Yesterday we celebrated Memorial Day when we honor and remember the warriors who gave their lives for this country. Over the past two hundred years, brave men and women have fought all over the world to protect the freedoms that we cherish so dearly.
Today’s weapons of war are more lethal than the weapons we used even just a few years ago. However, the tools of war of every age have always shared the same common purpose. To kill as many human beings as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.
With the advancement of weapons technology we have also had the advancement of communications technology. Satellites and the Internet allow us to watch war happen, sometimes in real time, not only on our television screens, but also on the small screens that we hold in our hands. The suffering that human beings inflict on each other day after day through war is undeniable.
A Quiet War
However, beyond the glow of pixelated screens around the world another war is raging. A quiet war. A spiritual war. Unlike the explicit images that we see on our screens every day, spiritual warfare goes mostly unnoticed. The reason is because spiritual warfare cannot be viewed with the naked human eye. Different eyes are needed. Eyes of discernment.
Through discerning eyes, the casualties of spiritual warfare can be seen when we watch people holding signs, cheering and congratulating each other on Twitter when a law legalizing abortion is passed in Ireland.
Through discerning eyes, the casualties of spiritual warfare can be seen when a group of arrogant judges and doctors decide that putting an infant to death against his parents’ wishes is in the infant’s “best interests” in England.
Through discerning eyes, the casualties of spiritual warfare can be seen when in-your-face debauchery is displayed, celebrated and encouraged on television and in cinema in America.
Even though the spiritual war being fought all around us every day is a quiet war, its consequences are eternal and as real as any other war. You did not sign up for this war, but you are a combatant whether you want to be or not. There is no neutral ground.
Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. (1 Peter 5:8–9, NRSV)
The Tools of Spiritual Warfare
As we have already discussed, the tools of worldly wars change over time as our technology advances. However the tools of the spiritual war have remained the same for the past 2,000 years. Sacramentals like Holy Water are undoubtedly visible weapons of spiritual warfare, but most of the spiritual warrior’s tools are invisible.
At the end of the letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul exhorts the people of God to be strong in the Lord and to put on the armor of God.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:10–17, NRSV)
The Belt of Truth
We are called to live in the truth. Let your words be true and follow Jesus.
The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.” Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth. (CCC 2465)
In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. … To follow Jesus is to live in “the Spirit of truth,” whom the Father sends in his name and who leads “into all the truth.” (CCC 2466)
Truth or truthfulness is the virtue which consists in showing oneself true in deeds and truthful in words, and in guarding against duplicity, dissimulation, and hypocrisy. (CCC 2467)
The disciple of Christ consents to “live in the truth,” that is, in the simplicity of a life in conformity with the Lord’s example, abiding in his truth. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” (CCC 2470)
The Breastplate of Righteousness
A person who is righteous is virtuous. The human virtues are the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, plus any other virtues that are acquired through human effort. Seek the good in everything that you do.
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions. (CCC 1803)
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love. (CCC 1804)
The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace
We deliver the message of the Gospel of Peace by walking in Charity, one of the three Theological Virtues. Theological Virtues are received as a gift from God and cannot be acquired through human effort. Ask God for the gift of Charity and love your neighbors as you love yourself.
Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (CCC 1822)
Jesus makes charity the new commandment. … Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” And again: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”(CCC 1823)
The Shield of Faith
Faith is also a Theological Virtue. A man who has faith in God commits his entire life to God. Ask God for the gift of Faith and give your entire life to him.
Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.” (CCC 1814)
The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (CCC 1816)
The Helmet of Salvation
We have the Hope of salvation (eternal life, the beatific vision) through Christ. Hope is another Theological Virtue. Ask God for the gift of Hope, rely on him and trust in the promises of Christ.
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” “The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (CCC 1817)
The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God
The Word of God is Jesus and the Scriptures. When Jesus was tempted by satan, he used the Scriptures as a sword to fend the demon off. The Word is the main offensive weapon that the spiritual warrior possesses. All of the other tools of spiritual warfare given to us by Saint Paul are defensive in nature.
We must become students of Scripture and use the Word of God and the name of Jesus every day in our spiritual battles.
A Final Thought and Prayer
Saint Paul is telling us in Ephesians that by living a virtuous life, conforming oneself to Christ and becoming students of the Word, we don the armor of God and carry the sword of the Spirit. These are the tools that we need in our daily battles with evil. You are in this war whether you want to be or not, so go into battle prepared.
I leave you with a final prayer, The Breastplate of Saint Patrick, which you can view here.
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