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Fr Josh Miechels: The Art of Spiritual Combat

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Pick out some brothers or sisters with whom you can live and share a Christian life. You don’t need a thousand – Jesus suggests 2 or 3, says Fr Josh Miechels.
Pick out some brothers or sisters with whom you can live and share a Christian life. You don’t need a thousand – Jesus suggests 2 or 3, says Fr Josh Miechels.

Evil’s attacks are unavoidable. Communion with others, standing firm and Scripture are some of our defences

A few weeks ago we had a funny kind of phrase for Sunday Mass: “With the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people.”

It’s nice isn’t it. You come to mass for your weekly plunge into the abyss of love, safety and peace which is the opened heart of Christ, and the Church decides to lob you with that.

Why does the Church include such violence in the readings ? Isn’t there enough worries and killing in the world already?

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Of course that’s right – there is too much. That’s why such readings need to be part of the mass.

“The Amalekites came and attacked Israel at Rephidim. So first thing: accept that you’re going to be spiritually attacked.”

To enter into communion with and pray for all those in the world for whom such evil is a normal occurrence.

To remind us that despite some advancements,  we need the liberation only God can provide  more than ever. And to show us how we ourselves are to defeat this evil in daily spiritual combat.

And so in this reading  – Exodus 8: 7-13 – God gives us seven keys to winning the spiritual battle.

The Amalekites came and attacked Israel at Rephidim. So first thing: accept that you’re going to be spiritually attacked.

There’s no point praying novenas to avoid being tempted : you will be. Living in a fallen world means living surrounded by evil and this begins within our own hearts.

God’s word is also a sword with which we can defend ourselves - most especially by praying it. Photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Catolico
God’s word is also a sword with which we can defend ourselves – most especially by praying it. Photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Catolico

What’s more – the devil does not love you. He hates you.

This is not cause for fear but rather knowledge which is useful : because once we realise that the act we are contemplating comes from him, we know straight away that he’s not suggesting it because he wants us to be free and happy, but because he knows it will make us less free and more unhappy. Knowing this can help us think more clearly in such situations.

Moses said to Joshua, ‘Pick out men for yourself, and tomorrow morning march out to engage Amalek. Secondly: pick out some brothers or sisters with whom you can live and share a Christian life. You don’t need a thousand – Jesus suggests 2 or 3.

It’s essential because there is no such thing as being Christian ‘by myself’ : not only because there is no salvation outside of the Church, but because in time you end up either an atheist or making up your own religion. Being Christian means living like Jesus – living with and surrounded by others.

“Sacrifice is part of daily Christian life … I mean firstly that far simpler and harder sacrifice of loving those around you, the nice ones, and also the ratbag-type of persons – all of them.”

I, meanwhile, will stand on the hilltop, the staff of God in my hand.’ In the bible the staff symbolises authority, which guides. Here it means one of the most underestimated weapons in spiritual combat: self-discipline.

Clearly I don’t develop self-control at the moment of temptation : it is slowly developed, accelerated by grace, as the work of a lifetime. It’s for this reason that, whatever our state of life, sacrifice is part of daily Christian life.

I don’t mean fasting on bread and water eight days a week. I mean firstly that far simpler and harder sacrifice of loving those around you, the nice ones, and also the ratbag-type of persons – all of them.  To look at them as the brothers and sisters they are.

To serve them. To bear with them with patience and understand their anxieties. And to accept with gratitude, peacefully, joyfully and without complaining the challenges of today.

Joshua did as Moses told him. Fourth tool of spiritual combat – obedience. There are a lot of lies about freedom. One of them is that freedom is possible without obedience. This is bunkum. We see this in the model of disobedience, Satan – he is not doing so well, either personally or for the good of the world.

We always have the grace to choose to do the right thing. One way of doing this is, in the situation, to call on the Holy Spirit – he always comes to our help.. Photo: CNS, Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin
We always have the grace to choose to do the right thing. One way of doing this is, in the situation, to call on the Holy Spirit – he always comes to our help.. Photo: CNS, Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin

One thing is for sure : there is no freedom without obedience.  Of course, we are not obliged to obey when asked to do something immoral – here, out task is to disobey, in order to obey the moral law.

But we aren’t obeying God if we don’t obey those he sets above us – the government, our laws, our boss, our bishop and parish priest, the communion of life of spouses, and so on.

Went up to the top of the hill. Fifth tool: a long time of silent daily prayer. It is no accident that the ancients would mount a hill to encounter the Lord.

Not simply because the hill was ‘closer’ to heaven, but because it was easier to be alone with God, and because it made it easier to take a step back from daily life and take the larger view. This is daily prayer. We aren’t obliged to go to daily mass: but skipping one’s time of prayer for the day is disastrous.

There are few easier ways of going backwards and guaranteeing bigger mistakes. And we are missing the best and most beautiful part of human life – resting, alone and secure in the arms of the divine spouse of every human soul – and body.

“When you’re frustrated or tempted, lean on and pray with a passage from the Scriptures.”

And his arms remained firm till sunset. Sixth : remain firm. That sometimes means choosing not to panic or despair. We always have the grace to choose to do the right thing.

One way of doing this is, in the situation, to call on the Holy Spirit – he always comes to our help. He is not a feeble fairy breeze –  he is the infinite and transforming torrent of fire and truth. There is only one day where we need to stay firm : that day is today.

With the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people. In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul tells us that our sword is the Word of God.

When you’re frustrated or tempted, lean on and pray with a passage from the Scriptures. One way this can be helpful is sticking up a bible verse here or there where you do things : its always a refreshing reminder of the reality of things, true priorities, and God’s perspective.

As Saint Paul tells us in 2 Timothy : “All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.”

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