Our life in time is pretty easy to understand. While we live here on earth, we are engaged in a “dour combat against the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day” (CCC 409).
We live in the midst of a war which God in his mercy doesn’t let us see completely. Were we to see some of what goes on in the invisible realms, we would probably die of fright. Yet, the battle between good and evil is a part of our daily existence.
“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. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, having done everything, to hold your ground” (Eph 6: 12-13).
In the wake of the current crisis in the church, there are two questions each of us must ask.
- How does God want me to respond to this?
- How does the devil want me to respond to this?
We can easily and correctly surmise that the devil wants us to become destructively enraged, fall into discouragement, rash judgment, accusation, despair, and justify ourselves into leaving the church altogether. But, we can also look to Jesus to see how he responded.
Jesus chose 12 apostles, men specially selected by him for the specific work of establishing the church which he promised us would endure even though all hell come up against it. One of those men betrayed Jesus for a lousy sum of silver. Jesus called him friend even then, in one last effort to reclaim him.
Another, the future head of the infant church, denied him three times. Jesus gave him the opportunity to recant by professing his love three times.
All the rest abandoned him in his greatest need, out of fear. One only returned to the cross because Our Lady gave him the courage to accompany her there.
Jesus appeared to them all after rising from the dead, spoke peace to them, and after banishing their fear, prepared them to become mighty instruments in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, Jesus does not go lightly on those who violate the innocence of children or remain obstinate in grave sin. “Better for them had they never been born.” But it doesn’t leave us off the hook either.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
The weapons of warfare against the evil in the heart of man have been laid out for us by Jesus in the Gospel: prayer, fasting (which the Fathers of the Church considered a form of exorcism), vigilance, self-denial and humility, humility, humility.
Mary sends the devils fleeing in terror precisely for this reason. Her profound humility drew heaven to earth. It is the greatest power against the ugly pride that infects us all, a pride that is the gateway to so many other sins.
St. Ignatius picks up these themes in his classic meditation on The Two Standards. We are either in one camp or the other, the Lord’s or Satan’s. It is necessary for us to know what ground we stand on. Because in the end, holiness, communion with Christ, is the only thing that transforms the human heart and changes the world.
As the devil told St. John Vianney, “If there were three such priests as you, my kingdom would be ruined. …” That holiness, which should be the aspiration of every priest, is, at the same time, required of each of us as well. Our holiness as a people, who come to live with and in and through Christ, will then be the driving force behind the victories of the Kingdom of Light over the Kingdom of Darkness in this present age. And that holiness will mark the glory of the world that is to come.
Sister Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT, is a sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and serves at Domus Trinitatis, Willey.