Lent Reflection day 34
The thirty-fourth chapter of Unseen Warfare brings us to the next stage of spiritual development. To quote: But let us suppose that you faithfully and steadfastly follow the path of virtue, turning neither to right nor to left; do not imagine that the enemy will leave you alone. No! In the extract I quoted from St. John of the Ladder, you have already heard that when the enemy sees that all his attempts to lead you into evil have failed, he follows you stealthily and flatters you, suggesting that your life is wholly pleasing to God. This is his last temptation. Our response to his flattery is self-opinion, self-importance and self-complacency, which give birth to vanity and pride; vanity robs our doings of all value, even if they are good, and pride makes us abhorrent to God. So watch and repel all such flattery of the enemy, nor let it reach the heart, but repulse it from the first moment it touches the ears of your soul.
To avoid falling into this evil which threatens you, always keep your mind collected in the heart and be forever ready to repulse these arrows of the enemy. Standing there within, like a general on the battlefield, choose a place of advantage for battle, fortify it thoroughly and never leave it, but make it your shelter from which to give battle. This place, its fortification and armament, is a profound and sincere realization of your nothingness, of the fact that you are poor, blind, naked and rich only in weaknesses, faults and deeds that are blameworthy, foolish, vain and sinful. Having taken up this position, never let your mind wander outside your fortress and particularly refrain from going over your apparently fruitful fields and gardens, that is, your good deeds. If you keep to this practice, the arrows of the enemy’s pernicious flattery will not touch you, and even if one of them happens to reach you, you will immediately see and repulse it, and throw it away.
So the attacks come to us via the good things we’ve done, and create a spiritual pride that brings us to ruin. In the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, this is the scene at the top, where some of those who have climbed up to the highest rungs are pulled down by the demons. And what is the answer for this? It’s a difficult thing to think that we might be successful in our attempts to make our spiritual lives better, but that the success itself will destroy everything.
Unseen Warfare begins a marvelous section in which we can challenge our minds, which have suggested to us that we’re wonderful because of our spiritual attainments, to give praise where praise it due. To quote: Listen, mind: you keep on telling me that this is good and that is not bad. May be so; but what’s that to do with me? You were about to praise me. Very well, sing my praises, I am listening. But know that justice demands that you should praise me only for what is my own in me and in my actions; but for those things that come from God and His grace, praise and thanks are due to their source. So let us examine what you and I have of our own and what belongs to God, and let us refer to God what comes from God, and keep what is our own. Then by what we still have—if we still have anything—let us determine our weight and value, and let us praise ourselves for it.
This begins a long section in which the book looks at all the things which we have that make us such wonderful people – our abilities, our mind, our salvation, our good works – and questions how much praise for them should be given to us for them and how much to God. It’s a great exercise to read this, and if you get a copy of the book, it’s certainly worth your time.
On this thirty-fourth day of our Lenten journey, brothers and sisters, let us prepare our hearts to worship God tomorrow in the beauty of holiness.