The Lion At The Foot Of The Altar
Published: August 4, 2011
I sink down into the blissful silence of the adoration chapel, where I’ve been promising myself to spend more time. It’s just me and the Lord today, and the silence is enticingly delicious.
And then suddenly prayers come to a screeching halt as my thoughts travel to my car parked outside. Did I turn off the lights? I hurry outside to check, and discover that the lights are indeed off. All is well for a few moments, until I hear a voice saying, “You should get a new car so you’ll have all the updated features.”
The voice also makes its presence known after Holy Communion when I kneel down to thank the Lord for the great gift of the Eucharist, and I hear: “Maybe they’ll have your favorite donuts after Mass today—you know, the baked ones with cinnamon.”
It seems that praying the rosary also stimulates this annoying internal chatterbox. Frankly, I can hardly get through one Hail Mary without some comment like, “Did you pay your credit-card bill yet?” or “You need to buy some new running shoes.”
The voice also dredges up anxieties at the worst possible moments. For example, if relatives are visiting, I may awaken at 3 a.m. and listen to the voice spinning out a string of possible catastrophes, including, “What if your relatives all sit on the couch at the same time and it collapses?”
Fortunately, there is another voice in my head, and it is much gentler. Once, when I was all tied up in knots about a problem that threatened to engulf me, I knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament and in a flash I heard it: “Haven’t I always taken care of you?”
Scripture assures us the Lord is kind and merciful, so I know he doesn’t awaken me with paralyzing anxieties and disrupt me with annoying worries when I’m praying. So who, you might ask, is doing this? Just whose voice is it anyway?
Flannery O’Connor wrote a fascinating novel “The Violent Bear It Away,” which opens with a young boy hearing a strange voice in his head shortly after his great uncle dies.
The “stranger,” as the boy names the voice, convinces him the uncle was crazy, and then chips away at the Christian teachings the old man so carefully imparted to him. The voice also assures him “there ain’t no such thing as a devil.”
Interestingly enough, when the book was published in 1960, many readers didn’t realize who the stranger was. Some thought the boy was hearing the voice of reason, while others assumed the voice came from God.
O’Connor was horrified that her readers had missed the whole point. As she wrote in a letter: “If people can’t identify the devil as the devil, then I fear for the reception of the book.”
More than 50 years have passed, and people are still failing to identify the devil as the devil. It is easy to overlook him because he is very skilled at deception. And St. Peter didn’t mince words when he warned us: “Be sober and vigilant: because your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is roaming around seeking whom he might devour.”
It does indeed take diligence to tease out the various voices in our heads. Some are leading us toward the light, while others lure us into darkness. There is an old saying that the devil is most busy at the foot of the altar, which means we really have to be on our guard at Mass and at adoration.
The other day I was back in the chapel praying, when suddenly I heard a voice saying, “Oh, just give up, go to the mall and treat yourself to something.”
But I didn’t budge from the pew. Instead, I recited a line from Scripture: “Get thee behind me, Satan!” And it wasn’t long before the voice shut up entirely, and exquisite silence once again prevailed.
Artwork by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). Readers may email the Murrays at email@example.com.