The devastation left in the aftermath of the powerful earthquake which shook an already impoverished Haiti in January remains fresh in our memories. Besides all the news coverage on the disasters this horrendous tremor left behind were also, glory be to God, the many amazing stories of survival. There was the story, for instance, of an eleven day old baby found days after the quake. The baby survived a miraculous seven days beneath the rubble without any food or drink.
I’m sure many haven’t forgotten the earthquake along the floor of the Indian Ocean which ultimately caused a tsunami in 2004, claiming the lives of thousands of people in Asia and East Africa. And there as well, among the devastation, we heard of survivals. For example, the wildlife officials at Sri Lanka’s national park, home to hundreds of wild animals, surpisingly reported no mass animal deaths. Researchers were led to believe that these animals were able to sense the coming of danger.
Unlike animals, one might argue, man doesn’t have that complex of an instinct . We haven’t the ability of a shark, for instance, who can smell a drop of blood in a million drops of water or that of an owl who can hear the footsteps of a mouse half a kilometer away. Yet this hardly means that we are completely stripped of the instincts which forewarn us of ensuing dangers. First of all, we are given a conscience through which God speaks to us in a gentle and loving voice. As we read in the Book of Job, “For God does speak, now one way, now another, though man might not perceive it” (33:14).
Unlike animals who instintively react to the sense of danger, man truly does not perceive it and is therefore often unresponsive to the warnings of danger, particularly and almost exclusively if they be of a spiritual nature. For this reason do we read in that moving parable of our Lord how the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to life in order to warn his brothers of the dangers of the “torments of Hades”. In other words, he knew that it was of no use to expect them to pay heed to the warning of the prophets. You see, the voice of our conscience is not only soft and gentle but at times it’s not even fully developed. Instead, the seed which is caringly planted in our hearts also requires some cultivation on our part. Like water and sunlight give life to plants our Lord tells us that the seed planted in our hearts can only grow and develop through prayer and fasting. Without these two virtues God will continue to speak to us but it will be as if to one who has ears but does not hear; like the one who hears the word but is choked by the cares of this life.
Incidentally, the only animals that were killed during the tsunami were those chained up or restricted. Christ is the One, we are keen to remember, who has come to free us from death but before that He has come to free us from the bondage of sin for, after all, the “wages of sin is death”. And so the Apostle Paul writes, “…our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Ergo, in Christ we are not slaves but, as He tells us, “you are My friends” (John 15:14). As – I dare say – our only true friend in this life, Christ is the One who is speaking in our hearts “though we might perceive it”. He doesn’t bring coincidences our way as if a riddle for us to solve. Rather, all things happen for a reason. If we only open the eyes of our hearts we would see with much joy that that reason is nothing else but our salvation.
A blessed Lent to all.