Withstand In The Evil Day
21st Sunday after Pentecost
It all lines up very nicely this year. On
Friday, All Saints Day, we celebrated the Church Triumphant in
heaven. Yesterday, All Souls Day, we prayed for the Church Suffering
in Purgatory. And now today, it is the turn of the Church Militant
to be commemorated.
We’re all members of this Church Militant. The Church Militant is an institution established not by its members, by men, but by the Son of God. She is a divine institution. That means she is more than the bricks and mortar that make up her buildings. Buildings are constructed by men, and men can destroy them. All it takes to reduce a great cathedral like Notre Dame in Paris to a smouldering ruin is one man forgetting to unplug something, or leaving a cigarette burning in the wrong place. But the Church can never be destroyed by men. She is more than Notre Dame and all the other great basilicas and universities and seminaries and monasteries. She is more than her individual popes and bishops and priests. She is the living continuation of God’s holy truths, the individual souls where, collectively, we find those truths. She is the intermediary founded by Christ through whose sacraments we are given the graces he earned on the Cross. This is the Church, and it is militant because it must fight to protect these truths, these graces.
And so we do fight. We fight against the common foes that threaten us all. We work together to defend our faith, our sacraments, and ultimately our very souls. With Christ’s army, we fight against the devil, his fallen angels, and wicked men. It’s a fight to the death, for it is only with our death that the fight will end. Sometimes we fight side by side with our brothers and sisters in arms, other members of our Church Militant. We fight against a common enemy, such as heresy, or immoral laws. In such battles as these, and today they are many, we take comfort in the moral support and encouragement of our fellow Catholics. Our fight is their fight and it’s good to feel that we are not alone.
Sometimes, though, we must fight alone. Sure, we can take comfort in the support of our fellow Catholics, fellow warriors in the fight against the devil and the world. But what about that other battle? The one with our fallen human nature. This is a battle which is ours to fight on our own. Our personal struggles against temptation, the sinful tendencies of our individual appetites—these are ours, and only ours to fight. We cannot confide our fears and temptations to others, these things are too private. Even the priest in the confessional can only advise. But no amount of advice or encouragement can take away the cross of temptation at those terrible moments—what St. Paul calls “the evil day”—when our soul swings in the balance. It’s up to us, and us alone, at such times, to fight the good fight.
And yet, we’re not really alone! We have the help of God, our blessed Mother, our guardian angels and patron saints in heaven. Indeed, all the members of the Church Triumphant are there with us, standing by our side as we struggle to remain in the state of grace. Today we should take the advice of one of those saints in particular, St. Paul, who in his Epistle tells us how to prepare ourselves for battle. “Take unto you the armour of God,” he exhorts, “that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day.”
The list of armour he provides us is thorough. We must gird our loins with the truth, our breastplate is that of righteousness, our boots the Gospel of peace. We must protect ourselves with the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, and defend ourselves with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Rather than analyze each of these separately, let’s rather just summarize them and make them easier to remember in times of temptation. Our armor in those lonely struggles is threefold—faith, hope and charity.
“Have your loins girt about with truth… and above all, taking the shield of faith.” Faith. We know the ten commandments, we know what’s right and what’s wrong. And armed with our knowledge of the faith, of what’s good and evil, our higher intellect is well prepared to deal with our lower instincts, those results of original sin that so relentlessly draw us away from our Creator. Our first line of defence, in other words, is to know what we must do, and of course what we must not do, if we want to continue in the love of God. The virtue of faith gives us not only that knowledge, but the strength to actually follow through, “to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked,” and avoid sin.
Secondly, there is the virtue of hope. This is where our helmet and our boots come in handy, for St. Paul tells us that our helmet is the “helmet of salvation” and that our feet must be “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” How do we achieve salvation, how do we prepare this “gospel of peace?” Head and feet are connected. Hope of salvation and true peace are connected. We can never experience true peace in this world except that which comes from the hope of salvation. How could we ever be at peace, knowing that our soul is destined for hell? But we will have the peace of knowing our soul is on the right path so long as we don’t deviate into the path of sin. We can still be hopeful of our salvation. Our preparation for that “gospel of peace” therefore, is by constantly placing our hope in the ultimate goal of life, the salvation of our soul.
So with faith and hope we’re now armed to the teeth, and ready for battle. Or are we? If you think about it, the only armor we’ve put on so far is defensive armor. If we’re going to win this fight we need one more thing, and that is something with which we can kill the enemy. This is where the “sword of the Spirit” comes in, and with it we complete our armor of God and are ready to “stand against the wiles of the devil”. What is this sword? This “sword of the Spirit?” St. Paul tells us exactly what this sword of the Spirit is—it’s the “word of God.” And what exactly is the word of God?
The word of God, like any human word, is a means of communication. The only thing God is interested in communicating to man is his love. And the only he wants to hear in return are words of love from us. Like all love, it’s better spoken with actions than with actual words. We sometimes speak words but don’t mean them. But when we deny ourselves for the sake of the person we love, that speaks volumes. God sees the sacrifices we make when we resist temptation, when we deny ourselves some pleasure or satisfaction out of love for him. And these sacrifices, this love of God that moves us to make these sacrifices, this is the sword with which we will defeat our enemy. The more we love God, the easier we’ll avoid falling into sins that we know will displease him. The virtue of charity completes our armor. Neither faith nor hope are sufficient of themselves. It’s not enough to just believe it’s wrong to give in to temptation. Nor is it enough to simply hope for salvation, or fear the alternative if we fall. We must have that supreme, crowning virtue of charity, by which we absolutely will not give in, because to do so would offend the God we love.
By all means enjoy the support and fellowship of your companions in the faith when you can. But when it’s not possible, when you find yourself alone to do battle against the enemy, do so with all the armor of God protecting you. Above all, brandish the sword of the Spirit, your love of God, to ward off the devil, the world and our fallen nature. Do so, and instead of falling, you’ll be able “to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”