Monday, January 26, 2009

Spiritual Warfare: Lesson #1

I'd hoped to have more time before now to post this (especially since my more somber-sounding posts were making newcomers wonder if I was falling into despair, re: the ascendancy of the President of Death--nothing could be further from the truth... never fear!), but it's better late than never!

I don't claim to be a spiritual master; but since I've issued a , it's only fair that I should give some guidance as to what spiritual warfare actually means, drawn from what experience (such as it is) I do have with such combat. But, like most things, the explanation needs to start by explaining what it's not--by stripping away some of the most common misunderstandings.

Spiritual warfare, in short, is participating in Christ's already-won battle against sin and death, to the extent that we can; as St. Paul describes in Ephesians 6, our warfare is with the Devil and his fellow fallen angels--not with flesh and blood (i.e. other humans). But here's an immediate problem: the battle really doesn't resemble the "Hollywood-esque" ideas that are popular in our culture. Whenever many believers think of "spiritual warfare", they think of possessions, of one-on-one combat with demons, and perhaps numerous ideas about "rebuking demons in the Name of the Lord Jesus". With all due respect to other faith-traditions: the spiritual warfare to which we (of the laity) are called does not involve us taking the "satanic bull by the horns" by direct defiance, attempts to command the fallen angels (whether "by the Name of Jesus" or by any other means), etc. (Take it from someone who grew up mostly on a farm: taking a real bull by the horns is a good way to get yourself--and those around you--hurt, maimed or killed!)

Real spiritual battle is almost always quite a bit less dramatic, less visually impressive, and more mundane than most people realize... but it's no less dangerous, for all that. In fact, if you ask any true veteran of war, he or she will tell you that some of the most dangerous times of war are usually far away from the "glamour" of the front lines: they're more often found in death by roadside bombs, death by a stray bullet or shrapnel while you're taking a brief walk to another building, and so on. They'll also be in a good position to tell you that some of the most important wartime jobs (strategically, etc.) are some of the least visible, least impressive, least "dramatic" jobs. Just so, with this; don't let any nonsense about the alleged "dramatic romance" of spiritual warfare deceive you. Spiritual warfare is not "fun" or "exciting" or any other such nonsense; it's gritty, usually less than dramatic, and sometimes quite tedious--though it's good and necessary work, and God calls us all to fight in it, in one way or another. It's just important to know how not to go about such battles. In the same way that a soldier in hiding does no favours for his side by leaping boldly from his hiding place and shooting in all directions, we do our side (of this war) no good at all if we play the fool, for the sake of being "caught up in the drama" (or through some misguided idea of our own authority).

This has more dimensions than I can describe at one sitting (I'll probably need many entries, over some period of time, to describe what I can), but here's spiritual warfare lesson #1:


What does this mean? It means the very same thing that it meant when we thought we weren't in a spiritual battle: get rid of the sin in your life, and dislodge the enemy's foothold in your soul! Here are a few specifics:

1) Develop an absolute hatred for sin, and recognize sin for what it is. Sin is a rejection of the Only One Who loves us perfectly; sin is a violation of the very purpose of our existence (to know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be forever happy with Him in Heaven); and sin is the only weapon capable of wounding and/or killing us eternally. And here's the rub: only we can train that weapon on ourselves, and pull the trigger! The devil (and his fellow fallen angels) can offer us the gun, and he/they can try to talk us into using it, but no one can sin, save by a free choice.

2) Identify the things that lead you into sin, and--to the extent that it's at all possible--avoid them like the plague. In Catholic teaching, this is called "avoiding all near occasions of sin"--and we promise to do this, every time we go to sacramental Confession; so not only is it a wise thing to do, but we're also bound by our word to do it!

3) Study the virtues--the good habits which increase our personal holiness (i.e. God's life in us), and then practice them for all you're worth! Of *course* it'll be hard, especially at first (what heavy training *isn't* hard?), but the payoff is incalculable; by getting stronger in the virtues, we're more and more able to fight off temptations to indulge in their opposite vices.

That's more than enough for now. Frankly, that's more than enough to keep most of us busy for a lifetime, right there! Don't lose heart; go one step at a time, but be painfully honest with yourself. Here's a brief checklist:
  • Do I read or watch anything that makes me more inclined to sin (internally and/or externally)?
  • Are there places I go, or things I do, which lead me to sin?
  • Are there people whom I know tend to lead me to sin?

If the answer to any of those is "yes", you have some spiritual housecleaning to do (which is spiritual warfare--don't think otherwise!), and you may have some painful choices to face.

More later; God bless your efforts... and whatever you do, pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17)! We can't do these things--mundane or dramatic--on our own strength! Pray for protection, and get holy friends to pray for you... especially if you're just starting to work on any of the above!


Jessie said...

Excellent, I would add that frequent confession ie. once or twice a month would be helpful at this stage.

paladin said...

:) You're peeking at my notes for future parts, aren't you? The Sacrament will indeed make its debut, soon...

RD said...

Great post Brian!
Thank you, very inspiring.
I might keep this post somewhere in my computer to keep referring back to.
It was as good as a priest's homily!
You think deeply, I like that, and you are a good writer:)

paladin said...

Hi, RD!

:) I'm tempted to say something like, "Hey, you should see me when I'm coherent!"

Thanks for the kind words... and I like your blog, too! (I just checked it out, a few minutes ago.)

Now, if only I could get time to update this thing more than once in a blue moon... but blog-sitting for Paul is a higher priority, at the moment!

RD said...

That's nice that you blog-sit for Paul!

It's ok that you don't update all the time, as it's easier to keep up with blogs then.
Sometimes if there are heaps of posts put on constantly, you don't get time to read them all.

Keep up the good work!