Saturday, April 4, 2015

The man with the lantern!

Quite often in our lives, we are subjected to situations that seem to test our faith in God. There are many stories of "test of faith", stories that reflect upon how people react when their faith is put to the test. I came upon one such interesting story that was narrated by one of the members of Legion of Mary.

Once a month, the members of Legion of Mary celebrate “Marian Devotion”. It is a ninety minutes of devotion, praying, singing of praises, and reflections on the life of Mother Mary. 

There is an overpowering atmosphere of fellowship and brotherhood with everyone greeting each other as “brother” or “sister”, with smiles on their faces, feeling quite at peace. Sometimes, the priest also joins along sitting with the congregation. All in all, it is quite a peaceful, comforting and a solemn affair!

In between praying and singing hymns, someone reads out a passage reflecting on events in the life Mother Mary or narrates a story of faith.

During one such event, the following story was shared by one of the members. I do not remember the story exactly word to word but I have tried to repeat it in my own words trying my best not to lose its central message.

This is the story of a man who prevailed when his faith was tested several times, on the same day. The man lived in a small town. He was an average person, just like you and me. He believed in his faith, not fanatically religious but reasonably righteous.

One Sunday morning the man started walking towards the Church to attend the Sunday Holy Mass. As he stepped out of his house, he felt the chill of the cold winter morning. He shivered a bit, hugged himself  and started walking towards the Church. 

The Church was not very far from his house, but this morning, the walk seemed a bit difficult. It had rained heavily the previous night and the road was wet and slushy and it was still quite dark.

As he came to a bend in the road, it was a bit difficult to cross the path, as there was a large puddle in the middle of the road. As he started crossing the bend, he slipped and fell to the ground. His dress got considerably soiled. "Surely I cannot go to the Church with my soiled clothes", he told himself. He turned back towards his house angry with himself for being so clumsy.

He could not understand how he could have slipped. He has been walking these roads all his life, but never once had he experienced this kind of an embarrassing situation.  

As he walked back home, he heard a voice whispering in his ears, telling him that there was no use trying to go back to the Church as he would not be able to make it on time. But as he neared his house, he told himself that it was still not too late. He would still be able to make it if he hurried up. He quickly cleaned himself, changed his dress and started walking again towards the Church.

It was still quite dark, too early for the winter sun to rise. As he came near the bend, he was very careful, not to slip again. He was very happy as he almost crossed the bend. But as he was finishing the last few steps, he slipped again and fell to the ground. The man was furious with himself. He could not understand how he could be so careless and clumsy yet again! He looked at his dress, cursing himself under his breath, he started returning home dejected.

As he started walking back, again he heard the voice whispering in his ears, for sure he would not be able to make it to the Church.  He should forget the idea of Church for today! It is too late! But as he neared his house, his resolve grew stronger. He told himself that it was still not too late. At the most, he would miss the recitation of  the Holy Rosary and the Litany of The Virgin Mary, but he would still be on time for the Holy Mass.

He quickly cleaned himself, changed his dress and started walking again towards the Church. As he was nearing the bend, he saw a man standing by the side of the road, holding a lantern. As he came closer, he saw that it was a wizened old man. He did not look familiar to him, perhaps a traveler from the next town.

The wizened old man started walking along the man, with his eyes on the ground, not saying a word. The light from the lantern helped the man to see the road more clearly this time. Both walked in silence and as they neared the Church, the man thanked the wizened old man profusely for his help and consideration. The wizened old man did not say anything. As he turned to leave, the man asked the wizened old man to join him in the celebration of the Holy Mass.

The wizened old man answered, “I cannot enter the Church”. The man was quite surprised and curious, he asked “why not?”.  In a sad and defeated voice the wizened old man said, “I cannot enter the Church because, you see, I am the Devil!”. 

That is when the man looked more closely at the wizened old man and noticed the deep, hollow, sad, sunken and deathly eyes. He felt a shiver run up his spine!

The wizened old man continued, “I knew that you were a man of faith but I was not sure just how strong your faith was. I made you fall, both the times, trying to shake your faith. But when you returned to the Church the first time, God was very pleased with you and He blessed you". 

The wizened old man stopped for a moment and continued, "The second time when I tried, again your faith prevailed. God was pleased more and He blessed your entire family. Then I realized, that you are a man of strong faith and testing you further would only increase the number of people being blessed and I did not want that to happen. So I wanted to make sure that you reached the Church safely without any further incidence”. 

With that, the wizened old man turned and disappeared into the chilly winter darkness.

It seems that when your faith in God is strong unconditionally and unshaken, even the Devil will be forced to bend its knees at your feet!

One might say, "what was the big deal, he could have prayed at home!". Sure, he could have prayed at home. But the celebration of the sacrament and sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist is central for Christian faith. It is an important grace given to the Christians. How could not a Christian yearn for that grace, the "Bread of Life"!

Community praying also has its own importance. "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." - Mathew 18:20


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