right in front of us. First, let us resolve to do the best we can with what we have been given. If the virus prevents us from going out, then we stay in and bring ourselves back to the kind of simpler time that many of us knew as children: Simple, modest home-cooked meals; conversation around the dinner table; recreation time; work time; quiet time. Nothing works to calm those around us like quiet assurance. Second, let us take advantage of the opportunities this sequestered time gives us to get back to the basics of our faith. If the churches are closed to holy Mass they are wide open for Confession. What better time to go than when we feel the dragon near? And what better time to fall on our knees and pray for those who have fallen ill or died and to thank Him that we and so many others have been spared? Finally, we can make this a time to worry less about our own needs and more on those most vulnerable – the elderly, those with small children, those with few resources.
Fear is not the time to turn away from God but toward Him, for God alone has the power to save. I quoted Cyril of Jerusalem and Teresa of Avila; let me close by quoting our Lord.
Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
It is necessary to pass by the dragon, but no dragon is fearsome in the face of such strength.