Thursday, October 10, 2013

Spiritual Warfare (II of IV)

Talk given on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 at Saint Ambrose in Latham, NY

[The following segments are not meant to be an all encompassing presentation on spiritual warfare, but rather, they are simple reflections from my own contemplations and understanding with spiritual warfare. The first lesson was "Know the Way of God." Today's is "The devil will attack you by attacking the ones you love." The third will be "The trial comes when we are strong." The fourth lesson will be "The Good Fight."]

Second Lesson: The devil will attack you by attacking the ones you love.
Key Text: Tobit 3.1-10; 8.1-8

Job by Léon Bonnat (1833-1922)

The Lord said to Satan, “Whence have you come?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth,
And from walking up and down on it.”
And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job,
that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man,
who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nought?
Hast thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has on every side?
Thou hast blessed the work of his hands,
And his possessions have increased in the land.
But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has,
and he will curse thee to thy face.” [1]

            It can be said that while one can suffer themselves without much existential angst, to see a loved one suffer, or to see the innocent in pain can quickly lead to a crisis of faith. A person will undergo years of chemo for cancer and be as solid as a rock and yet if a tragedy strikes their child, they will lose faith. First, it must be noted that especially among the Christian faithful, an attack against a brother or sister is as if the attack were against our very selves. As Saint Paul writes, if one member suffers, all suffer together.[2]
When one looks at the story of Tobias and Sarah, we find a young woman who has been afflicted by demonic for years. Each of her seven husbands was killed the wedding night by the demon Admodeus. Of note are the reactions of her family. Do we resign ourselves to the evil of the world, as the father seems to have done? For when Tobias asks Raguel to marry Sarah, the father responds, eat, drink and be merry [3] and on the night of the marriage, Raguel goes out to dig a grave for Tobias,[4] assured that he is dead. Do we grow despondent as Sarah does, even if it is understandable?[5] Do we begin to move in the right direction of the mother, Edna, who at least points towards hope in the Lord, saying, “Be brave, my child; the Lord of heaven and earth grant you joy in place of this sorrow of yours. Be brave, my child. [6] Or do we respond in prayer, as Tobias does?

Sarah and Tobias at prayer.
The question becomes why does evil happen in the world? What are we to do in the face of such attacks against the ones whom we love? It is a question that belongs to our faith, because our faith affirms the goodness of creation.[7] Indeed it is written, God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.[8] Yet clearly we suffer death and clearly creation has been altered into such a form that it can just easily take life rather then to sustain it. As the Apostle writes, for creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of him who subjected it.[9] So we must first realize that through sin, death has entered into the world, and that what might seem to be a matter of spiritual warfare in the failures and sufferings in this life can in truth just be the consequences of a fallen world. As to this, we must always remember that our mind is the mind that conceived of creation or understood the possible consequences that man having free will would have. As the Prophet noted, who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? [10]
            That being said, the devil attacks us through our fear of mortality. That we will be willing to do anything we can to avoid suffering and to avoid death. In doing so, we can become despondent that following God’s path is worthwhile or we can become hedonistic, assuming that we have only this life. There  is a relationship between these two reactions, as the psalmist notes:

But as for me, my feet almost stumbled,
My steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs;
Their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as other men are;
they are not stricken like other men.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness,
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore the people turn and praise them;
and find no fault in them.
And they say, "How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?"
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken,
and chastened every morning.
If I had said, "I will speak thus,"
I would have been untrue to the generation of thy children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I perceived their end. (Psalm 73.2-17)

            In this we find the two reactions resolved in the appeal to faith and remembering the end for which we have been made. Christ has already conquered death. What else is there to fear? What can happen to us in this life that will take us away from that goal? As it is written for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.[11] We thus cannot allow the devil to undermine our spiritual progress by being despondent or in living out a hedonistic existence. Nothing outside of us can harm us, as again the Apostle affirms, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[12]

Saint Michael the Archangel pwning Satan

            Thus we be ready to defend ourselves against the assaults of the devil when we see evil occurring in the world. It is a warfare to be sure. I go back to the idea of the reaction that we have to seeing others suffer. The first is to examine what it is that we are doing in our own lives. The examination of conscience is one of the surest defenses that the Christian has against the snares of the devil. So often times we will embark upon an action without stopping to discern if it is God’s will for us in our lives. Consider the words Tobias prays on his wedding night with Sarah. First, he mentions that marriage is of God’s plan saying, Thou madest Adam and gavest Eve his wife as a helper and support. From them, the race of mankind has sprung. Thou didst say, “It is not good that man should be alone; let us make a helper for himself.” [13] When one finds themselves or someone they love under attack, consider first, is the way I am living in accordance to the will of God? As Saint Josemaria Escriva explained, “examine yourself; slowly, courageously. Is it not true that your bad humor and your gloominess, both without cause-without apparent cause- are due to your lack of determination in breaking the subtle but real snares laid for you- cunningly and attractively- by your concupiscence?” [14] This leads to the second thing to take notice of in Tobias’ prayer.
            Tobias ends his prayer with, “And now Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity.[15] Many times we can be engaged in an action that is objectively right, but our wrong intention has caused it to become subjectively bad. How many times did our Lord read the intentions of the hearts of those around him, and called them to repentance? For Christ did say to the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.[16] One can follow the rules to the letter and be doing it for all the wrong reasons. We must always ask ourselves, will this action bring me closer to God? Are these thoughts Christ like? Are these words I’m about to speak edifying and helpful in the journey of faith? If we are not trying to follow Christ, we become as distant sinners.  Many people stumble in this area. They go through the motions, but their hearts are far from God. Because they are far, they find themselves at the mercy of the devil and his attacks. They are blinded by their own certainty. As it is written, they reasoned, but they were lead astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls; for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.[17]

Remember, man, that thou art dust,
and to dust ye shall return. (Gen 3.19)
The grass withers and the flower fades,
but the word of God abides forever. (I Pt 1.24)
In everything you do, remember your end, and you will never sin (Sir 7.36)

[1] Job 1.7-11
[2] I Corinthians 12.26
[3] Tobit 7.9
[4] cf. Tobit 8.9-10
[5] cf. Tobit 7.17
[6] Tobit 7.18
[7] cf. Genesis 1.31: And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
[8] Wisdom 1.13-14
[9] Romans 8.20
[10] Isaiah 40.13-14; cf. Romans 11.33-35
[11] Philippians 1.21
[12] Romans 8.38-39
[13] Tobit 8.6-7; cf. Genesis 2.18-25
[14] Saint Josemaria Escriva. The Way. Ch. 8 “Examination of Conscience.” §235
[15] Tobit 8.7
[16] Luke 16.15
[17] Wisdom 2.21-23

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