Each Tuesday night at the BU Catholic Center, we host a presentation/discussion on various Catholic topics. Last night was entitled, "Spiritual Combat," and our presenter was young Jesuit scholastic who has been part of our community for the past year or so. While I think the students enjoyed the evening, I definitely know that I did!
Among other things that really struck me about the evening was his emphasis on the fact that evil does not want us to draw close to Jesus Christ. It is always at work, attempting to undermine each of us in our relationship with Christ. At the same time, I've recently been reading a bit about the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and have been struck by its clarity in terms of knowing our own heart and knowing the "usual tactics" of Satan. Being attentive to these realities is important because if we know the common tactics that Satan uses to undermine us, then we are better able to fight them.
Consideration of these types of things are obviously good for my own spiritual life, but they are also helpful for my pastoral life. The Devil seeks to destroy what is good, holy, and fruitful for the salvation of souls. There is nothing better, holier, or more fruitful than the Sacraments. And so, the Devil revels when he gets people to stop attending Mass, from receiving absolution in the confessional, and from receiving the Eucharist.
Sometimes, the Devil sows dissension and rivalries in order to weaken the Church. People begin to focus on their disagreements, hatreds, and injuries in such a way that, little by little, they are dragged away from the altar of God towards the gates of Hell. Little by little--one disagreement at a time--the Devil lures people away from the beautiful communion of the Church. This not only brings harm to the individual. It has much wider implications. In weakening the communion of the Church, the Devil weakens the witness of the Church. People are drawn to the Catholic life when they look at Catholic communities and say, "See how they love one another." If a Catholic community is marked by division and turmoil, its focus is no longer on Jesus Christ. Turning our gaze from Christ is the work of the Enemy.
Sometimes in the life of the Church, we focus so much on the mundane, practical, ho-hum realities that we forget that we are about the work of salvation. I've seen disastrous things happen because we've taken our eye of the spiritual ball and become absorbed in silliness. In moments like this, what we don't need is to arm ourselves with staplers, pens, and paper in order to fight a war of middle-management bureaucracy wherein victory leaves us almost as empty as defeat. Instead, we need to remember the end game of our Enemy. He seeks to destroy.
If he is drawing people away from the Church, from prayer, from the Sacraments, from the communion of saints, then he is reveling in his tactics. But, the Devil is a fraud, a liar, and a marauder. He comes only to destroy. If we succumb to his tactics by surrendering our spiritual lives, by giving up the Sacraments, by becoming discouraged and downcast, we are now working and fighting for him. We're just too stupid to know it!
If you're feeling discouraged about the Church or if you find yourself drifting away from a life of prayer and from the sacraments, it is time to remember the cold, hard facts:
"Finally draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. 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 and with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 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. So stand firm with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:11-17). And, of course, "Over all of these, put on love" (Colossians 3:14).