Lent Reflection Day 13
Chapter thirteen of Unseen Warfare has an extended example of how we can train our will to acquire the virtues: I shall illustrate this by an example. Supposing someone has offended you in something whether great or small, and has aroused in you a movement of displeasure and irritation, accompanied by a suggestion of retaliation. Pay attention to yourself and hasten to realize that these movements are bent on enticing you towards evil. Therefore take up the attitude of a warrior on the defensive: (a) Stop these movements, do not let them penetrate any deeper and on no account allow your will to take their part as though they were right. This will mean resisting them. (b) But they still remain in sight, ready for a renewed attack. So rouse aversion against them, as against your enemies, and be angry with them for self- protection, until you are able to say sincerely: ‘ I hate and abhor lying” (Ps. 118:163), or: ‘I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies” (Ps. 138:22). This will be a great blow for them, and they will retreat, but not vanish. Then: (c) Call to the Lord: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord” (Ps. 69:1). And do not cease calling thus, until not a trace of the hostile movements remains and peace is restored in your soul. (d) Having thus regained peace, do to your offender something which would show your kind and conciliatory disposition towards him, such as a friendly word, some timely favor, and so on. This would mean following the advice of David: ‘Depart from evil, and do good” (Ps. 33:15). Such actions lead straight to acquiring the habit of the virtue opposed to the passionate movements which had troubled you; and this habit strikes them to the heart and kills them.
This passages suggests to us that there is a process by which we avoid falling into sin – we do not simply tell ourselves not to sin in any particular way or generally. This is helpful to us, because as often as we tell ourselves not to sin in a particular way, that’s just when we’re most vulnerable to it. But Unseen Warfare offers us assistance in this. First we stop ourselves from sinning, but we quickly follow our resistance by meditating upon an attitude of revulsion to that sin, saying even that we hate it with a perfect hatred. And yet, this in itself is difficult for us, and may not be enough to keep us free from sin. So there is a third step - call to the Lord: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord.” Like St. Peter drowning in the Sea of Galilee, we call out to the Lord to save us, we call upon His Name, and He reaches out His hand to pull us out of the stormy waters.
But then there is a fourth step, in which we seek to, as David the prophet says, depart from evil, and do good. This is the part where we get creative. The example given by Unseen Warfare tells us to do good to the one who has wronged us. But suppose the sin doesn’t involve another person? Then we have to ask ourselves: how does this keep happening to me? When does it happen and why? Where does it happen? By answering these questions, we lay the groundwork for ourselves to acquire the habit of virtue, and avoid constantly falling into the same sins over and over again.
The advice in this chapter is pivotal to the book and to our spiritual development during this beautiful Lenten journey. As we rejoice in the thirteenth day of the great Fast, let us heed the advice of Unseen Warfare, strive to overcome sin, and prepare our hearts to worship, tomorrow, the Living God.