“Let us always keep before our eyes the fact that here on earth we are on a battlefield and that in paradise we shall receive the crown of victory; that this is a testing-ground and the prize will be awarded up above; that we are now in a land of exile while our true homeland is Heaven to which we must continually aspire.”
-St. Padre Pio
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 RSV). It’s a huge acknowledgement of faith in Peter’s response “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 15:16 RSV); and as a result, we have to know that God asks us the same question each day in regards to whether we, also, identify Him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But in doing so, He is also asking us who we are, because our role as His sons and daughters doesn’t exist without His role as the Son of God.
To acknowledge ourselves as His children means that we must take it a step further—we must be honest about our humanity and fallen natures; because, unlike Him, we aren’t divine. And in doing so—in specifically addressing our innate brokenness—we ultimately get to the bottom of what is daily used against us in this lifetime battle. Truly, spiritual warfare is a reality, and we must come to terms with it if we desire to see the Face of God.
Throughout the Gospel, several times Jesus is tempted by the devil; yet, He was keenly aware of this reality, so He remained alert and watchful. Pope Francis, in one of his homilies, stated, “Either you are with me, says the Lord, or you are against me… [Jesus came] to give us the freedom… [from] the enslavement the devil has over us… On this point, there are no nuances. There is a battle and a battle where salvation is at play, eternal salvation. We must always be on guard, on guard against deceit, against the seduction of evil.”
The key for each of us is to recognize our brokenness and our tendencies in order to allow God’s grace to truly keep us free from sin.
Venerable Fulton Sheen, in addressing this topic, provided this sobering reality: "Do not mock the Gospels and say there is no Satan. Evil is too real in the world to say that. Do not say the idea of Satan is dead and gone. Satan never gains so many cohorts as when, in his shrewdness, he spreads the rumor that he is long since dead. Do not reject the Gospel because it says the Savior was tempted. Satan always tempts the pure—the others are already his. Satan stations more devils on monastery walls than in dens of iniquity, for the latter offer no resistance. Do not say it is absurd that Satan should appear to our Lord, for Satan must always come close to the godly and the strong—the others succumb from a distance."
Our biggest mistake lies in our own failure to accept and understand the reality of spiritual warfare. In every decision we make, we are free to choose Him or to reject Him. And how easy is it to think that the smallest choices, those things we chalk up to simply being daily coincidences, can all become a means of choosing Him or not. Yet, the devil doesn’t want us to do that, so he puts a really large barrier in our way—ourselves.
In order to transform our lives into something meaningful and worthy of salvation, we must ask ourselves the question—who am I serving? And in order to answer the question, one must recognize his weaknesses.
When I started my dating fast, I was faced with the option of obedience. You see, the fast wasn't so much about gaining something as it was about letting go of several things. It was motivated by a need to grow closer to God through faith, hope, and ultimately, charity. Was I going to listen to my spiritual director’s guidance and wisdom, or was I going to do what I wanted? Lucky for me, I had tried about every other option, and nothing had worked…so it was a last resort scenario for me. Yet, there were many times I could quit or hide things from my spiritual director. But in time, God’s grace was just perfect enough that I leaned in to trusting both Him and him fully and was able to let go of my own selfish desires. However, it wasn’t until I surrendered that I was graced with the wisdom to see my own wretchedness. Thank goodness for God’s patient servants!
I share that story as a way of encouraging each of you to start small; to open your heart to Him and turn your back on sin. It’s very hard to do this on your own, and none of us are capable of fighting the devil by ourselves. We aren’t strong enough to do this alone. However, we have a God who is truly present and who will fight for and with us until the very end. It’s in our pride, our arrogance, and our ignorance that we think we are fine where we are. Learning to discern and differentiate between the two spirits of God and evil requires a lot of humility and help. Ask Him for it, and listen to His voice.
“People living in dirt hardly ever realize how dirty dirt is. Those who live in sin hardly understand the horror of sin. The one peculiar and terrifying thing about sin is that the more experience you have with it, the less you know about it. You become so identified with it that you know neither the depths to which you have sunk nor the heights from which you have fallen. You never know you were asleep until you wake up, and you never know the horror of sin until you get out of sin.”
–Venerable Fulton Sheen
Betsey Sawyer is an attorney and adjunct professor in Mississippi, and works for Women of Grace as the Mission Advancement Coordinator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo courtesy of Eliza Kennard Photography)