So here we are on the Wednesday of Passion Week 2020, and like clockwork, I've…
From the Chapel — April 2: The noonday devil
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
Psalm 91 is probably best known to most Catholics as the text of a hymn that everyone either loves or hates: “On Eagle’s Wings.” (Count me in the less than enthusiastic crowd. But then, my taste in Church music runs to Byzantine chant.)
That same psalm, in the Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate (the canonical Latin version of the Bible), is the source of a phrase that was once common in prayers and in discussions of the seven deadly sins: “the noonday devil.”
“His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night. Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday devil” (Ps 90:5-6, Douay-Rheims American Version).
In “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” St. John Climacus, like many other great spiritual writers, identifies “the noonday devil” with acedia, or sloth. This demon strikes at midday, when the spiritual and physical labors of the morning catch up with us, and tries to convince us that we can ease up — even should ease up — to save our strength for labors yet to come.
Of course, if we do, there’s a good chance that we might not return to our prayer or our work, and the noonday devil will have succeeded in derailing our efforts.
Yesterday, I talked about “hitting the wall” every year in the second to last week of Lent, and that experience reminds me of St. John’s description of the workings of the noonday devil. The struggle that many of us experience as we try to stay true to our walk with Christ to Calvary in these final days of Lent is really just a more focused version of the battle we fight every day. And the answer to both our Lenten struggle and our daily battle is to place ourselves under the shield of God’s faithfulness.
In the midst of the current pandemic, it’s interesting to note that modern translations of these verses from Psalm 91 read a little bit differently:
“You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon” (Ps 91:5-6, NABRE).
Pestilence and plague. Sloth and acedia. The noonday devil. In each case, we’re fighting the same battle, and there’s only one way to win it:
“Because he clings to me I will deliver him; because he knows my name I will set him on high” (Ps 91:14).
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.