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Starting Point

Power of God greater than all evil

The following reflection is one of a series by Sr. Elizabeth West of Harefield, Australia, on the O Antiphons, the alleluia verses from the Liturgy of the Hours traditionally recited during vespers in the latter days of Advent.


Ero cras -- I shall be there tomorrow!

Take the first letters of the words of the O Antiphons in their Latin expression -- Sapientia, (Wisdom), Adonia (Lord), Radix (Root), Clavis (Key), Oriens (Dawn), Rex (King), Emmanuel (Emmanuel). Read them backwards and you have ero cras a Latin phrase that means “I shall be there tomorrow.” I laughed with pure delight when I read it. Word play enchants me. But, as this day edged into night, laughter quieted. The antiphons bear meaning more than I know, and truly, yes, the promise of God is always “I shall be there tomorrow.”

The words were comforting as we came to sing out evening prayer. The countryside was quiet. Sheep grazed, birds fed off the insect population, and small beetles passed the time of day as they foraged in the grasses for their own particular delicacies of grubs. Idyllic one could say -- but only if you overlooked the fact that fair in front of us were two very dead rabbits. Not a pretty sight, but somehow symbolic of the underlying darkness of our world.

Nature knows no niceties. Survival dictates that dog eat dog when hunger drives. The cutest little blue wren eats voraciously of the insects and grubs that are silly enough to be in the same patch of ground he is. There is not a lot of security in a world populated by so many species competing for survival in the same small patch of earth.

I guess we humans would look no different to an observer than do the inhabitants of my backyard. We compete, grub for what we want, need, or feel driven to take. Our lives are as fragile as the smallest aphid, and as vulnerable to the sudden swoop of birdwing and the crack of closing doom.

Yet tonight we sang: “O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel, you open, and no one shuts. You close, and no one opens. Come and deliver us from the prisons that hold us, for we are seated in darkness oppressed by the shadows of death.”

Death and life are intimate companions. We are born to die -- our bodies break and crack with age. Sudden deaths we also know. But when all is said and done, the antiphon we sang this night provides calming. Within apparent chaos is order. Within the death, new life. “You open, and no one shuts,” we sang. “You close, and no one opens.”

The long and the short of it is that the power of God is more than all the evil that we can do to one another or to this world. In spite of us, God will be God to us. We can doubt it, we can blind ourselves to it, but, in the end, we are not beetles, or bugs or birds that prey on one another because that is the order of their creating. We are images of God. Born of God, like unto God. Even the worst of us is a spark of the divine. But, we are fragile, and oh so vulnerable.

So tonight we sang for Christ to overcome us. We prayed for Christ to pull us out of our inner prisons of mind and heart, to break through our walls of isolation and open for us new vistas of grace. Maranatha! We cried: Come, Lord Jesus. Free us. And after darkness comes the dawning.

I am glad this night for dead rabbits, for the strangely violent world of insects and grubs, birds and beasts. I am glad for the strength of this antiphon of promise. I am glad God is God for me and for the world. I am glad for the piquant humor of whatever mind read the antiphons backwards and in Latin, and gave me the promise of that even as I cry, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus,” there is an answer: Ero cras! I shall be there tomorrow.

Sr. Elizabeth A. West is a member of the Australian Province of the Little Company of Mary. She is the retreat director for the Overdale Retreat Centre in Harefield, Australia. Her e-mail address is ewest@lcm.org.au

National Catholic Reporter, December 8, 2000