"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

DAY VII: David And Goliath (JULY 24)

Ignatius recuperating in Loyola castle
Seventh Rule of the Discernment of Spirits: When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it. For though God has taken from him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation. (SE 320)

Day after day people around the world stand isolated and paralysed with fear of the dreaded coronavirus disease. What is even more terrifying is the perceived absence of God like in Psalm 22 of David. It is like a new picture of hell where God is silent. Then we ask the question "Why would God allow this kind of thing?" How long will God hide His face? How long will He look away? When will He "show up"? Does He care at all that we are perishing? Until we see any tangible sign of God's omnipotence in the form of a cure, the virus will continue to triumph over us.

In the Old Testament, there was a time when Israel stood paralysed with fear when the great Philistine army was at their doorstep. However, it wasn't the size or strength of the adversary that paralysed them. Israel had been outnumbered before except that this time one soldier stood between Israel and victory. But he was no ordinary soldier. This was Goliath—the champion who was so intimidating to look upon that even his blasphemous trash-talk failed to anger or annoy Israel's king. He came out between the lines and challenged the Israelites to send out a champion to decide the outcome in single combat, but Saul, their standard-bearer, was too afraid.

David entered. Goliath gave him a cold stare and said, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” He cursed the shepherd boy by his gods. Without batting an eyelid, David responded with a kind of trash-talk with a twist that upped the ante: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" David cried out in prayer as he would always do even later on when he would already be king: "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that God saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is God's, and he will give you into our hand." It set David apart from the slugger Saul and from the rest of the army. Everyone were looking at the same reality and hearing the same insults but David interpreted these things differently. While King Saul and his men dreaded Goliath and, perhaps, just like how we now dread the coronavirus, David saw the adversary from the perspective of a fighter with God as his standard-bearer, "like a shepherd guarding his flock."

Take a moment and read David's speech beginning in 1 Samuel 17:45. He affirmed in faith what he believed in his heart to be true about the God of his ancestors. The circumstances might or might not have changed—the Philistines were still a much stronger force to reckon with and Israel stood the slimmest chance of even remaining alive. However, the fervour in David's heart was utterly unshakeable and that tipped the balance in their favour. Slim chance, yes, by their own nearsighted valuation of themselves, but with God on their side, who could not win. The perception of the desolation of the Valley of Elah changed all because of that small "inner movement" in young David's heart, from being little in the eyes of somebody to being so much more when he placed his trust in God's promise of victory. Often what we see as the perceived absence of God is really a misperception caused by too much self-absorption.

Ignatius praying inside a cave at Manresa
Saul and the rest of Israel's army were imprisoned in their tormenting thoughts. "We cannot defeat them." It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when we start saying things like this to ourselves. The same could be said about allowing the current pandemic to take the better side of us. When we are mired in the mud of desolation and feel detached from God, and look at life—clear as mud, for indeed there is nothing that could be clearer beyond God's perspective. We self-focus ruminating on the pain, the difficulties, or the guilt over our sin, entirely pessimistic over the hopelessness of the surrounding circumstances. What must happen is for us to recognize what we have inside us, to wake up, turn around, and cross the Rubicon from negativity to positivity. This is precisely the Rubicon that David embraced when he finally stepped forward to face Goliath. Scholars today believe that the original listed killer of Goliath was Elhanan, son of Jair, and that the authors of the Deutoronomic history changed the original text to credit the victory to the more famous character, David. But that is not the point. Victory is victory. At least we can credit David for his little God-talk for that is how all victories are won. A prayer warrior, to me, is always a front-liner in the line of battle. The prayer warrior fights with one heart's trust and confidence to go against the javelin of put-downs and agitations first hurled by the enemy straight into the heart.

We all face Goliaths from time to time. Like the soldiers of Israel we become so attached, overwhelmed, inward-looking into our own sense of littleness. So we stand inept, lacking the will to move with trust. We are children of the living God equipped with the mindset of Christ to face any crisis no matter how desolating. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). With God, we can pass the point of no return always with victory 101 percent assured. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Third day of our Novena of Grace in honour of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Repeat this prayer for nine successive days. The first novena happened between the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost, when the disciples gathered in the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer.

Suscipe (Prayer by St. Ignatius)
Take, O Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own. Thou hast given all to me, to Thee, O Lord, I return it. Everything belongs to Thee; do with it as Thou wilt. Give me only the love of Thee and with it Thy grace, that is enough for me. Amen.

With St. Ignatius we pray:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.