by Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman
San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, where I spent most of my missionary service in Cuba, moved to a new site from the city of Havana to its peripheries shortly before our arrival there in 2011.
Dotted with palm trees and mango groves, it was home to what must have been every living creature ever made by God: snakes, ants, scorpions, termites, wasps, frogs, rats, bats and lizards, to name a few.
Whenever we became frustrated with the hordes of ants and legions of lizards marching into the convent, we had to remind ourselves that, until the construction of the new seminary building, the creatures had been the sole residents of the scenic property for centuries before any human being arrived. In other words, to them we must have seemed like the invaders.
Early one October morning, I started my walk to the seminary chapel where Mass would be offered.
Right in my way, I encountered a big, black, hairy tarantula in the middle of the sidewalk. The other Sisters would soon be coming along, so I ran back to the convent and grabbed a broom. I had to protect the Sisters, I thought, but I also was afraid of being attacked.
Approaching the large spider, I began to whack it without mercy until its legs began to fly off in all directions. Then out of nowhere, to my right, I heard the greeting of one of our seminarians: “Feliz fiesta de San Francisco” (“Happy feast of St. Francis”). He was smiling.
It truly was the feast of the founder of my religious family and the lover of all living beings. Had he been in my situation, I suspect St. Francis wouldn’t have pulverized the poor innocent creature.
But tarantulas and snakes and scorpions are scary for most of us. They often symbolize evil and cause overwhelming fear, much like the fallen angels who lurk in the shadows of our daily walk with God or like their leader, the devil, whom Jesus encountered after 40 days and nights in the desert.
Jesus, who is infinitely more powerful than the evil one, could have obliterated the devil in one fell swoop, but he chose another way.
He fasted. He prayed. He peacefully quoted Scripture when bombarded with the devil’s attempts to trip him up. Over all, Jesus surrendered himself into the hands of his Father, giving us an example not only for the Lenten journey we are embarking on, but also for our entire lives.
No matter what we encounter in our daily battle against evil, the Lord of mercy arms us with his life-giving word and sacrament and clears the way before us.