Lent Reflection day 23
In its twenty-third chapter, Unseen Warfare again addresses the subject of the senses and their impact on our spiritual life. Sometimes we encounter good things, like the sun and the songs of birds, and we use them to give thanks to God for His creation. Sometimes we encounter sad things, difficult people, darkness, and hard work. These remind us of our sinfulness, that we deserve nothing but the saddest and worst of this world, as many times as we’ve turned our backs against God Himself. Unseen Warfare says it best: When various troubles assail you, do not forget to exercise your mind in edifying thoughts about them and connected with them, but above all do this: rise to the contemplation of the all-governing will of God and strive to establish in yourself the assurance that it is for your good and for the sake of your salvation, that the loving wisdom and just will of God has graciously ruled that you should suffer what you now suffer and in the measure that you suffer. So rejoice that God shows you His love in such cases, and provides an occasion to prove how willingly and whole-heartedly you submit to His will in everything He chooses to send you. Say from your heart: ‘This is the will of God fulfilled in me, for in His love of me He has ordained before all time that I should suffer this affliction, or sorrow, or loss, or injustice. Blessed be the name of my most merciful Lord.”
And some of this chapter reminds us to look upon holy things, allowing them to lift up our minds to heaven: the scriptures, churches, icons, the cross. All these should not be ends in themselves, but must lift us to union with God.
All this is summed up at the end of the chapter: In brief I give you the following advice: be always awake and attentive in relation to your senses and never allow the impressions you get through them to excite and feed your passions. On the contrary, use your senses in such a way as not to deviate even a hair’s breadth from your decision to please God always and in everything, or to be guided by His will. To achieve this, in addition to transferring your thoughts from the sensory to the spiritual, as we have indicated, it is very useful to practice the small rule mentioned in the first chapters—not to be spontaneously attracted by anything or spontaneously repelled by anything, but by strict and steadfast reasoning to determine, in each particular case, the attitude to be adopted to the impressions received through the senses, in order that it should conform to the will of God, which we know through His commandments.
That’s a great line to take us through this holy Lenten journey: be always awake. But to be clear, this does not mean that we should always follow the advice of this chapter, and think about God in relation to everything we see around us. Rather, we think about God constantly, and only at times, when we feel ourselves slipping away from Him, do we use these techniques. The chapter ends with this: I shall also add, that if I have described above methods of turning the use of the senses to spiritual benefit, it does not mean that you should constantly practice them. No, what you must practice constantly is to collect your mind in the heart and remain there with the Lord, thus having Him as a Teacher and Helper in your victory over enemies and passions, either through direct inner resistance, or through the practice of virtues opposed to them. What I described was said only with the intention that you should know these methods and make use of them when necessary. All the same, it is unquestionably very useful, in our warfare, to cover all sensory things with a spiritual veil.
Now is the twenty-third day of the Lenten fast, brothers and sisters. Let us enjoy this time by bringing our minds constantly to consideration of God.