The Real Spiritual Battle
We’re approaching Holy Week, the days of silence, reflection and accounting we’re given by the Christian liturgy each year to reply to the question:
- How did I do during these forty days?
- Will there be reason to feel jubilant on Easter a week from today?
- Whatever we choose to call them, we fight our spiritual battles alone; in the silence, in the reflections, in the accounting.
The real spiritual battle is forgiveness, not of others, but of ourselves.
And that work is exhausting, asks everything we have and then demands more. Annually we spend millions- more accurately billions- on drugs to anesthetize ourselves to the fact that we dislike, perhaps even hate, ourselves because of what we did or what we did not do. Of the reality of what we cannot forget or forgive.
Or worse, we lie.
We pretend that the action, decision, loss or betrayal did not really affect us, was not truly wrong, deny that the injury inflicted callously on another was even an injury, justifying, pretending and revising history.
This man Jesus did exist historically:
The events which take place during the Palm Sunday worship services and Masses all over the world today did happen; it is their meaning that is disputed among so many.
Regardless of the presence or absence of faith, we cannot fail to be touched by this man who was killed because of envy and ignorance; ultimately because a mob preferred to free a known murderer than this man who asks of his executioners,
“I have shown you many good works from my Father; for which of these good deeds are you trying to kill me?”
This Lent, however, I am struck by the relentlessness of the greatest battle; that of speaking, owning and forgiving our mistakes, failures and inabilities because I think of this man sent to bring a new covenant to the people chosen by His Father, to whom He had appeared in a cloud and to whom he had sent manna from Heaven.
For three years, he speaks in the synagogues, in the public and private places, addressing the Israelite, specifically, the leaders of the Israelite, the learned Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. Month by month, year by year, until finally the wisest leaders of this most beloved people of God decide to kill him.
But he does not blame himself.
He does not seem to waste his limited time on self-recriminations; ‘if only I had said this and not that’, ‘if only I had refrained from interfering with Lazarus’ but rather he explains that only those who come from his father understand him; those who do not cannot understand me.
Where I am going you cannot come.
You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above.
Surrounded by twelve men, the evening before they would come for him, he and they share a last meal; the meal where he institutes the Eucharist. Twelve men whom he had lived with, slept with, laughed and drank with; each filled with weakness, cowardice and ignorance. His three favorites cannot stay awake even for one hour despite his desperate plea for company.
But he does not blame himself.
We are permitted to see the sadness, the fear and the horror he feels at what will come, soon. During the agonizing moments in Golgotha where he begs for release from the abhorrence of what he faces, we hear no blame, no sense of dismay at his own weakness. We hear only his humility- his truth.
One could then, with reason, enunciate this principle: The first goal of spiritual combat…is not always obtain a victory (over our temptations, our weaknesses etc.) rather it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat…only in this way can we pursue the other goal…the elimination of our failures, our faults…our sins….it is uniquely the grace of God that will obtain the victory…the more we maintain peace and confident abandonment in the hands of our Father…Searching for and Maintaining Peace:Jacques Phillipe
The real spiritual battle begins with forgiving ourselves.