One of my favorite places to take pilgrims when I guide Catholics through the Holy Land is the Brook Elah in the broad valley where the Israelites faced off against the Philistines and their champion, Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17). It is a narrative that has fascinated me since I was a young boy, and it is our first reading in today’s Mass. As you probably recall, the Israelites were paralyzed with fear, listening to weeks of mocking of their God by their enemy, the Philistines and Goliath, in particular. Even the hero-king Saul would not face off against the towering warrior from Gath.
Enter young David, bringing lunch to his brothers in battle. His courage is matched by his righteous indignation that God’s name is being shamed and mocked by Israel’s enemies. Rejecting the offer of armor, David simply picks up five smooth stones from the small brook that ran through the Israelite camp as his weapons. I had often wondered why he would pick up five stones, when he certainly has a clear sense of his aim. For many years, I saw the five stones as a helpful metaphor for the five spiritual practices that we can use to fight against the enemy of our soul (e.g. the Eucharist, Rosary, Confession, Lectio Divina, the Daily Examen). But I want to propose another approach. I think David knew he could take down Goliath with a single shot to the head (which is exactly what he did), so why then the additional four stones? Later, the Biblical text reveals a subtle answer: 2 Samuel 21:15-22 tells us that David would later take down four more giants that were enemies of God’s people. We don’t get the exciting details of those stories, the Goliath narrative acts as a “sampling” of David’s courage and prowess with the sling. Each of the five stones met its target.
With that in mind, the story provides some other helpful points of reflection. Though David was a crack shot, the power behind his pitch was actually the Lord himself. David admitted as much, “ “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). That’s why I love that the Psalm matching today’s first reading proclaims, “Blessed be the LORD, my Rock!” (Psalm 144:1b). That power helped him systematically eliminate all five of Israel’s greatest enemies.
With that in mind, what are the five biggest enemies to God being glorified in your life? They may be sins, behaviors, patterns of thinking that are keeping your spiritual life stationary or spiritually paralyzed. I can look at so many moments in my life when I let sin, fear, laziness, or spiritual apathy keep me from championing God’s power in my world.
So, let this story give us courage! It’s our trust in God’s power vs. relying only on our own resources that gives us the confidence to systematically eliminate these enemies from our life. But we must cooperate with God’s grace and power. Here’s some simple beginning steps:
1) Just reflecting on what your five greatest enemies may be is a great beginning. We rarely even take that simple step of intentional living. You may have only one or two, or twenty. Five is a reasonable quantity to focus on.
2) Next, begin the practice of the Daily Examen to identify more clearly these spiritually defeating patterns. You may discover one’s very different than the one’s you first identified. This is also a wonderful way to “remember” the faithfulness of the Lord in past battles (1 Sam. 17:34-37). Learn more about the practice of the Daily Examen here: http://goo.gl/C1Rz
3) Take what you learn from the examen to the Lord to prayer and to Confession, and/or a trusted mature Christian or spiritual director in your life. This is indispensable. The Devil wants to keep us scattered and shattered (that’s what diabolos means). Even David didn’t take on all of the giants alone (2 Sam. 21:22).
4) Consecrate yourself to Mary (our Warrior-Queen, Rev. 12), and cultivate a robust relationship with the Saints and Angels – they form a great army of holy ones who can intercede for us that Christ will be fully form and matured in us. You can learn a wonderful new approach to Marian consecration here: http://amzn.to/ApDe2p
5) Regularly attend Mass. Scott Hahn says it well in The Lamb’s Supper, “We are fighting spiritual forces: immense, depraved, malevolent forces. If we had to fight them alone, we’d be trounced. But here’s the good news: there is a way we can hope to overcome. But the solution has to match the problem, spiritual force for spiritual force: immense beauty for immense ugliness, holiness for depravity, love for malevolence. THE SOLUTION IS THE MASS, where heaven touches down to save an earth under siege.”