Friday, December 31, 2010

Preparing for spiritual battle

Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance.
 – 1 Timothy 4:7-9
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

St. Catherine of Bologna

St. Catherine of Bologna lived in the 15th century. She was a nun and was assigned to prepare the novitiates (new nuns in training). As part of her task she wrote a short book titled "Seven Spiritual Weapons". In it she shares what she has learned about the spiritual battle and how she went about her personal "training in godliness." (Here are some excerpts.)
Besides this, it is fitting that the faithful servant of Christ dispose herself to wish to walk the way of the cross, for it befits all those who serve God to engage in battle against the adversaries of God and from them to receive various painful wounds. And above all, it is necessary to have good and even the best arms, especially those which follow below, to fight against those adversaries vigorously....
  • The first weapon I call zeal, that is solicitude in doing good, since the Holy Scripture condemns those who are negligent and lukewarm in the way of God (Apoc 3.15-16)....
    ["I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth."]
  • The second weapon is mistrust of self, that is, to believe firmly and without doubt that one could never do anything good by oneself, as Christ Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jo 15.5)....
    ["I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."]
  • The third weapon is to put one’s trust in God and for love of him to fiercely wage battle with great readiness of spirit against the devil and against the world and one’s own flesh which is given one in order that it might serve the spirit....
  • The fourth is the memory of the glorious pilgrimage of that immaculate lamb, Christ Jesus, and especially his most holy death and passion, keeping always before the eyes of our minds the presence of his most chaste and virginal humanity. This is the best means for winning each battle, and without it, we will not achieve victory over our enemies. Every other weapon will achieve little without this one which surpasses all the rest....
  • The fifth weapon is to remind oneself that we must die. This time is called the time of mercy in which God looks down day after day so that we can amend our lives from good to better. If we do not do this, we will have to render account, not only of the evils we have done, but also of the goods left undone by our negligence. And so Paul the glorious apostle spoke well: “Let us do good while we have time” (Gal 6.10)....
    ["So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."]
  • The sixth weapon is the memory of the goods of paradise which are prepared for those who lawfully struggle by abandoning all the vain pleasures of the present life in accord with the saying of the most holy doctor Saint Augustine that it is impossible to enjoy present goods and future ones too....
  • The seventh weapon with which we can conquer our enemies is the memory of Holy Scripture which we must carry in our hearts and from which, as from a most devoted mother, we must take counsel in the things we have to do. Thus we read of the most prudent and consecrated virgin St. Cecilia where it says: “She always bore the gospel of Christ hidden in her heart.” And with this weapon, our savior Christ Jesus conquered and confounded the devil in the desert saying: “It is written” (Lk 4.1-13)....
    [And Jesus answered him, "It is said [in the Scriptures], `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"]

Three spiritual exercises

I want to share three spiritual exercises which have come to me through prayer and contemplation, which have helped me to grow stronger in my faith. I share them in the hope that they will be of use to some of you, my dear readers, in your spiritual battles in the coming year.

1. Confronting childhood demons

I realized that some of the demons that afflicted me had become attached to me as a child and adolescent. And as an adult I had never confronted them.

Now that I examined them as an adult I realized that the demons themselves were childlike creatures. I imagined that they had grown and matured along with me, but they hadn't. They were very immature creatures that just wanted to play. Perhaps they did not realize the harm that they were doing.

As an adult, I had to confront them. And I told them when they appeared that I did not want to play with them. I did not want to make them angry, but I wanted to make sure to let them know that they were not welcome, so I said "Go away. I don't want to play with you anymore." And when I felt I had built up enough courage, I finally said "Go away. I don't want to be your friend anymore."

This worked to some degree – especially initially. But at times I did not have the strength to resist their constant presence. And then there is always the danger that by expelling one demon, you leave your soul open to the presence of another.
"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, `I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."
Luke 11:24-26
2. Offering up a sacrifice

This is an exercise I learned from reading the diary of St. Therese, the little flower. While she – a true Saint – offered up her whole life as a sacrifice, I merely offer up a small piece of myself.
I am but a weak and helpless child, yet it is my very weakness which makes me dare to offer myself, O Jesus, as victim to Thy Love.

In olden days pure and spotless holocausts alone were acceptable to the Omnipotent God. Nor could His Justice be appeased, save by the most perfect sacrifices. But the law of fear has given place to the law of love, and Love has chosen me, a weak and imperfect creature, as its victim. Is not such a choice worthy of God's Love?
– From "The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux"
This spiritual exercise is useful for when we leave the door open to an evil spirit that enters through our own negative emotions – for example anger. Now when I feel angry, I offer up the anger as a sacrifice. I think of it as a holocaust in which the anger is burned on a fire. And the smoke from the fire goes up into Heaven and pleases God.

