The story of Daniel in the lions' den is so familiar that if we aren't careful, its deep significance could slide right by us.
Let's begin by revisiting the main events of this dramatic report. King Darius of Persia had issued an absolute decree that no one but the king was to pray for thirty days. Apparently, the king craved direct and exclusive access to whatever god might be out there, and he wanted his prayers answered first and above all. The penalty for disobedience to this decree was stiff: the one who violated it would be cast into a lions' den.
Daniel, a Jewish official in the king's court, was not about to let this decree interfere with his prayer life. He loved God, and he understood well that prayer was the means to the intimacy with God that he so desired. Therefore, he continued to pray three times a day, just like always, and he didn't care who knew about it.
Daniel, like any other powerful person, had enemies, and those men were quick to accuse Daniel before the king. Darius, who honestly liked and respected Daniel very much, now faced quite a dilemma. His decree was absolute and irrevocable. Even he couldn't break it although, to his credit, he did look hard for a way to rescue Daniel.
Finally, however, the king realized that there was nothing else he could do. He ordered Daniel to be tossed to the lions and expressed his hope that the God Daniel so loved would save him. He set his seal on the stone covering the entrance to the lions' den and went away sad.
Darius, plagued by guilt, had a rough night, and first thing in the morning, he dashed to the lions' den to see if somehow, miraculously, Daniel had survived. Sure enough, when the king called out to his trapped official, Daniel answered immediately. At this point, Darius was probably close to nervous collapse, but Daniel assured him that God had closed the mouths of the lions' and saved him from any harm.
The king could hardly believe his ears! He ordered Daniel to be removed, and with an excessive reaction that probably made Daniel groan, ordered Daniel's accusers and their families to be thrown to the lions, who made short work of them. Darius then proceeded to issue another decree that Daniel's God was to be honored and feared throughout his kingdom.
So what can we learn from this well-known story? First, God needs to be in first place in our lives. Daniel put Him before all earthly wealth and glory. He obeyed Him above all secular rulers. He loved Him and prayed to Him constantly. We must do the same. Second, we need to trust God in times of trial. No, God won't always close the mouths of our lions. We will feel pain sometimes. We will suffer. And one day, we will die. But like Daniel, we need to put ourselves firmly in God's hands and let Him decide what we need and when. Third, notice that Daniel didn't hold any grudges against King Darius. He went back to serving him just as he had before and clearly forgave him from the heart. Fourth, God can use our trials and sufferings to touch the hearts of other people. If Daniel had never been in the lions' den, if he had never come out alive, the king would never have learned about God or spread the word of His great power throughout his domain. Who knows how many hearts were touched and changed by Daniel's trip to the lions' den?
Friday – The Son of Man
In today's first reading, we hear about some of Daniel's mysterious visions. After observing four beasts, which represent the enemies of God, Daniel sees a vision of the Ancient One sitting on His throne surrounded by His worshiping angels. The scene stretches our imagination as we struggle to picture what Daniel saw: the brightness, the fire, the adoring attendants.
As the vision continues, Daniel witnesses God's judgment upon His enemies. The worst of the beasts is slain, and the others lose their dominion although their lives remain for a little while, obviously under God's strict control.
Then the vision reaches its climax as Daniel sees “one like a son of man” arriving “on the clouds of Heaven.” Clearly, He is the one responsible for conquering the beasts, and the Ancient One gives Him “dominion, glory, and kingship” so that “nations and peoples of every language serve Him.” Daniel learns that “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,” and “His kingship shall not be destroyed.”
Daniel probably didn't realize the full significance of his visions. He clearly knew that he was seeing God as much as any human being ever could and survive. But did he know Who the one like the son of man was? Could he have ever imagined the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ? No, he couldn't. But we do. Looking back through the lens of Jesus Christ, we know that the son of man Daniel saw is indeed our Lord and Savior, our King Whose kingdom will last forever, the One Who has defeated the enemy and will one day return to bring forth a new Heaven and a new earth that will never again be destroyed.
Saturday – Be Vigilant
Always be vigilant. Pray for strength. Do not get drowsy and caught up in the temptations and anxieties of everyday life. Keep your hearts awake and lifted up to God. Do not get caught off guard when Jesus comes.
And He does come to us. He comes every time we pray. He comes to us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. He comes to forgive us in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He comes whenever we call Him.
In fact, He never leaves us alone. Even when we think that He is not present, He comes. He is with us always.
He will come for us at the moment of our death, so we must be ready to greet Him. Our souls must be immersed in His grace, the grace He gives so freely if we just accept it.
He will come again at the end of time in power and great glory. No one knows the day or hour when He will arrive, so again, we must be ready to greet Him and prepare to watch in amazement as He renews the whole world.
Be vigilant, then. Wait for the Lord. Watch for Him. Keep your eyes and minds and hearts focused on Him. He does come, and He will come again.