God’s holy weapons against Satan, Part 1: The gift of prophecy
Fourth in a series on spiritual warfare: Elijah and the power of obedience
“Consider well the seed that gave you birth: you were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge” (Dante, ‘Inferno,’ Canto 26). The spiritual life is a constant battle to remember where we came from and where we must go.
Satan’s strategies, as we’ve seen in my last three columns (1, 2, 3), revolve around refusing to accept legitimate authority (the Jezebel strategy), refusing to exercise legitimate authority (the Ahab strategy) and refusing to worship worthily (the Cain strategy). All three satanic strategies are rooted in a form of identity theft—all would rob Christians of their identity as adopted sons and daughters of God, who are heirs to his Kingdom. Satan would have us believe that we are orphans ejected into a hostile world. But (so the lie goes), Satan understands our pains, fears and aspirations, and we can cut a deal with him to get what we deserve.
Jesus warned that we would be under constant attack (Luke 22:31). Our Heavenly Father hasn’t left us defenseless. For each of the three satanic strategies described above, God has provided a holy weapon, a divine remedy to stand firm against the schemes of Satan.
Jezebel, we read in 1 Kings, is the seducing pagan married to Ahab, the feckless king of Israel. She badgers and cajoles, and finally establishes the diabolical cult of Baal in Israel. God’s weapon against her is the great prophet, Elijah.
Jezebel personifies disobedience to the proclaimed word of God. Father Richard John Neuhaus said, “The only remedy for disobedience is more obedience.” Elijah personified that obedience. He received the word of God, and delivered that word as God commanded him to deliver it, even at great peril to himself. He wouldn’t remain silent or overlook the harm done to Israel through the idolatry promoted by Jezebel.
The challenge for us today is that the work of the prophet, as shown through Elijah, contradicts the false peace with which we try to comfort ourselves as we rationalize our disobedience. Having received the word of God, Elijah was “judgmental,” “divisive,” and anything but “inclusive.” The call to holy obedience, as embodied by the prophets and illustrated by Elijah, was perfected by Christ.
Satan tried time and again to divert Jesus from the cross. He tried to offer Jesus a better deal than the will of our Heavenly Father. In other words, Satan tried to steal the identity of Jesus, to make him forget that he was a son. Secure in his identity as the most beloved and only-begotten son of our Heavenly Father, Jesus, who is the Word of God, obeyed the will of our Heavenly Father and accepted the cross as the instrument of our redemption.
That triumphant and fruitful obedience of Jesus is memorialized in the glorious hymn of Saint Paul’s Epistle (Philippians 5:2-11):
“…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What is the holy weapon of prophecy, and how is it to be wielded against the satanic Jezebel strategy? In its essence, prophecy is a ready hearing and acting upon the word of God by one who gives himself completely to the will, wisdom and goodness of our Heavenly Father. It is a readiness to evaluate—and then praise or denounce—all that we find in light of the Word God has spoken to us.
Prophecy will not negotiate with idolatry or disobedience. It will not barter away God’s promises for the seductions of the world and the lies of Satan. It will not allow to be stolen what can only be given by God.
Advent is an especially graced time to immerse ourselves in the words of the biblical prophets, and to recall God’s fidelity to his promises. It is a time to embrace our identity as sons and daughters of God. It is a time to resolve to complete the journey to our only true home—the heart of our Father—where already a banquet is prepared for us. This Advent, let’s unencumber ourselves from whatever will hold us back from making that journey.
God’s holy weapons against Satan, Part 2: The gift of kingship
Fifth in a series on spiritual warfare: Jehu and the power of duty
“I want to be holy—can you teach me how?” What would your response be to that question? The Church’s answer has always been: “Do your duty.” More specifically: “Do the duties of your state in life, to the best of your ability, with great love.” For example, if you’re married, love your spouse and children. If you’re a religious, keep the vows, live the charism of your founder, do the work of your community. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for great drama and heroism. But if you follow the Church’s directives for holiness, you’ll attract the attention of Satan, for you will have become a threat.
For the past four weeks, we’ve discussed spiritual warfare, in particular, Satan’s strategies (1, 2, 3) and God’s holy weapons (4). This week we’ll look at Jehu, King of Israel, as a role model for exercising proper authority, and especially, the power of duty. As we face our daily duties, which for most of us won’t be life-and-death struggles, we can learn from Jehu the power that comes from living the truth that we’ve been called by God to do the work entrusted to us. So many of us awaken daily, feeling defeated even before the day’s challenges have begun. Jehu shows us that’s not what God wants for us.
Jehu isn’t a superhero who makes meeting the demands of authority and duty look easy. When God’s prophet anointed him King of Israel, he denied to his friends what had happened: “You know they sort and how they babble.” (2 Kings 9:11) When pressed, he admitted that he had been anointed King, and that God had missioned him to exact divine retribution against the idolaters Ahab, Jezebel and their followers. When Jehu finally acknowledged God’s intervention, he got to work.
