Not being much of a fisherman, I didn’t understand the analogy when I first read it.

“A pike in a carp pond.”

I knew that each of those was a type of fish, and I’d even seen some in person, but I had absolutely no idea what connection they had to each other or to Catholic spirituality.

So, I asked my husband.

“The pike is a predator of the carp,” he said. “So, when the pike is around, the carp feel threatened and keep active."

Then I had it.

The passage I was reading was about the effect of adversity on humans – or more specifically, the lack of adversity. The “pike in a carp pond” analogy is one used by Fr. Joseph Kentenich in his teachings about the mercy of God the Father.

You see, without the pike, the carp become complacent and take things for granted. There isn’t anything to challenge their existence, and so they become lazy and self-reliant. There isn’t anything around to challenge them and so they can afford to slack off.

Human beings are like that as well.

We are like the carp in the fishpond. If we aren’t challenged, be become lazy and complacent. We take things for granted and become self-reliant. Without challenges, we forget that we’re completely reliant on God for our existence. And so we forget how much we need him.

Do you remember what happened to the Roman Empire? Around 147 BC, the Roman Empire was large and powerful. During the Third Punic War, the Romans were close to victory and they considered what to do with the city of Carthage. Two of the Senators – Cato and Nasica – argued about this. Cato pushed for the destruction of Carthage, while Nasica preferred to let it stand.

Why?

Because he knew that if Carthage was destroyed, Rome would no longer have a mortal enemy and the Roman people would become complacent. They become weak and useless, and their manly virtues and courage would fade away.

That began the fall of the Roman Empire.

Carthage was the pike; Rome was the carp.

For as much as I believe that I would be far better off without any adversity in my life whatsoever, the heavenly Father knows far better. Thank goodness, in his mercy, he refuses to let me have my way.

Adversity keeps me strong, but with my own strength but rather with God’s strength. This is true both of the little annoyances that drive me crazy as well as the huge difficulties that drive me to my knees. Without them, I’d simply swim around the pond without a care in the world. Knowing that the pike lurks not far away keeps me moving in my spiritual quest for God.

What’s more, the Merciful Father knows not to send me just any adversity, but rather he knows to send me exactly the adversities that will make me keener, stronger, more active, and lure me closer to his Father Heart. The “pike” that instigates me probably isn’t the same one that instigates you, and that’s exactly as it should be. His goal is not to make us all alike, but rather to form us into strong, autonomous personalities who can hold to our Christian ideals in even the worst of circumstances.

There’s an interesting quote from Fr. Kentenich that is especially pertinent for today even though it was spoken to a group of Catholic families in 1957.

“Please, understand [the] mercies of God! The good God has mercy on us so he cuts and works competently on us. You know, if that is true now and under normal circumstances, how much more it will be true at a time in which we sense a global catastrophe. We must become prepared!"

Yes, we must become prepared for anything that comes our way whether it’s the minor irritations of life or something on a far wider scale. The best way to do that is to be grateful for, and to learn from, the “pikes” that God in his mercy sends our way.