An armed hooded robber bursts into a little bank in South Louisiana, and forces the tellers to load a sack full of cash. On his way out the door with the loot one brave Cajun customer grabs the hood and pulls it off, revealing the robber’s face. The robber shoots the guy without hesitation! He then looks around the bank to see if anyone else has seen him. One of the tellers is looking straight at him and the robber walks over and calmly shoots him also. Everyone by now is very scared and looking down at the floor. “Did anyone else see my face?” calls the robber. There are a few moments of silence, then Boudreaux looking down tentatively raises his hand and says: “I think my wife, Chlotile, peeked.” There’s an opportunist in every crowd.
Several summers back I was at Camp Marshall, which is the church camp for the Diocese of Montana on Flathead Lake. Flathead is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, having almost 200 square miles of surface, and is nestled up against the pristine Mission Mountain range. A great place for walking and a great place for just standing and staring at beauty. If you ask Fred and Anne, they can probably tell you a bit about it.
One day while I was there it was a bit overcast. As I stood looking out over the water, I noticed quite a ways off from the the shore a large group of ducks cruising along. They were spread out, finding bits of things to eat, but as I watched they began to organize and rather quickly they all started gathering up in a tight group. I wasn’t sure why until out of the corner of my eye I spotted a Golden Eagle. He was circling this group of ducks, getting closer and closer, until they were all formed up in a tight little ball. I say the eagle was circling, but what he was actually doing was corralling, because once he had them all gathered up, he took a nose dive into the center of that group of ducks and came up with dinner. (I later decided that all of the ducks were cowering, looking down and praying for their lives, and that the one who was caught had looked up instead of keeping his silly head down. This was the Peking Duck. Sorry, I had to work that in.) The entire event was amazing to watch. The eagle was a true opportunist. I don’t know if when he dove into their midst if he had his eye on a particular duck or if he knew that with them being gathered so tightly he was bound to get something. Whatever the case, he got supper. Following such a traumatic events you would think that the rest of the ducks would have headed closer to shore, but instead, it wasn’t more than a minute before they were all scattered out across the lake, once again looking for a bite to eat, as though nothing had happened.
The eagle saw an opportunity with the ducks on the lake. Based on that opportunity he created the necessary conditions for a successful hunt, and then took full advantage of the opportunity that had been presented.
Jesus said in our Gospel today, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” The thief that Jesus is referring to acts in a manner very similar to that of the eagle’s. As the Reverend William Gurnall stated, “Satan knows what order you keep your house; and though he has not a key to your heart, he can stand in the next room to it, and lightly hear what is whispered there. If once he but smells which way your heart inclines, he knows how to take the hint; if but one door is unbolted, here is opportunity enough.” Put another way, the thief watches our lives looking for opportunities. He listens to our hearts and when the opportunity is presented, then he creates the conditions necessary for a successful hunt, and when everything is in place, he comes in “to steal and kill and destroy.” Like with the ducks, he won’t take your entire being, but he’ll get a part. That part may be so small that you don’t even notice, so what will you’ll do? You’ll go right back to what you were doing prior and simply present him with the same opportunity to repeat his thievery. My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá tells of a note he received, “‘The devil doesn’t seem to be very clever’, you told me. ‘I can’t understand how he can be so stupid: he always uses the same deceits, the same falsehoods…’ —You are absolutely right. But we men are less clever, and we do not learn from the experience of others… And satan counts on all that in order to tempt us.”
By acting subtly and by taking advantage of the same opportunities and by taking one small piece at a time, the enemy can inflict considerable damage to us, and we may not even be aware of how extensive that damage is until we have fallen quite far.
So, what are these opportunities that the thief is searching for? Well, I’ll share with you a little secret: you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you. You know exactly what opportunities there are in your life that the thief can capitalize on. You know exactly what it is that causes you to fall, and – believe it or not – not only do we know what the opportunities of sin are in our lives, but – unfortunately – we are often complicit in creating the conditions for the thief to be successful.
You can look up at me and say, “Chubby there is fond of his groceries.” The kicker is, I know that. I know that I eat too much. I am very well aware (although my doctor is keen on reminding me) of the potential results of my overeating. Want to know what I had for lunch last Thursday? The “Number One”, large size at Freddy’s. That would be their double burger, loaded, more fries than Idaho can produce on an annual basis, and enough Pepsi to break an Oklahoma drought. The rest of this weekend has seen little (translate that as “no”) improvement. I know what the problem is and I know how to remedy it, yet I choose to waddle on in.
You… you can substitute whatever issue / sin you struggle with into a fitting scenario: anger, pride, lust, gluttony – and if you will be honest with yourself and carefully consider your actions, you may very well discover that you did most of the thief’s work for him.
How are we to break this cycle of sin?
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit…” and a few lines later, “They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” However, Jesus says that “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
How can we break this cycle of sin? We listen. We listen for the voice of the shepherd. Yet, let’s be honest, there will be times when you struggle to hear that voice over the other, but it is there. Listen. And when you hear it, humble yourself and confess to him that you do not have the strength to stand on your own. He will hear your cry and he – if you will allow him – will lead you into green pastures and by still waters. He will deliver you from the valley of death. In his goodness and mercy, he will bring you into the house of the Lord.
You can break a cycle of sin in your life if you will listen for the voice of God calling to you and heed his instructions. “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Listen and the way will be given to you.
Let us pray: You gift us with all the good gifts that make us the people you created us to be. Help us to know and find your will and to trust that you will help us to understand the path you call us to journey in our lives. Where there is doubt give us courage. Give us hearts open to your quiet voice so we can hear your call to us. Help us to know your faithfulness and help us to be faithful to that which you call us to. Amen.