Spiritual battle

  • February 8, 2008

{mosimage}In his 2008 Message for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI refers to the “spiritual battle” of the Lenten season, a time when we use the tools of almsgiving, fasting and prayer to strengthen our inner selves against those forces, internal and external, which prey on our human foibles.

His Holiness focuses directly on almsgiving in his message and it is worth quoting the following passage, which comes at the conclusion of his text:

“Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to ‘train ourselves’ spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. . . . In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the ‘spiritual battle’ of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit.”

The notion of battle in our spiritual growth is an apt metaphor. We struggle, often against the odds, to rid ourselves of (or at least tame) those personal traits that stand in the way of a closer to relationship to God and others. Catholic traditions of almsgiving and abstinence in particular are often ridiculed as naive methods of buying grace. They are nothing of the sort.

First, grace cannot be purchased. It is a gift, pure and simple, from God. The spiritual struggle of Lent is to train ourselves to recognize this gift and accept it for what it is.

Our enemies in this battle are various. Our tradition teaches us that Satan, the ultimate evil, is never far away, but often times our challenges are less abstract and more immediate. We struggle within ourselves against our own greed, envy, pride, gluttony, lust, anger and sloth. We struggle against a culture that uses all these seven deadly sins as marketing tools, adapting them as needed to sell whatever is on offer, whether it’s the latest TV show, life insurance, cosmetic surgery or sex-enhancing drug. We struggle, too, to maintain our faith in a world that sees religious faith, and the material sacrifice it sometimes entails, as absurd, a complete denial of our human nature.

Yet true human nature is much more than the sum of our physical instincts. We have within each of us a never-ending thirst to taste God’s redemption and see His face. But it needs to be nurtured, using what tools we can find at hand, especially during Lent, almsgiving, fasting and prayer.

This is what Lent is all about.

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