Posted February 06, 2012 in New Millennium:
We Are Engaged in a Battle

by Fr. David May.

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens (Eph 6:11-12).

With these sobering words, St. Paul reminds us of the cosmic nature of the spiritual combat we undertake in this world. To follow Christ, to be his disciple, means to be engaged in a battle.

And since the scope of this struggle is utterly beyond human reckoning or strength, Paul urges us again in verse 13: Therefore put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to hold your ground.

Lent is the season of the year when we are particularly aware of these realities. Its forty days marked by prayer and fasting are based on those of Christ himself in the desert, where he was tempted by Satan.

What was the essence of those temptations? To divert him from his mission as Son of God called to live in complete dependence on and obedience to his Father in heaven. To dissuade him, in other words, from embracing the way of the Cross for our salvation. Anything but that!

I wonder if we can say that the essence of all temptation hinges on this point: to divert Christ’s disciples from following in the footsteps of their Master as he walks the way of Calvary and calls them to do the same.

Take, for example, the exchange with Peter when the Lord begins teaching his disciples that he must suffer and die:

Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do’ (Matthew 16: 22-23).

Or what about these words spoken by those mocking the Man nailed to a tree: Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!’ (Matt 27: 39-40).

At the end of Jesus’ earthly life, the temptation to find release from the cross is still being offered, even if in tones of disbelief and ridicule.

In one sense, it is easy enough to see why this is so: Christ’s perseverance and victory on the cross meant the salvation of the whole world, and ultimately, the resurrection of humanity and the transfiguration of all creation (see Romans 8: 18ff).

Satan seeks to call this epic enterprise into question: Do you think this will really happen? Is it not all a pipe dream, wishful thinking at best? And above all else, is it really worth all this trouble?! Are you worth all this trouble?

This last question is the one about which the whole issue of spiritual warfare hinges: how much trouble is a human being worth? The answer, according to the Gospels is: quite a lot. We are worth the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Of course, it is one thing to repeat this truth; it’s another to know it as true.

Beginning with our foundress, Catherine Doherty, we have a legacy of stories in Madonna House about the trouble one can (and should) take for the sake of one human being.

Catherine would tell us tremendous stories about the lengths she had gone to, for example, simply to help a single prostitute.

First meeting, subsequent encounters, chit-chat apostolate, becoming ever so slowly a trusted friend, waiting with incredible patience to be able to speak a word of truth to the young girl, but then finding an alternative way for her to earn a living as well as providing a network of support through Friendship House and its supporters.

In the face of the waves of human need Friendship House staff were finding in those Great Depression days, such singular, personal care almost defies belief. Yet this "gospel love" was and is the very essence of the Madonna House and all Christian vocations as followers of Jesus.

Evidently, the devil sees something of this very clearly. Why else does all hell break loose when we are simply trying to accomplish something good in this world? Yes, there is also the matter of our own resistance, our sinful nature and its complicity with evil. No small matter!

But some time glance again at the book of Revelation, something I did recently in poustinia. Wow! What a lot of trouble the forces of hell take to wipe out Christ’s Church! What are they so upset about anyway, some little churches scattered about the Roman Empire worshipping the true God and loving one another? What kind of a threat is that?

A very great one, it seems. A human being operating under his or her own power is not too much to worry about. But take one of those creatures and let him or her be united to Jesus Christ through faith in him and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit…well, now you have something.

You have here on earth what St. Irenaeus called "the glory of God, a man or woman fully alive."

What does it mean to be fully alive? Let’s listen again to St. Paul, this time in his letter to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me (2: 19b-20).

Here we have the source of the devil’s unrest: Christ living again on earth—in us. Christ loving again, sacrificing himself, healing, drawing to conversion of heart the multitudes (or a single soul)—in us. Christ speaking the word of truth, exposing lies, casting out the darkness—through us.

To the human eye: an ordinary person not much distinguished from anyone else. To God’s eyes: his Son filling up what is lacking in his afflictions for the sake of his Body, the Church—in us. To the eyes of the demons: a terrifying threat.

What can we expect therefore, we who follow the Lord day by day? Plenty of trouble. What else? For upon the Christian hinges the fate of the world and of the cosmos itself—ridiculous as it seems to human calculation to conceive such a blown-up idea of oneself.

That is why in MH we make a big deal about doing little things well out of love for Christ: every little (or big to us) project, every event, every gesture can indeed be an opening for Christ to live in us, accomplishing his great work of salvation and the redemption of mankind.

Such thinking defies belief at times. But just try to do something good in this world. Try to persevere at it, to give yourself to it no matter what the cost. Just watch the sparks fly and the troubles commence!

A battle way beyond what can be seen or measured in human terms has been joined. But the Christian who has put on the armor of God (and that armor is Jesus Christ himself!) can also say with St. Paul once again: In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us! (Rom 8: 37)


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