By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 19, 2020
There was an old monk often visited by people seeking spiritual help. One day, someone asked, “Father, how did you learn to pray?”
The surprising answer was “demons.”
You see, when he was 19 years old, he went to live on a mountain, where he committed himself to surviving by prayer alone. He only knew the Lord’s prayer, so he repeated that, over and over, as he searched for berries to eat.
When night fell, he heard the sounds of carnivorous animals prowling through the forest. He then spent the whole night crying out, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!”
When daylight came, he realized animals were hiding all around him, so he continued the same prayer. Night fell, and then another day, and his prayer went on for years.
We might struggle to relate to this story, since we live in comfortably heated houses, where the only carnivorous beasts may be Rover and Fluffy. When night falls, we turn on the lamps and when we’re hungry, we rummage through the refrigerator.
Still, we all have demons that prowl through our hearts. For example, the demon of greed thrives in a society that calls folks “consumers” instead of “citizens.”
What often happens when we’re lonely? We go online and buy something to treat ourselves. And when we’re bored? We head to the mall and return home with bundles of new things.
Greed tells us we can never have enough, whether it’s technology, home furnishings or fancy cruises. The danger is forgetting the people who are crying out for basic shelter and food.
Second, there’s the sneaky demon of lust, whose clutches are so deeply imbedded in our culture that it’s difficult to avoid him.
Many shows on streaming video services are one step removed from pornography. Still, they may be so cleverly written and well-acted that before we know it, we fall under their treacherous spell.
Even checking online news gives us unwanted glimpses of movie stars parading around in “invisible dresses,” along with stories about the weird goings-on in their sex lives.
The other day, I was stuck at a red light behind a van with graphic images promoting a nearby bar—and I felt sorry for the children in other cars, gazing at the same van.
Another quite feisty demon in today’s world is fear. How do we respond when threatened by an ice storm, a tornado—or a new virus?
We stock up on supplies, hoping they’ll give us a sense of security, but often our fears just intensify. The more we see basic products like toilet paper flying off the shelves, the more evidence we have that the demon of fear is cackling in glee.
Taking practical measures to protect our families is certainly understandable, and it can be cruel to tell people, “Oh, just stop worrying!” because many people are worried about losing folks they love.
Still, it helps to reflect on St. John’s words: “Perfect love casts out fear.” God, of course, is perfect love, and he can restore peace to our hearts.
The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of God’s love: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The apostles couldn’t cast out certain demons, so they told Jesus, and he replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Let’s turn to prayer as we battle our own demons. Let’s pray for the courage to remain in the forest at night, despite the wild animals lurking there. And let’s count on God’s merciful protection, as we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!”