Wednesday, 01 April 2020 16:17

The Fox’s Den and Mama-Hen

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The Chicken Licken story comes often to mind these days. In the States I think he’s called Chicken Little, or maybe it’s Henny Penny. It doesn’t really matter. We all know the story. An acorn fell on his head and he went into a panic, flapping around the place, and squawking that the sky was falling, the world was ending. He ran into Lucky Ducky, Lucy Goosey, Turkey Lurkey and several others, infecting them all with his panic, so now you had a whole troop of hysterical and highly edible little animals running around the place screeching, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling, the world is ending!” Eventually, they ran into Foxy Loxy, who listened to them with deep concern and compassion. He invited them to take refuge in his den. Nice guy, Foxy Loxy. 

The coronavirus is not an acorn. There are three spooky things going on. Firstly, the virus itself is spooky. It’s new, unknown. Secondly, the lockdown is spooky. The suppression of civil liberties, the ruination of the economy, massive unemployment; it all seems disproportionate, illogical, sinister. Thirdly, the conspiracy theories contain some spooky facts: virologists (Xiangguo Qui and Keding Cheng) arrested for smuggling vials containing “biological samples”; a Harvard professor (Leiber) arrested by the FBI; millions of American dollars assigned to a professor (Zhengli) at Wuhan Institute of Virology for work on coronaviruses and Emerging Pandemic Threats; politicians who sell their stocks and shares on the eve of the epidemic; pre-pandemic rehearsal drills performed under the direction of the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Institute. Spooky, spooky, spooky. 

The Fathers of the Church considered courage to be a virtue not just in itself but also essential to all of the other virtues. In other words, without courage you can’t be humble, you can’t be chaste, you can’t be sober, you can’t be patient, you can’t be generous. You name it, if you don’t have courage, you can’t be it. Every single virtuous act contains an element of courage, because in order to perform it, you have to overcome obstacles, big or small, external or internal or both, and in order to overcome obstacles, you have to have courage. Conversely, cowardice is at the heart of every vice and every vicious act.  

Sometimes we say, be occupied, not preoccupied. Thing is, we’re not robots, we’re human beings. Fear is an inevitable factor of the human experience. We fear, we worry, we suffer anguish, anxiety. When I was about 19 years old I asked my mother why the heck she worried so much. From the grand height of my teenage wisdom, it just didn’t make sense to me. With justified irony she answered, “For the fun of it.” I got the answer my question deserved. There are different versions of the Chicken Licken story going back twenty-five centuries in diverse cultures. That’s because crisis and fear have always been with us. 

In Gethsemane, Christ suffered terror and anguish. It is safe to assume that throughout his entire lifetime, Christ experienced episodes of fear. Gethsemane is a Mystery of Preoccupation. In the Garden of Olives, Jesus feared the immediate future. To say he worried would be an understatement. He was intensely preoccupied. That’s perfectly natural. It belongs to a healthy human psychology. And yet, he emerged from the Garden with his sovereignty intact: “Whom do you seek? I am. Let these others go.” 

Jesus was not dealing with an acorn falling on his head. He was dealing with a tree falling on his back, carrying all the world’s sins on it. His fear was not hysterical; it was proportionate. That’s the first thing: the fear must be proportionate to the reality we’re facing. It mustn’t be exaggerated. The second thing is to seek refuge where it’s to be found. Jesus draws strength from the Father to overcome fear of torture and death. All kinds of “fox’s dens” are offered to us in fearful situations, options that entice us into greater danger.

Speaking of foxes, there is something chilling about Our Lord’s answer when he was warned by the Pharisees that Herod was looking for him to put him to death: “Go tell that fox, I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will be perfected” (Lk. 13:32). Then Jesus says he will not flee because it is not fitting that a prophet should be killed outside of Jerusalem, and immediately pronounces his lament over that city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Lk. 13:34). 

Foxes kill hens and chickens. This is not something that is unique to Greek culture, or Hebrew culture, or any culture. It’s universal. It applies to all cultures and all times. Jesus employs the term fox in reference to Herod and almost without pausing for breath employs the term hen in reference to himself, and chicks in reference to us. By calling Herod a fox Jesus is depicting him as a cunning lowlife, a man without nobility and without real power or prestige. He dismisses him as a threat and goes on to affirm his own freedom and power to fulfill his mission, the plan traced for him by the Father. Jesus is the Son of God, and God is in control. God is the Lord of History. Nothing escapes him. He is the Master of the Universe. 

But then there’s a paradox. A paradox is an apparent contradiction. It seems like a contradiction but it’s not. Jesus goes on to prophesy that he will be killed in Jerusalem. Having compared Herod to a fox, he compares himself to a hen. The fox will kill the hen, and the chicks will be vulnerable. The chicks will die too. Not a stone will remain upon stone. The Temple will be destroyed. The Jewish people and their children will be cruelly massacred and dispersed. That looks like a contradiction. 

But it’s a paradox because it is precisely by his death that Jesus defeats the devil. He will cast out demons and heal people the first day, and the second, and will be perfected on the third. He is perfected on Calvary, and on Calvary all demons are cast out and all people are healed. The fox is defeated by the hen’s death. The fox is not just Herod. The Herodians joined with the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Romans to nail Christ to the cross. They were all foxes. They were all cunning lowlifes without nobility and without real power. They all hated each other, but they were united for twenty-four hours in their hatred of him. Twenty-four hours was enough: enough for them to conspire and complete their deicidal plan, and enough for them to be outfoxed and overcome by the Divine Hen. 

Ultimately, the Fox is Satan. In every Mass, right after the Our Father, we say, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Keep us safe from all distress. That’s an important prayer in the middle of the Mass. It is part and parcel of the human experience to be assailed constantly by the forces of the abyss, and the forces of the abyss don’t just assail us with seductions. They also assail us with distractions and with fear. It’s immensely consoling to know that the courage and wisdom God requires of us is the courage and wisdom it takes for a frightened chicken to seek refuge under the wings of mama hen. 

Fr Colm PowersFr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother. Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the FFA blog "Random Reflections".

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