Lent Reflection day 19
The nineteenth chapter of Unseen Warfare deals mostly with meetings with people of the opposite sex. When we read such passages from the writings of the neptic fathers, our first reaction is to disregard their advice, for several reasons. First, it seems that we cannot follow the advice in our present cultural situation. The advice tells us to avoid meetings with people of the opposite sex, and that’s impossible. Second, most of us are not monastics, and so we are separated from the milieu that the advice comes from. And finally, the advice speaks of a purity of thoughts and senses that we find difficult to imagine.
And yet, the advice Unseen Warfare gives us still very helpful to us, perhaps even more helpful than to a monastic. I say this because, in our culture, we so often find ourselves in close relationships with people of the opposite sex (to whom we are not married) that the sins associated with this are even more dangerous to us than to the original intended audience. At work, in the community, even at church we find ourselves working closely with those of the opposite sex. It seems almost quaint to point this out as a problem, but it is indeed a pernicious problem, and the demons delight when we minimize the danger they bring into our lives.
So what does Unseen Warfare suggest? The book divides the problem into three parts: before, during, and after temptations, and offers suggestions for dealing with each. To quote from chapter nineteen: Before temptation, attention should be concentrated on the causes which habitually give birth to temptation or which excite passion. This is what we spoke about yesterday. The best way to overcome a habitual sin is to plan ahead, to prepare the heart before the temptation arises.
But what if we don’t? What if we forget, or for some other reason find ourselves unprepared when confronted with sin? To quote again: At a time of actual temptation, do as follows: hasten to discover the cause which provoked the attack and sweep it away immediately. In other words, we must be vigilant to notice when sin overcomes us, and observe the cause. Sometimes we are able, as the book says, to sweep it away immediately. Other times, we are not. Does this mean we allow the sin to manifest itself in us? Not willingly; however, we must always count on the mercies and forgiveness of God. That is our strength. We say to the demons, you won this time, but I can see how you accomplish your mischief and I’ll be ready next time. You will not always overcome me, I will overcome you. The demons, and evil in general, is uncreative and predictable. Sin will use the same techniques on us over and over again. Perhaps we won’t overcome immediately, as Unseen Warfare says, but we will eventually.
Ridiculous and heretical thoughts come from the demons, they are not our own. We will be unsuccessful when we attack them directly, but we will have victory when we address the circumstances by which they come to us. We’re already in trouble when the thoughts arrive, and attacking them as if they are our own thoughts does not work.
Unseen Warfare offers this advice about what to do after the temptation: When shameful thoughts are at last subdued and temptation ceases, you must do the following: however much you are convinced that you are now free from attacks of the flesh, and however sure you are of yourself, take every care to keep your mind and attention away from things and people, who were the cause of this upsurging of temptation.
On this nineteenth day of our holy Lenten journey, brothers and sisters, we have heard from great saints of the Church how to overcome our habitual sins. It is a difficult task that lays ahead of us, but our Lord is strong and mighty, and will assist us in our struggle.