Each year the Lenten season gives us an awesome opportunity to focus more intently upon the conversion of our hearts—to take stock of our lives and reorient ourselves to the life of holiness that God has created for and calls us to each day. While those forty days have passed, the call to continual conversion remains through the Easter season and, in fact, in every season.
We know that any change is difficult—especially a change of heart! In the Collect, or opening prayer, on Ash Wednesday, we prayed: “…that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” Every Christian knows that each day involves one spiritual battle or another, and sometimes several. We need the three pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—and two additional tools among others to help us take up our battle against evil.
The pillars of Lent: the disciple’s armor
Prayer unites us to the heart of God. The Scriptures say that David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Would that we were all men and women after God’s own heart! Prayer is simply that: letting our hearts yearn for God, speak to God, and encounter God anew. It is the most vulnerable position in which we can place ourselves. Here the creature and the Creator meet—the one who knows us even better than we know ourselves.
The one who knows our sins before we speak them and who knows what tomorrow will hold even before the first rays of the dawn appear. Prayer brings us before our Father who reminds us of his goodness and ours, his promise of presence, and his loving concern. It grounds our understanding that the spiritual battle we are asked to undertake is not just for a good cause, but rather for a person, his Kingdom, and the eternal life that he desires to share with us.
Fasting helps us gain clarity into the areas of our life where we find pleasure in the material world to the detriment of our relationship with God. Of course, God wants us to take delight in the world that he has created and shared, but we must be cognizant of those things that we use to fill voids of happiness, relationship, and love. Fasting helps us to identify temptations just as they are—temptations! We become more alert to what is lurking on the battlefield and God helps us to see the conversions that need to take place so that the enemy does not creep up from behind.
Almsgiving makes us other-centered and helps us to realize that life is only fully lived when it is given away. In the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, we heard of the soldiers who jeered at Jesus and said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Lk 23:37). They did not understand the nature and mission of Jesus as he went to his death—that he was born so that he could ultimately lay his life down for the salvation of the world. Almsgiving helps us to live this mystery and experience the graces of a life lived for the sake of the other. What an army we are when we are so united in faith, in our gift of self to others, and are willing to defend the Promised Land at all costs.
Scripture, and the Rosary, Adoration: vital weapons for the fight
There are many other spiritual weapons we can take up in this fight against evil and two vital ones include adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and praying the Rosary. Jesus shows us that among them there must be a familiarity and reliance upon Sacred Scripture. He uses Sacred Scripture as his first weapon against Satan in the desert (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). The Scriptures help us know our story, and more importantly, the Author of it. They also help us to utilize another very important defense: recollection of God’s goodness. One of the biggest traps on the spiritual battlefield is indifference. We engage in battle, and it seems as though we walk alone. So, we give into the “why bother?” mentality. In those moments we must be able to look back to similar times of struggle, and now on the other side of them, identify how God was in fact with us every step of the way. This recollection also helps us to identify the blessings—all the good God has done for us—and like the Psalmist (116:12), consider how we can make a return to the Lord.
In every season of life we live in the reality that “the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15) and that our hearts must be ready to embrace it. We know that there is a war that rages against that Kingdom and for our souls. The good news is that God already reigns victorious and will never be overcome. The battle for our soul remains, however, and the fight is ours, but we never walk alone.