Reflections on the Readings
First Sunday of Lent - March 9, 2014 - Year A
A Battle Against Spiritual Evils
Collect For Ash Wednesday
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
We have two outdoor cats. Socks and Lucy. They are brother and sister. We adopted them and we take good care of them making sure they see the Veterinarian for their shots and check ups. In addition to being soft and cuddly and all that, they reciprocate and take good care of us. As far as I can tell, we are mice free. However, there is the occasional slip up when they decide they want to pick on my cardinals or blue birds or titmice or gray squirrels.
When Socks or Lucy zero in on a potential meal, they assume an attack posture with their ears perked up and their eyes riveted on the unsuspecting prey. It's fascinating to watch. Well, this past Ash Wednesday, my ears perked up like Socks and Lucy. The priest intoned, "Let us pray:" 'Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service…' "
I was all ears: "That we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service…take up battle against spiritual evils…armed with weapons of self-restraint." A call to arms as it were. Take up your positions. The season of Lent begins. A penitential season meant to eradicate any strongholds of Satan. There is a particular spiritual objective that Lent is about. It is a time to consciously draw a line in the sand as it were, and resist the devil. We're supposed to do that all of the time. If we've let Satan sneak in here and there, Lent is a good time to get back in the battle.
In the first reading we hear how Adam and Eve did not resist Satan. Sometimes Satan roars like a lion announcing his intentions to subdue and rob and steal and kill and destroy. But that's not how he approached the first care takers of the Paradise of God. He was more subtle and coy, disguising himself as an angel of light. His talk was smooth and dripping with 'new information.' "God didn't really say that, did he?" Satan questioned. And with a wink and a smile he captured Eve's imagination. And she saw as if for the first time that the forbidden tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
The first bite was more delicious than she even imagined it could be. Adam said, "Honey, that looks so good. Don't eat all of it. Let me have some too!"
A strange darkness and fear that they had never known touched their hearts. Something was terribly wrong, but it can't be wrong when it feels so right. Right?
We encounter that same lie every day in countless ways. Especially deep in that inner sanctum where spiritual battles are often waged. It's our heart and devotion and worship Satan wants. He wanted it from the beginning. He wanted it from Jesus. Why wouldn't he offer the same deal to us that he offered the Son of God?
Satan says to us what he said to Jesus, "Be empowered! Strut your stuff. Embrace glory. Embrace pride. Embrace authority. Demand for yourself all this that is obviously good for your self esteem!" And with a wink and smile he says, "Come on! Just a little bow…to me. It won't hurt you. Who said it was wrong? Don't worry about that. I've got your back and I'll give you everything you want. I promise. So just bow! How can it be wrong when it feels so right. Right?"
Jesus said, "Satan was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)
Lent calls us to submit ourselves to God and his love. One way to do that is to avail ourselves of God's mercy and go to confession. This is how we become spiritually strong and more able to resist the devil and his lies. As we reconnect with the Lord and his strength and the power of his might we can resist Satan's devious and cunning and manipulative ways. He will flee from us when he encounters our superior strength. Because he who is in you is greater! But we won't know that he is greater unless we allow him the time and space to be in our lives. (1 John 4:4)
Spiritual battles are real. So it is right to ask what are weapons of self-restraint. Traditionally they are prayer, fasting, and charity or almsgiving. As we pray and fast and have mercy on the hungry and thirsty, and don't care who gets the credit, we draw near to God and he draws near to us. You see, the weapons of our warfare are not of human or worldly origin. Even though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war. As the Collect from Ash Wednesday reminds us, we are in a battle against spiritual evils. So our weapons of self-restraint are not worldly but have divine power to destroy the prideful objections and arguments parading as superior to knowing and loving God and his will. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
We are called to resist Satan's work and lies wherever we may find him working. Are you encountering a situation that unless God intervenes nothing is going to change with that situation? Somethings just don't change without prayer and fasting and acts of charity. Somethings won't change unless we enter into prayerful battle and argue with God in behalf of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.
So Lent is a very special time to get our prayer life and Christian lifestyle back. And that makes Lent a time of joyful hope and expectation. Because the more we close the door on the devil the more we will see the windows of heaven open on us as our Father of mercies pours down upon us overflowing blessings. That's what we need. We want more of God's light and love showered upon us and those God gives us to love.
So let's make this Lent a true season and campaign of Christian service and joyfully take up battle against spiritual evils armed with powerful and divine weapons of self-restraint. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com