Feb 26 – Homily – Fr Johannes: Take up Your Weapons
Homily #120226m ( 10min) Play -
We're in a pitched battle against the world, the flesh and the devil; and it's time to go on the offense.
Mass: First Sunday in Lent - 1st Cl - Form: EF, Invocabit Me
1st: 2co 6:1-10
Gsp: mat 4:1-11
First Sunday of Lent
Here we are at the beginning of the season of Lent: a time of intense preparation for the glorious feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord. In today’s Gospel, we discover how Our Lord Himself prepared for that glorious day.
His public ministry begins with His Baptism in the River Jordan, when the Heavens opened and the voice of the Eternal Father was heard, saying: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
After His Baptism, Our Lord went immediately into the desert, to consecrate the beginnings of His public life with 40 days of prayer and fasting. This calls to mind the 40 years which the Hebrews spent wandering in the desert. What did they do there? – They were put to the test, and so was Our blessed Lord.
Our Lord had now left the safety of His hidden life at Nazareth, and His identity was revealed in a miraculous way to the crowds gathered around Him at the Jordan. The devil also heard that voice, saying that this was God’s beloved Son... But what did that mean?
The devil knew that this was a man beloved of God... but he didn’t grasp the full meaning of the mystery. If he had known that Christ was God, the consubstantial Son of the Eternal Father, he would never have bothered to test Him. After all, God isn’t capable of offending Himself. Our Lord was incapable of sin, and while He chose to experience our human weakness, the temptations of the devil never disturbed Him in the depths of His Soul: they were like so many flies which He brushed away.
So why did Our Lord submit Himself to this temptation? Simply put, Our Lord wanted to defeat the devil in human flesh, in order to pave the way for us to do the same.
You see, the life of man in this world is a constant struggle, a pitched contest against the world, the flesh and the devil, which are the enemies of our salvation. And if we wish to win this battle, we have to follow the example and rely on the help of our Divine Master, Jesus Christ.
Temptation is a necessary part of our spiritual lives. Without it, we would have little occasion for merit. But this doesn’t mean that we should go out looking for temptations and occasions of sin. Our mortal life is already filled with them, day in and day out, and it would be great presumption for us to go out seeking more. After all, Our Lord instructs us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Unlike Our Lord, we are capable of falling into sin. Whereas Christ defeats the world, the flesh and the devil by His own Divine Power, we have no power of our own which can do this. So we have to rely constantly on His power. And we have to make use of all the weapons which He has given us for defeating the enemies of our salvation.
To defeat the dazzling temptations of the world, we need to cultivate a deep desire for the Kingdom of Heaven, with a spirit of poverty. We need to keep custody of our eyes, and never allow ourselves to covet money, or the beautiful things of this world.
To defeat the temptations of the flesh we need the virtue of mortification, which is acquired through works of penance and self-denial. Thus we need things like fasting, and we need to embrace illness, suffering and discomfort of every kind, as a way of completing in our flesh that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, as St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Colossians.
And to defeat the devil, we need above all, a spirit of humility and prayer. Humility means acknowledging our own weakness, our lack of understanding, and the ease with which we offend God and hurt our fellow man. The truly humble man prays continually, because he’s aware that, at any minute, he could defile the works and plans of God by following his own disordered instincts. The humble man prays, not because he thinks he’s a saint, but because he knows that he’s a sinner, and that he needs God’s help at every instant. Prayer, consequently, is our greatest defense against the devil.
Don Dolindo Ruotolo, a holy priest from Naples whose cause of beatification we’re promoting, put it very well. He wrote:
“Prayer is a gift from God, a gift which is greatly assaulted by Satan. We need not fear the temptations against faith, purity, charity and mortification, so much as the temptations against prayer. These are the most dangerous, because they disarm the soul and abandon it into the power of Satan. The enemy knows that if he wins this battle, he wins all the rest, because prayer is the strategic point of the soul, its bridgehead; it is the key to the whole situation.”
