Fr. Bryan Howard
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 10 June 2018
Throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, battle and military metaphors are used to describe the spiritual life, for example, St. Paul speaks of putting on the armor of the faith and wielding the sword of the Spirit. Also, the living members of the Church are traditionally called the Christian militant, and several of the saints are remembered for their military exploits, such as St. Joan of Arc and St. Louis IX, King of France, and even more were soldiers before experiencing a conversion, such as St. George, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Martin of Tours. In today’s Gospel Jesus uses military images to teach us a lesson about spiritual combat.
The first lesson we have to learn is that Satan, or the devil, is real. When we think of the caricatures the devil that we see in cartoons, the little red guy with goats horns and a spiked tail sitting on someone’s shoulder, it’s hard to think of him as a real being. But the devil was originally called Lucifer, meaning the Bearer of Light, and he was created as the highest of the angels. He lead a rebellion against God because, in his pride, he thought himself to be equal to God, and was cast out of heaven. That’s what hell is; it’s not a physical location, but being away from God and completely cut off from His grace.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus says to those around him, and to us, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Satan hates us because God loves us. He’s jealous of our closeness to God and wants to make us just as miserable as he is. So, like any good general, he scouts our defenses, finds where they are weakest, and attacks, not with swords and spears, but with temptations to anger, jealousy, greed, lust, laziness, and many more things.
So, how do we defend ourselves against this attack? We have to make sure that our defenses are strong. As Jesus says, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Are you divided against yourself? We all have divided loyalties because our love for God is not pure. Money, popularity, pleasure, and comfort compete with God for the top spot in our lives. None of these things are bad in themselves, in fact, they’re all good things. It’s when I have a disordered love for them that they become a weakness in our defenses. The devil knows where our weakness are better than we do, and he’s able to attack us in exactly the right spot.
Jesus goes on to say, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.” If we rely just on our own strength, then we’ll fail, because Satan is smarter, and stronger, and more experienced than we are. That’s why we have to rely on someone even stronger, the Holy Spirit. When God defends us, then our defense can withstand any attack. That’s why Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgiveable sin. Grace and forgiveness come to us through the Holy Spirit, so how can we receive either if we’ve rejected Him?
You’ve probably heard that the best defense is a good offense. What weapons does a Catholic use in spiritual combat? First, there’s the examination of conscience. I keep a stack of them by the confessional and we have a some in the resources tab of the parish website. Second, the Rosary, which takes us through the entire life of Christ. Finally, the Mass. This book is a Daily Missal, which has all of the prayers and readings for the Mass in one place.
There are many other spiritual weapons that we have at our disposal, but these are some of the best and strongest. We have to take this battle seriously. Soldiers train extensively to prepare for combat, because their life and the lives of many other people may depend on it. In the Christian life, in spiritual combat, it’s not just our physical lives but our eternal lives that are on the line, so we should all train just as hard, if not harder.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.