Hebrews 12:14; see also Part Two, Section Two of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.) It is simply spiritual suicide for a Catholic to blithely withhold himself from the divine power uniquely available through sacramental confession.
It seems that many Catholics have given up on spiritual warfare without a shot being fired. This surrender is not unique to Catholics. Recently a student sent me a message. He wrote: “I had to relate to you the funniest/saddest sign I saw for some denomination’s church. It read, ‘It’s time to put down our weapons and come out with our hands up’. They clearly don’t believe that we have an enemy prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
The testimony of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as well as the Magisterium and the great saints, are as one: our souls are being contested for. We deny that fact at our peril. If we fail to choose sides, then in fact we have chosen sides. Nineteenth-century author Juan Donoso Cortes puts the issue before us in a work known for its soul-stirring prose:
“There is no man, let him be aware of it or not, who is not a combatant in this hot contest; no one who does not take an active part in the responsibility of the defeat or victory… And don’t tell me you don’t wish to fight; for the moment you tell me that, you are already fighting; nor that you don’t know which side to join, for while you are saying that, you have already joined a side; nor that you wish to remain neutral; for while you are thinking to be so, you are so no longer; nor that you want to be indifferent; for I will laugh at you, because on pronouncing that word you have chosen your party. Don’t tire yourself in seeking a place of security against the chances of war, for you tire yourself in vain; that war is extended as far as space, and prolonged through all time. In eternity alone, the country of the just, can you find rest, because there alone there is no combat. But do not imagine, however, that the gates of eternity shall be opened for you, unless you first show the wounds you bear; those gates are only opened for those who gloriously fought here the battles of the Lord, and were, like the Lord, crucified.”
How can an honest soul read that and remain unchanged?
If we have even a shred of integrity within us, we know that we have a conflict raging within us (Romans 7:23). We desire goodness, but not really—because goodness is costly; we resist evil, but not really—because evil is attractive. If you find yourself throwing up your hands in despair, take heart! Author Paul Thigpen’s latest book, “Manual for Spiritual Warfare” is a place to get started. The primary purpose of his manual, he says, “…is to help everyday Catholics recognize, resist, and overcome the Enemy’s attacks in their own lives and the lives of those for whom they bear responsibility (such as parents have for children).”
Thigpen’s advice is clear, direct and simple: Know Your Enemy; Know Your Commander and Comrades; Know Your Weapons and Armor. His book is a cornucopia of spiritual resources. He collects in one place relevant Scripture passages, magisterial documents, writings of the saints, as well as prayers, devotions, hymns and liturgical texts. The resources contained here, put to use, can help us to prevail in the battle for our souls and the souls of our loved ones. (Another fine work for that same purpose is Heilman’s “Church Militant Field Manual.”) Yes, the awful truth is that we are being fought for. The glorious truth is that we are on the winning side, and if we fight, we can win! As Pope Leo XIII reminds us in Sapientiae Christianae #14: “Christians are, moreover, born for combat, whereof the greater the vehemence, the more assured, God aiding, the triumph…”
When I write next, I will speak of a common tactic of the devil to trick people into blasphemy. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.