Lent is a time of spiritual battle.
We gather our weapons, make ready for battle and put on the armour of God. (If we have loins to gird, we might even do that too.) This is our “campaign of Christian service,” as the Ash Wednesday collect from the Ordinary Form says.
We even wear our Lenten war paint. (#ashtag!) I’m still new to Lent but I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only who feels like this.
We can be so gung-ho about Lent. Give up ALL the things! Become Super Awesome Prayer Warrior! Give The GDP Of Small Nation As Alms Every Week!
This enthusiasm is fantastic, but before we rush headlong into battle, do we ask ourselves which battle we are actually fighting?
The devil isn’t stupid (more’s the pity really). He knows that if we fight under the banner of Christ, he will lose. Spectacularly. (Seriously, he should really read Revelation 20. It does not end well.)
So he has a few strategies. He tries to convince some of us that the battle isn’t worth fighting and some of us that there isn’t really a battle anyway. For many Christians, though, he has to be more subtle. He doesn’t try to hide the fact there is a spiritual battle going on and he doesn’t try to keep us from fighting, he just convinces us to fight the wrong battle.
On the real battlefield of the Spirit, we can win. Indeed, we will win because Christ and all the hosts of heaven fight for us.
But the devil drags us into another battle. As Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace, all too often, “we fight on a terrain where the devil subtly drags us and can vanquish us, instead of fighting on the real battlefield.”
The false battlefield is the battle for PERFECTION. That’s not the holy, humble, joyful perfection of the saints which trusts for all things from God, it’s the PERFECTION OF GETTING ALL THINGS RIGHT. It’s the one where we think we must “vanquish all our faults, never succumb to temptation, have no more weaknesses or shortcomings.”
It’s pride masquerading as piety. And it’s the battle I’ve spent so much time fighting.
Guess what? We are always going to lose that battle.
Because who among us can pretend never to fall? And it is certainly not this that God demands of us, for He knows of what we are made. He remembers we are dust (Psalm 103:14).
All the while, the real spiritual battle is going on somewhere else. The real battle is not about not being tempted, not falling into temptation, or even not sinning. The real battle is the battle for peace even when — particularly when — we fall into sin.
On the contrary, the real spiritual battle, rather than the pursuit of invincibility or some other absolute infallibility beyond our capacity, consists principally in learning, without becoming too discouraged, to accept falling occasionally and not to lose our peace of heart if we should happen to do so lamentably, not to become excessively sad regarding our defeats and to know how to rebound from our falls to an even higher level.
I’ve always thought that the saints were so aware of their own sinfulness because they really hated their sins (and probably themselves). But I’m starting to suspect it’s also because they didn’t think they were that big a deal. They were never surprised by their sins or never particularly discouraged by them. They knew that the important thing wasn’t that they had sinned but that they were repenting and entrusting themselves, sins and all, to the Divine Mercy which flows from the Heart of Christ.
In that sense, this spiritual battle is the anti-battle. As Christians, we can’t fight for true peace. We can only receive it with humble and open hands.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
To receive this peace, we have to let go. We have to stop fighting, put down our weapons, and whisper, “Lord, your will be done. I hate this feeling now. I don’t understand it. But I’m not asking to like it and I’m not asking to understanding it. All I ask is that you stay with me. Stay with me, my Jesus.”
When I look to the Sacred Heart of my Jesus, I see again that victory isn’t invincibility. It’s not PERFECTION.
It’s a bloody mess and nothing you would expect from a perfect God.
And it is peace.
Lent, it seems, isn’t the fight to fast the hardest, pray the longest or give the most. It is the spiritual struggle to believe the good news of the gospel:
God loves you and gives you His peace.
As an aside, if you’re still looking for some Lenten reading, I cannot recommend Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Philippe too highly. I’m trying to read it slowly over Lent because he is just speaking to my troubled, anxious soul with such gentleness and clarity. It’s amazing. All the quotes (except from the Bible… obvs) are from his book.
[divider]First Friday Link-Up[/divider]
This post is linked up to the First Friday link-up.
Check out some of the other amazing posts on the Sacred Heart, repentance, anxiety and letting God love us this Lent.
May the most Sacred and Sorrowful Heart of Jesus be your strength and comfort!
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us. St Margaret Mary, pray for us.