To Arms! To Arms!
Many wars are raging in the world, but none is more crucial than the one taking place in your heart and mind. How to practice what Pope John Paul II called “spiritual combat.”
Pop quiz. What personal project did Pope John Paul II urge the Church to take up with renewed zeal in 2002? Here’s a hint: Its very name acknowledges the battle raging for — and in — every one of our hearts.
“Spiritual combat needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today,” said the late Holy Father (emphasis added). “It is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which [we] engage every day against the temptations, the evil suggestions that the demon tries to plant in [our] hearts.”
There’s no time like the Year of St. Paul declared by Pope Benedict XVI to move ahead with those wise marching orders. After all, it is St. Paul who uses military imagery in Scripture to exhort the troops of the Church Militant.
“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens,” he points out (see Ephesians 6). “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.”
How do we get transported to the front? By taking to our knees.
Father Jonathan Robinson, founder of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Canada, says the purpose of spiritual combat is to “allow Christ to unite himself with us to get rid of the things in us that prevent our union with him.”
Author of Spiritual Combat Revisited (Ignatius 2003), an updated version of Dom Scupoli’s 16th-century classic that St. Francis de Sales read daily, Father Robinson summarizes the four weapons Scupoli suggested for the Christians’ arsenal: mistrust of self, trust in God, spiritual exercises and prayer.
“The key to spiritual exercises is mortification, putting to death the things in us that prevent the grace of Christ growing in us,” explains Father Robinson. For example, we practice “saying No to the intellect when it gets curious about things it shouldn’t and to the will when it desires things it shouldn’t.”
Prayer presents a veritable ammunition depot — and “Mass and the sacraments are the best prayer,” says the priest. “The Rosary is exceptionally good. Lectio divina, reading the Bible slowly and carefully — I’m a great believer in spiritual reading, listening to God in the pages of Scripture and in the lives of the saints.”
In Omaha, Neb., Kim Becker knows well the benefits of spiritual combat. The family regularly attends daily Mass and frequently receives the sacrament of reconciliation. She and her husband, Bob, also have many statues and pictures of the saints in their home for their family of 10 children. The kids “absorb those reminders of the saints all over our home,” says Kim.
To build a “stronghold of love,” she advises something of a top-down approach: The husband and wife help one another grow in their respective 1-to-1 relationships with God.
“The home is such a perfect training ground and formation place for children to be built up in that stronghold of love,” she says. “When they go out into the world, they are fully formed in God’s love and have all the tools they need to fight the battles” they’re sure to face in the spiritual realm.
The Beckers also know that practicing a childlike love of God is essential in waging spiritual combat. This is a principle they learned from Mother Nadine Brown. As founder of Intercessors of the Lamb (online at BellwetherOmaha.org), Mother Nadine writes, speaks and offers CDs on spiritual warfare.
“Jesus taught a beautiful prayer for the whole Church — the Our Father,” Mother Nadine points out. “This relationship with the Father means I have to be pretty little. Unless we change and become little children, we won’t have this Kingdom. The whole dynamic of warfare is in that prayer. The key is little — I can’t emphasize that enough.”
She points to St. Paul’s paradoxical statement in 2 Corinthians: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
“When we’re little, God takes over,” she adds. “Scripture assures us [in 2 Chronicles 20:15] that ‘the battle is not yours but God’s.’”
Mother Nadine warns that spiritual combatants must be on guard to spot the enemy’s primary weapon — fear.
“Our No. 1 weapon is love,” she counters, “and perfect love drives out fear. We are loved, and John the contemplative tried to tell us (in 1 John 4:18) that he who is within you is greater than he who is in the world. Satan knows many times we forget that. So he intimidates and uses scare tactics.
“The beautiful thing of having this weapon of love, God, is the fallen angels do not have it,” Mother Nadine continues. “We have a Father who loves to be our father if we let him.”
Along with putting on the armor of God, we, like the intercessors, should be consecrated to Our Lady and ask her constant intercession, says Mother Nadine.
“In warfare, she’s powerful and has direct access to the Father’s ear through her Son at all times.”
Members of the Becker family constantly turn to the Blessed Mother for just this reason. “I always tell the children to ask Our Lady for docility,” says Kim. “If your children see you model docility, you’re also modeling spiritual childhood.”
And the family regularly calls for heavenly reinforcements. The celestial troops Mother Nadine advises us to enlist are St. Michael, the guardian angels and St. Joseph.
Backed by that invincible army and proficient with our war-tested weaponry, we’ll surely be victorious Christian soldiers.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is
based in Trumbull, Connecticut.