Lent Reflection day 39
There was someone in a parish I pastored long ago who was a very difficult person. She would not come to church very often, but when she did, she would then come back almost every day to bother the secretary or to complain to me. After a few days of this, she would disappear for another few months. I drove up to the church one day and saw her car in the parking lot, and I remembered that she had been in Church that Sunday. “Oh no,” I said to myself, “I think I’ll run some errands first before going to the office,” and I kept driving. Unseen Warfare, in the thirty-ninth chapter, tells me (and us) not to do that. To quote:
If you wish always to press forward on the path of virtue without stopping, you should pay great attention to things which may serve as chances for acquiring virtue, and never let them slip out of your hands. Therefore those are ill-advised who do everything in their power to avoid any kind of obstacles on the path of virtue, in spite of the fact that these might have helped towards success in their progress. For example, if you wish to gain the habit of patience, you should not avoid the people, things and circumstances, which particularly try your patience. Meet them with a good will and the resolve to submit to their unpleasant effect on you, but at the same time prepare yourself to suffer them with unshakeable calmness of spirit. If you do not act thus, you will never learn patience.
You should adopt the same attitude towards any work which displeases you, either in itself or because it is imposed on you by someone you dislike, or because it interferes with the work you do like. In other words, you must not avoid it but, on the contrary, must undertake it without digging in your toes, and must do and finish it through, as though it were the most welcome work, never letting your heart be troubled by it, especially by the thought that, were it not for this business, you would be completely at peace. Otherwise you will never learn to bear the afflictions you will meet; nor will you find the true peace you seek by running away from such things, obviously through self-indulgence; for peace does not dwell in self-indulgent hearts.
I advise you to do the same in relation to the thoughts, which at times invade you and trouble your mind with memories of human injustices and other inappropriate things. Do not stifle them or drive them away, but let them leave you of their own accord, not through your opposition, but through the patience with which you endure them. Let them trouble and painfully worry you, for at the same time they will teach you to bear patiently all afflictions in general. He who tells you rather to flee from such accidental disturbances, is advising you to break off from your striving for the virtue you wish to attain.
True, in the case of a beginner inexperienced in battle, it is better to flee from accidental troubles and disregard them, rather than subject himself to their effect and come to grips with them. Yet even in his case it is not always advisable to turn his back and retreat; sometimes it is better to fight the invaders with all attention and circumspection and at other times to pay no attention to them, according to one’s progress in virtue and the moral strength this progress gives.
It’s the words obviously through self-indulgence that sting the most. As I was driving away from the church on that day to avoid talking to the difficult woman, I may have considered myself to be preserving my inner peace, but I was really feeding my pride. Plus, no matter what kind of person she was, I should have had more respect for her.
It is Thursday of the final week of Lent, brothers and sisters, and we are finished with Unseen Warfare. The book is much longer, however, and perhaps we’ll spend another Lent reflecting on this precious and spiritually nourishing work.