How to fight the battle for our souls -- and win
If you knew you had to fight for your life, would you want some time to prepare for that struggle? How would you spend that time? Surely, you would want to spend some of that time choosing suitable weapons and defenses, and you would want to learn how to use them well.
Most of us will never have to fight for our physical lives, but all of us are in a fight — right now — for our souls. Every human soul is a battleground between the grace of God and the evil of the fallen world, fallen flesh, and the devil. The season of Lent is a time to be vividly reminded of that constant, often hidden conflict. In an earlier column, I described Lent as a time to get serious about confronting the evil within us and the evil around us. In my last column, I wrote about how to discern whether we are fulfilling or failing Lent’s purposes. This week, let’s look at the tools needed to fight Lent’s battle — the battle for our souls — and win.
The three traditional Lenten disciplines are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Saint Peter Chrysologus taught that “prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives.” How can we take that wisdom to heart for Lent, and let those disciplines become our arms and armor for the constant battle for our souls?
Let’s start with prayer. Jesus never said, “Pray more” or “Pray better.” He did teach us to pray always. (Luke 18:1) To pray is to enter consciously and deliberately into the presence of God. Jesus was faithful unto death because He knew that He was always in the presence of our Heavenly Father, even when He did not feel that presence.
If you had the opportunity to be constantly in the presence of a father who loved you absolutely, would you take it? But we all have that opportunity! We are all always in the presence of our Heavenly Father Who loves us perfectly. During this Lenten season, find the answer to this question: “What would my life look like if I really believed that I am always in the presence of my Heavenly Father, Who loves me absolutely?” Then live according to the answer to that question — whether you feel like it or not. To “pray always” means to “practice the presence of God.”
What about fasting? So many people seemed caught up in parsing the minutiae of what constitutes a fast and what does not qualify as a fast. Those considerations are not irrelevant, but they are not paramount. Let it suffice that we may agree that fasting is more than just self-inflicted hunger, and it is certainly other than dieting. Fasting is a discipline that allows us to discover our true needs and our present priorities. It allows us to discover whether our supposed desire for God is greater or less than our obvious desires for everything that is not God. This Lent, choose to fast from those things, including those very good things, that can become idols. Let’s see if our desire for fullness, pleasure and love can be met by God. If you hesitate to try, do not rest until you know why you hesitate. You can be sure that until we give God every opportunity to be the first satisfaction of our lives, we will be prone to some form of idolatry. We will approach objects and people in a grasping way, rather than approaching them with generous and open hands and hearts.
And almsgiving? In Christian tradition, almsgiving were the acts of charity or donation given above one’s tithe. Again, one can get lost in the weeds of defining a tithe or where one’s tithe should be given. Right now, I want to reorient the discussion of almsgiving. In our time, when the Catholic faith is being abandoned and Catholic culture is being destroyed root and branch, I think we need a special kind of almsgiving.