This is very simple and very effective. It does require a willingness to give up the anger and not hold on to it. It's especially effective in situations like driving where many small annoying events can happen that can gradually build up. By offering each one up as a sacrifice as it happens the effect is dissipated. And you are able to channel your energy into the positive things that will make for a better life for you and those who you love.

In this way you channel your emotional energy away from thoughts of hatred and revenge, which in addition to being evil thoughts are actions which you know will never happen. This just causes added frustration because the desired revenge can never be achieved. On a spiritual level, this exercise keeps the soul pure and clean from the sin which would otherwise horribly stain it.

3. Inviting Christ in to expel the demons

The third exercise is one which I described in a recent article. It consists of asking Christ to enter into the temple of your body to expel the demons that are there.

This is by far the most powerful and effective of the three exercises, but it requires the most faith. For Catholics, we are greatly assisted in this by receiving Holy Communion. I described previously how the act of receiving Communion is a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality. As we accept the Host, Christ enters into the temple of our bodies.

And as Christ expelled the money-changers from the temple, he can also expel the demons from the temples of our bodies.

[NOTE: Reflecting on the three spiritual exercises that I just described, I realize that there is a progression from attempting to cure myself on my own, to trusting Jesus to be my Saviour. In the first exercise I tried to confront my demons on my own. In the second I attempted to recognize my demons on my own and then ask for God's assistance in expelling them. Finally, in the third I trusted completely in Jesus and allowed Him to enter into the temple of my body and become my Lord and my Master.

The path of my spiritual journey took me from a simple realization of being in a spiritual battle with my personal demons to a much more profound realization of the necessity of asking for Divine Assistance in combatting those demons.

One very important thing you have to understand is that those demons are not an integral part of you. Yes, they have attached themselves to you through your permission and invitation. Yes, you were deceived, but nevertheless you assented to their presence within your temple. Having invited them in, you do not have the power to expel them on your own. But with the help of God and through his Divine Mercy, all of us are able to overcome those demons – no matter how deeply entrenched in our souls they may seem to be.]

When our demons prevail

Just don't give up. Most of us are not saints. We can expect to spend some time in Purgatory rather than going straight to Heaven; but we can keep trying to become more saintly.

We can go to confession to ask and receive forgiveness for our sins; and we can go to Mass to strengthen ourselves through Holy Communion.

Also, pray for the intercession of the communion of saints; where we are weak, others in the Church are strong.

A final warning from St. Catherine of Bologna

In her closing remarks St. Catherine warns her novitiates to always be en garde against the deceptions of the enemy.
And here I put an end to the aforesaid weapons. But in this regard I beg you, dear sisters, that you learn to use them wisely and never be found without them so that you can better obtain the triumph of victory against your adversaries. And be on guard that you are not deceived by the mere appearance of good, for the devil sometimes appears in the appearance of Christ or of the virgin Mary or in the shape of an angel of a saint. Therefore, in every apparition that occurs, take up the weapon of Scripture which shows how the mother of Christ comported herself when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. She said to him: “What is this greeting?” (Lk 1.29). Follow her example in every appearance and feeling, and you will want to test much better whether it is a good or a wicked spirit before you listen to him. Blessed is whoever does this. Also, it is not less necessary to keep a close guard on thoughts of the mind, since the devil sometimes puts good and holy thoughts in the mind to deceive it under the appearance of virtue, and after that, in order to show what it is, tries and assaults one strongly with the vice which is contrary to this virtue. This the enemy does in order to be able to entice the person into the ditch of desperation.

[NOTE: I began writing this post in order to share the three spiritual exercises that I had found personally useful. Then I read about the talk that Pope Benedict XVI gave on St. Catherine of Bologna during his last audience of 2010 on December 29. (I believe that this was part of a series of talks on women religious.) And I was inspired to incorporate the teachings of St. Catherine into this article.]

Reference
  • The full text of "The Seven Spiritual Weapons" by St. Catherine is here. (However, I don't recommend the rather long and torturous introduction that is provided.)
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As the old year of 2010 comes to a close, I wish everyone a Happy and Blessed New Year in 2011!

Peace be with you.
Michael

2 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful and very helpful post! Thank you so much. I especially liked the closing remarks of St. Catherine of Bologna.

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  2. Hello Martina. Thank you for reminding me of this post. It is exactly what I needed. I had forgotten most of this. At the time I wrote this I was not working and so had a great deal of time for prayer and contemplation. These days I barely find time to pray and the result is that I have fallen back into my old habits and welcomed back my old demons.

    The other thing that struck me is how similar the teachings of St. Catherine of Bologna are to those of St. Teresa of Avila. I had just finished reading a part of the Way of Perfection where Teresa meditates on the Lord's Prayer and makes some almost identical statements to her nuns.

    God bless,
    Michael

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