On this first Sunday of Lent, we enter the desert with our beloved Saviour and we take up the arms of our spiritual combat: solitude, silence, fasting. Holy Lent is a time when we intensify our longing for God and our struggle against the powers of darkness. Doing so exposes us more than is the custom to the onslaught of the evil one. It is undoubtedly for this reason that, from the earliest times, the psalm that sets the tone for Lent is psalm 90, the psalm of refuge under the shadow of the Most High.
Our spiritual Mother, Holy Church, knows only too well how weak we are, how easily we can be dissuaded from doing good, how fearful we can be of the future. The words of this psalm, which our holy Father St Benedict puts on our lips every night at Compline, should give us great security and peace.
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.
The snare of the fowler reminds us of those treacherous temptations the Enemy of our human nature hides stealthily under the mask of passing beauty, false riches, fake glamour or even apparent good. The Christian soul, and in particular, the monk, must be wary at all times, lest he find himself held captive by the fowler of souls. The deadly pestilence is everything which comes from sin or leads to it; it is the temptations, the impurity, the slander, the opposition to which all good servants of Christ are exposed. Let us never forget those words of St Paul: “All those who wish to live piously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”, and again, “All abandoned me”. In the midst of all these trials however,
“he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.”
The pinion reminds us of the bird that shelters its young under its wing. The young bird is secure there. It feels the maternal protection and it has confidence. But like the bird’s pinion, our shelter can sometimes feel rather feeble. In the eyes of the world, our place of refuge might seem insignificant, and yet we know that it is in reality a mighty shield and buckler and even an impregnable fortress, because it is God Himself who is our surety and safety.
We will then no longer fear the terror of night or day, nor that of noonday, that is, the acedia which tempts all souls who seek to serve the Lord with patience and perseverance. We may see many fall or turn away from the right path, we know that we are secure, because our shelter is the Most High Himself. We find ourselves in abscondito faciei, hidden in His presence, far from the troubles of men.
Then it is that with St Paul we may be found worthy of our ministry even in afflictions and hardships. We may be treated as impostors, and yet we will be true; we may be considered good as dead, but we shall live; we may be punished, but not overcome; we may look sorrowful, yet we shall always be rejoicing; poor we may be, yet making many rich; we may have nothing, and yet we will possess all things, for ours is the treasure of the universe, the Sacred Heart of God Incarnate who by dying destroyed our death and by rising restored our life.