Saturday, February 23, 2013

Foxhole of the World

As the Fathers of the Church teach us, the temptations are part of Jesus’ descent into our human condition, into the abyss of sin and its consequences; a descent that Jesus made to the end, even to death on the Cross and to the hell of extreme remoteness from God. In this way he is the hand that God stretches out to man, to the lost sheep, to bring him back to safety. As St Augustine teaches, Jesus took the temptations from us to give us his victory (cf. Enarr. in Psalmos, 60, 3: pl 36, 724).

Therefore let us not be afraid either of facing the battle against the spirit of evil: the important thing is to fight it with him, with Christ, the Conqueror. And to be with him let us turn to his Mother, Mary; let us call on her with filial trust in the hour of trial and she will make us feel the powerful presence of her divine Son, so that we can reject temptations with Christ’s word and thus put God back at the centre of our life.

Angelus, February 14, 2013

Reflection – ‘The important thing is to fight it with him.’ That’s a great little sentence to meditate on today. One of the truly lamentable tendencies that came out of the 1960s and following in the English-speaking Catholic world was a cleansing of our spiritual vocabulary of militaristic language.

God was no longer the ‘God of hosts’, but the ‘God of power and might.’ Prayers that in the Latin clearly referred to battles, campaigns, strife and war were generally softened in the translation to the language of ‘struggle.’ I don’t know about you, but I struggled to get out of bed this morning, and it wasn’t quite the invasion of Normandy.

There was a certain anti-militarism that prevailed in much of the first English translation of the Latin liturgy. And it is a shame. Oh, we all want peace; nobody wants war. Military men and women themselves don’t want war, given that the burdens and dangers of it fall on them nearly exclusively.

But… we got war, folks. This is the existential condition of the human person in this world of flesh and blood. It is not a war against other human beings—the ‘others’, whoever they may be this week. It is a war against the devil and his legions, and it is ongoing constantly.

Temptation, illusion, confusion, captivation—these are the weapons of our enemy. And there are lots of defeats in this war – there is sin, there is failure. We have to be realistic about all these matters. The fact that we don’t happen to like war and conflict doesn’t stop the enemy from dropping bombs on us. We’ve got to get our armour on, even if we would prefer to slip into something more comfortable.

And so the Pope’s words here are very salutary and bracing. Do not be afraid of the battle with evil, but fight it with Christ who has conquered. We run to Jesus in all this, like the weak little children we are, because the enemies we face are truly stronger than us. And to help us run to Jesus, to show us how it’s done and get us there securely, we call on the help of Mary our Mother.

And while all this is very serious and real and sobering, ultimately God allows it all for our good. We have to put God at the centre of our lives, or we die. God is God for us, or we are lost in the hell of idolatry and selfishness. That the world is not a primrose path to skip along carefree, but rather a battle zone where we are in clear mortal peril pushes us out of complacency and towards God and towards truth.
There are no atheists is foxholes, the old saying goes. That may or may not be true, but truly the world is a foxhole, and the shelling can be intense at times. Let us not be in denial, or paralyzed by fear, or confused about who our enemies really are and what weapons we have been given to fight them. The weapons are faith, hope, and above all love. Prayer and fasting and mercy, all the while clinging to Jesus and Mary and  entrusting our whole life to them. This is how the victory is won.

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