Lenten Combat Considerations

For your edification, I offer some thoughts on this week’s Sunday Gospel and Epistle, which focus us on the spiritual combat of the Lenten season, and of the Christian life. These meditations were prepared for Sunday, so they refer to “today.” They are, I think, still timely. (Epistle: Ephesians 5:1-9 – Gospel: Luke 11:14-28)

The Combat. Today is the third Sunday of Lent. The Mass of today shows us the intense nature of the spiritual combat. Two Sundays ago (on the first Sunday of Lent), we saw Our Lord tempted by the Devil. He overcame the temptations and left the devil frustrated, but he went no further. Our Lord fought only a defensive war, merely repelling the enemy’s attack. Last week, we saw Our Lord’s glory in the Transfiguration, giving us hope in a certain anticipation of his eternal victory. Today, we see Our Lord in a full-tilt offensive engagement. He declares war on Hell, engages the enemy directly, and puts him to rout. Then, in response to a calumny, Our Lord speaks about this battle, giving us some valuable lessons on demons and their activity, and explaining his mission against them: “When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth; but if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him, he will take away all his armor wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils.”

Two Kingdoms at Enmity. The devil is the “strong man armed.” Our Lord is the “stronger than he” who overcomes him and takes the spoils, which are the souls of men. Our Lord speaks of two inexorably opposed Kingdoms, each of which is united in itself. The Kingdom of God, which is come upon the Jews (and which we know as the Church) and the Kingdom of the Satan. Those two kingdoms are at enmity and a truce will never — can never — be declared. Our Lord assures us that there is no neutrality when he says “He that is not with Me, is against Me and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.”

Complacency be Damned. Our Lord goes on to warn the Jews that they cannot remain bystanders, sitting in the bleachers, as it were, to watch the battle from a comfortable distance. Jesus is among them as one healing, cleaning, teaching, and driving out devils. He is bestowing on them innumerable blessings and graces, keeping the kingdom of Satan in check. However, their lackadaisical attitude, their unwillingness to commit, and their damnable complacency will soon have its price. When Jesus is gone from their midst, the devil will come and find his former abode clean swept and garnished. When they crucify Jesus, they will lay out the welcome mat for the Dark One and their last state will be worse than their first, because they despised so many blessings and graces. The descent of the Jewish religion from being the faith of the Torah and Nebi’im (the Law and the Prophets) to that of the blasphemous Talmud and occult Cabala illustrates this.

Warning to us. Let this be a warning to you. The Church dwells on the perfidy and rejection of the Jews for a reason, and it isn’t to make Christians anti-Semites. Saint Paul gives us the reason in his Epistle to the Romans:

“Thou wilt say then: The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well: because of unbelief they were broken off. But thou standest by faith: be not highminded, but fear. For if God hath not spared the natural branches, fear lest perhaps he also spare not thee. See then the goodness and the severity of God: towards them indeed that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (Rom. 11:19-24)

Application of this. We must fear that, after having been given so many graces, we are only paving the way for a more fierce diabolical assault. Having been converted to a life of grace, if we live it only halfheartedly and lazily, we invite seven demons worse than our first to come and attack us. Here, “demons” need not be literal demons as in the case of a true possession. But the vices and mortal sins that the demons lead us to — these will take deeper root in us if we despise God’s grace. “The corruption of the best is the worst.” This is why corrupt priests are so evil and why some Fathers of the Church say that the precursor Antichrist himself will be an apostate Catholic priest or bishop.

Devil’s League inside us. Remember, in this battle, an attempt at neutrality equals treason. How many of us are treasonous? How many of us consort willingly with the enemy? According to the great spiritual masters, the enemy holds a secret alliance within our camp. He has his minions in our very midst. Very close at hand are his patsies, useful idiots, and miserable servants. In fact, they are inside us. I am not speaking of unbelievers; I refer to vices, sins, evil thoughts, dissipations, and willful flirtations with sin. These enemy agents are in our very fabric if we allow them to remain, inflaming our concupiscence at every turn and urging us to betray our King and Commander.

Epistle on this. Saint Paul tells us to fly these enemies, of which he gives us a short list in today’s Epistle: “fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness.” He gives another list, too: “nor obscenity, nor foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose.” In these two lists, Saint Paul gives us sins of thought word and deed against the sixth and ninth commandment. Note that in the second catalogue — “nor obscenity, nor foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose” — are sins of the tongue. Saint Dominic gave his personal testimony that the reason he kept his baptismal innocence his whole life was that he shunned impure conversation. The connection between impure words and impure acts is well known. I have seen it too many times. Any priest who hears confessions can vouch for it. Don’t be stupid about this matter; you have no excuse. Impure conversation, and, I can add, impure entertainments like unchaste movies and music, lead to mortal sins against chastity very quickly. People’s sad and tragic experiences will document this fact more thoroughly than any words of mine. Parents especially must stop being naïve fools in this matter.

Saint Paul harsher. My words may sound harsh, but Saint Paul’s are harsher. He calls these sinful and impure dalliances a “serving of idols” and promises that those guilty of them have no “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” He assures us that these are the things that angers God against unbelievers and he urges us not to become partakers with them.

Walk in Love. Our holy alternative is to “walk in love as Christ loved us.” As he offered up his pure body in sacrifice and oblation to God, we must offer ourselves up to God in holy purity — whether we are single or married. Let us imitate Christ and walk in this way of love all Lent and beyond. This is real love, not the impure counterfeit which passes for it in the world.

Two loose ends. There are two “loose ends” to consider in the Gospel. The first is the passage “Now if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore, they shall be your judges.” Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Hilary tell us that Our Lord is referring here to the Apostles, children of the Jews, who also cast out devils. We know from other words of Our Lord that the Apostles would sit on twelve judgment seats judging the twelve Tribes of Israel.

It is given to the Apostles and those to whom they passed on the priesthood to cast out literal demons and also the figurative demons of sins in the sacrament of penance. Avail yourselves of that great sacrament of mercy to drive out your own demons and keep them out.

Let us commend ourselves to our Queen. The final loose end concerns our the Queen of Our Lord’s Kingdom. It is the “coda” that this Gospel has concerning Our Lady: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But He said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.” Many Protestants will claim that this passage puts Mary “in her place,” showing that there is nothing particularly special about her that we should honor her. The very opposite is being affirmed. Rather than being told that Mary is not to be venerated, we are being told how truly venerable she is. The same evangelist who records that they are blessed who “hear the word of God, and keep it” also tells us that Our Lady did just that: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Also: “And his mother kept all these words in her heart.” (Luke 2:51).

This is how Saint Augustine showed that these words explain the Blessed Virgin’s greatness: “The near relationship of mother would not have profited Mary, had she not happily conceived Christ in her heart as well as in her womb. Mary therefore was more blessed in receiving faith in Christ than in conceiving the flesh of Christ.”

It is Mary who will show us how to “walk in love as Christ loved us.” She is also the Queen for whom we fight the combat.