“You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies.”
We’ve heard it so many times, that we can easily skip over the details of Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, yadda, yadda…” But what an odd sentence we have above. The psalmist is under attack from violent foes, and what does God have up his almighty sleeve? He decides to set the table. “Great strategy, God. Now they’ll never get us!”
We have here, however, an ancient piece of wisdom from the mouth of David the king. It was in fleeing for his life from the bloodthirsty Saul that he was first inspired to write psalms, in praise and petition to God. Similarly, the Church today is “under fire,” we might say, facing ever growing challenges of secularization, unethical legislation, and redefining of basic values. In every Christian home, every circle of Christian friends, the same million-dollar question finds its way into our conversations: “What do we do about it?”
The psalm offers one answer above all others: worship.
We are pressed and pressured on every side, and God invites us to come to Him. He sets the table for us at every Mass, where we are fed by His word and Sacrament, and where the whole Church prays together for the world. To worship is to tell God who He is. It is to step out of the bustle of the “turning world” and listen to God, to be strengthened by him, and to learn of his love.
But what about evangelization? Isn’t it our call to proclaim the gospel to the world? Yes, we must witness to Christ in all fields of work: politics, business, grade schools, think tanks, or the movies. We are called to love every neighbor, and in this we must be creative and intelligent and friendly and confident, challenging even, to anything untrue or misguided. But we are not Christians in the first place because we adhere to a political platform or because of a certain ethic, desperately important though these may be. We are Christians first because, “We have come to know and believe in the love God has for us,” the love who is Jesus Christ (1 Jn 4:16). And to learn to go out, we must first learn to go in.
If there is a wolf at the door, our first reaction is to run to the window, to see what it’s doing, and to plan out how to deal with it. Yet we can never let outside problems displace our inside vocation – we can’t spend our lives at the window, let alone the news feed or the comment box.
But wait just a second. Wolves? What kind of talk is this? We need to back up and honestly ask, is the Church under attack? Hasn’t the election of Pope Francis been met by the press with enthusiasm? Yes, but it has equally been met by scrutiny, watching his every word to see if perhaps (in their musings) he might finally help the Church shake off its old rules and put on a more up-to-date way of thinking. When Benedict XVI was elected, he asked his listeners in his inaugural homily, “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” The media was quickly spinning off wild speculations about who these wolves might be, haunting us with whispers of canine Italian cardinals prowling the back alleys of the Holy See. Tone-deaf to Benedict’s biblical imagery, they completely missed the point. The Church’s enemy is not a certain group of people; its enemy is sin, and the one who tempts us to sin (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8).
Many today dismiss sin as just a few frightening remnants of bedtime stories. Bad feelings are simply the result of “Catholic guilt.” But the more we ignore sin, the more we will neglect our duty to worship God, and the more sin will come to dominate all areas of life, from the law books, to the hospital room, to the common expectations of a first date. We are all susceptible to sin’s sly persuasions, but we are all called to the grace of God, which alone brings about true love and justice. God’s plan for the world is Christ, that he might be known and loved, and when it comes down to it, only God’s power can make that happen. Only He knows how and when and to whom to reveal Himself. We are simply His instruments.
Our first order of business, then, is to get busy living Christian life. Whatever follows is His work, under His inspiration. Times change and challenges change, but our need for worship remains a constant. It’s not only what we do to respond; it’s what we were made for.
Image: Carl Larsson, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in the Forest