What kind of prayer do we need? – We need to assist devoutly at Holy Mass, and receive the sacraments frequently and with devotion. We need the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary, which is the most powerful and beautiful prayer after the Mass itself. Padre Pio called the Rosary his weapon, and he carried it constantly in his hand. We need sacramentals, like Holy Water, the Brown Scapular, the Miraculous Medal, and the St. Benedict Medal and Crucifix. Alongside these things, and animating these things, we need the simple prayer of the heart. We need to converse frequently and familiarly with Our Lord and our Blessed Mother, like little children. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and Mary, begging them for grace to imitate their lives and their virtues; because this is the thing which will ultimately submit the world and flesh to the law of Christ, and put the devil to flight. The more our lives resemble those of Our Lord and Lady, the more we will be conquerors in this battle.
There’s a beautiful story from the life of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus which illustrates this. In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, the saint recounts a dream she had when she was about four years old:
“I dreamed one night that I went to take a walk all alone in the garden. When I reached the foot of the steps leading to the garden, and which have to be climbed to get into it, I stopped, seized with fright. In front of me, near the arbor, there was a barrel of lime and on this barrel two frightful little devils were dancing with surprising agility in spite of the flatirons they had on their feet. All of a sudden they cast fiery glances at me and at the same moment appeared to be more frightened than I was, for they jumped from the barrel and went to hide in the laundry that was just opposite. Seeing they weren’t so brave, I wanted to know what they were going to do, and I went up to the window. The poor little devils were there, running on the tables, not knowing what to do to hide from my gaze. Sometimes they approached the window, looking out to see if I was still there, and seeing me there, they began running like madmen. This dream, I suppose, has nothing extraordinary about it, and still I believe God permitted me to remember it in order to prove to me that a soul in the state of grace has nothing to fear from demons who are cowards, capable of fleeing before the gaze of a little child!”
Some years ago, I visited a family that had a vicious dog in their front yard. The dog was chained to a post in the ground, and it ran around in circles, growling and spitting at anyone who ventured near. The dog had run so many times around the perimeter of its chain, that a deep track was dug in the dirt, like a mote surrounding a castle.
It occurred to me later that this dog was a perfect image of the devil: the devil is vicious and fierce, and he’ll tear you to shreds if you step within the radius of his chain; but if you keep outside of his reach, he can’t do anything more than frighten and harass you. The length of the chain is established by God, who’s ultimately in charge of everything, including the devil. God has set very precise limits within which the devil can move and act.
Every venial sin we commit takes us a step closer to the chain; near occasions of sin put us right at the limits of that chain; and mortal sin, just one mortal sin, puts us right in the devil’s jaws. The only way to win our fight with the devil is to turn away from him, and cast out of our lives everything which moves us closer to the sphere of his influence.
We have to conceive a genuine horror of sin, and of everything which leads us to sin, because, as Scripture says, “the wages of sin is death.” Everyone fears death, but there’s another fate which is worse than the natural death of the body: and that’s the spiritual death of the soul through mortal sin.
During this time of Lent, which is a time of conversion, or turning toward God, let’s ask our Immaculate Mother to enlighten us, and show us all those areas in our lives where we’re losing the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. Then let’s pick up our weapons and begin, finally, to fight the good fight:
- Are you lazy? – Well then, get off of your seat and do something!
- You don’t pray enough? – Make a commitment today to say certain prayers each day. Create a regimen of prayer for yourself, and then stick to it, no matter what.
- Are you uncharitable? – Make a resolution to do something kind each day for that person who gets on your nerves.
- Do you spend too much time on the computer? – Set certain limits on your computer time, and don’t go beyond them.
- Do you watch too much television? – Put it on the curb! For centuries, your ancestor got by with ZERO television, and they were probably a lot happier than you are!
Our conversion involves decisions, acts of the will. We have to make holy resolutions and stick to them with the grace of God. Otherwise, we’ll never make any progress. There are countless souls depending on us, and we have to pick up the slack for them, lest we and they lose everything.
Life is short. Heaven and Hell last forever... and it’s not a game.
– finis –