God wants us to live a good and holy life, but it is incredibly hard, sometimes seemingly impossible to do so. Despite our best intentions, we slip up over and over again.
For instance, a parishioner might say, “When I rolled out of bed this morning I promised myself that I would not say one unkind word today, but before I even left for work I had already raised my voice to my spouse and been crabby with my child. But lunchtime I blurted out a mean comment about another driver and been irritable with someone at work. How did I get here? Spiritually, I feel like such a failure. It is so humiliating and depressing, downright demoralizing.”
We need to be honest. The spiritual life is a fight, and not just a little skirmish. It is an epic battle. St. John speaks about a war between the light and the darkness. St. Paul speaks about a fierce struggle between the spirit and the flesh. The choice is between good and evil.
We are constantly being attacked. We are bombarded with temptations. The devil is on the prowl, and the devil is relentless and deceptive. The devil does propaganda warfare trying to blind us to the evil of darkness and the pursuit of selfish pleasure. The devil does reconnaissance on us, analyzes our defenses, pinpoints our weak spots, waits for our most vulnerable moment, and then goes on the offensive. And it is not just a little attack. Like a special tactics operative, the devil comes with the best weaponry at a time when our defenses are down. It is foolishness not to be on guard and battle ready. Those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
The devil is coming. We need to sound general quarters! It is time to man our battle stations! We need to be equipped to escape the wickedness and snares of the devil.
After Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit had descended upon him, the Holy Spirit led Jesus to secluded place in the desert. Jesus was fully human, like us, and vulnerable to attack. The Holy Spirit was Jesus’ ally. The Holy Spirit, the wisdom of God, knew that the devil was plotting and that attacks were inevitable. The Holy Spirit could do Jesus a tremendous service by helping him to prepare. Jesus went into basic training. It was a forty day regimen. Jesus had to submit to the discipline and drill each day. Jesus toughened himself for the battle with fasting to achieve self-mastery over his body. War is a mind game that requires mental toughness. Jesus spent long hours in prayer, in contemplation, sitting silently with God, and in mediation on Scripture, devouring God’s holy Word.
The devil attacked three times. Jesus was armed and ready. Each assault was repelled immediately, and his defense tactic was to quote Scripture. To fend off the devil once was not enough. He would come back again, and Jesus resorted to the same defense. It took three times for the devil to finally leave, but only for a time.
If we hope to be battle ready and successful with our intention to live a good and holy life, we need to train the same way that Jesus trained. We need to pay attention to body and soul, to master our bodies with some form of self-denial, and to prepare our minds and hearts with prayer, solitary time in contemplation, listening to God speak to us, and time reading and reflecting on Scripture, because the Word of God is our security and our sure defense.