Here’s Jehu’s lesson for us: We hesitate at times to acknowledge God’s call, anointing and mission. We assume that divine intervention is for someone else. But the very fact that we’re alive shows that God has work for us. The fact of our baptism is proof of our mission to teach all that Jesus has taught and to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28: 18-20) And God will demand of us an accounting of our mission, our fidelity and our fruitfulness. (Matthew 25)
When Jezebel learned that Jehu was coming to bring her God’s justice, she didn’t flee, and she didn’t gather an army. Instead, “she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window.”(2 Kings 9:30) Jezebel, the renowned seducer, under stress, did what she did best—she readied herself for seduction. Jezebel here represents all the beguilements, illusions and excuses that Satan puts in our path to distract, diminish and destroy us. If he cannot keeps us off the path of duty entirely (as Jehu was tempted when he was first anointed King), Satan will try to cause us to stumble even as we try to do our duty. In the first instance, he tries to make us forget who we are; in the second instance, he tries to make us forget whose we are. As Christians, who we are is adopted children of God; whosewe are is anointed disciples sustained by the victorious Christ. In a time of crisis, Jezebel knew her strength, and prepared to play the role of seducer. Jehu, on the other hand, knew his weakness, and avoided her seduction by calling upon God-given allies to help him throw down Jezebel. (2 Kings 9: 30-37)
Jehu’s lesson for us is clear. While no one can do our duty for us, we endanger ourselves unnecessarily if we believe that we are alone, or if we believe that we must rely on our own strength. We have our fellow disciples to assist us, we have the Communion of Saints to intercede for us, and we have the graces of the Church’s sacraments and sacramentals to sustain and protect us. God will not leave us helpless when He calls upon us to do His will. We are foolish and disobedient if we live our discipleship as if we were abandoned orphans without help or hope.
As Christians, we have the God-given authority and the Spirit-filled means to do our duty, to do what is right, to live our vocations—especially to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, which is the universal vocation. If we admit our calling, our need and our graces in this life, then in the next we will hear from our King the words we were made to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
God’s holy weapons against Satan, Part 3: The gift of priesthood
Sixth in a series on spiritual warfare: Christ and the power of sacrifice
“Don’t sacrifice for your children—you will only resent them for it!” So a boss told me, decades ago. If she’s right, what does that say about the priesthood of Christ and his sacrifice? Surrendering what we’re reluctant to give, we’re likely to resent the beneficiaries of our “sacrifice.” But I think she had a distorted (yet common) view of sacrifice.
For the past five weeks, we’ve discussed spiritual warfare, in particular, Satan’s strategies (1, 2, 3) and God’s holy weapons (4 and 5). Sacrifice is God’s ultimate weapon. Many folks think that “sacrifice” means something like this: “Take something you really like and kill it.” If that’s how we view sacrifice, then we surely open the door to resentment, which is a great toxin of the soul. The roots of the word sacrifice are, “to make holy” or “to do the holy thing.” How is something made holy? By making a gift of it on the altar—offering something precious to God so that God can make use of it with a power and graciousness beyond our imagining.
Sacrificial giving is the highest form of freedom, yielding the highest form of gift. There is no self-seeking, no “strings attached” in sacrificial giving. That offering of what’s precious, in a spirit of unselfishness and trust, is why Satan hates sacrifice. Sacrifice is contrary to the work of Satan, who’s motto is: “Me first! Me! Always first!” Hands and heart, spread wide open upon the altar of sacrifice, are the fullest sign of rejecting Satan.
The sacrifice of Christ the Priest upon the altar of the cross is God’s most potent weapon against Satan. Thus Satan hates the Mass and the Eucharist above all else. That sacrifice of Calvary made present again upon our altars is the supreme instrument of our freedom from sin, and is our path to heaven. Knowing that, Satan trivializes the deadliness of our sin, so that in turn we will trivialize our need for the Sacrifice of the Mass.
I insist on the absolute necessity of Christ crucified because I know my sin. My sin! Not just my quirks, faults, foibles and failings. Not just my mistakes, indiscretions or peccadillos. My sin.
I know my sin—how it looks and stinks and burns. I know my sin is cunning even as it is irrational; I know my sin is deliberate even as it is feral. I know that my sin whispers to me like a lover and shouts at me like a jailer. I know that I choose and use my sin even as it seduces and uses me. I know that my sin has caused me to slap the face of the Holy God and yell, “My will be done!” I know that my sin has driven me from my Father’s house and caused me to live as if I were an orphan. I know that my sin, which I cling to even as I find it repulsive—I know that my sin is woven into my heart and mind and will like a cancer. I know that apart from the shed Blood of Jesus flushed through my body and soul—unless I consume the fruits of his sacrifice offered on the cross at Calvary—apart from that amazing grace—then my sin will finally consume me.
We can’t invite Satan into our lives and then expect him to behave. We can’t reason with our sin. Our sin will never be satisfied with being a junior partner or even an equal partner in our lives. No! Our sin wants power over every last bit of us! The poison of evil found in any fallen human heart cannot be negotiated with, cannot be persuaded even by the most earnest dialogue, and cannot be cured by human good intentions alone.
Those who know the merciful and healing embrace of our crucified and risen Lord, those who know that they have been ransomed and purified by innocent blood—those persons will surely, rightly, stubbornly and gladly exalt the priesthood of Christ. They know that Christ who is both priest and victim is God’s ultimate weapon against Satan. Our privilege at Mass is to be present again at Calvary, where the horror of the cross yielded our salvation and our hope of glory. How shall we respond worthily?
Preparing to celebrate Christmas, let’s remember that Mary’s child was born to live as a prophet, to die as a priest, and to reign forever as king. Let’s remember that our Heavenly Father’s sacrifice for us was his only-begotten Son. Between now and New Year’s Day, let’s make a plan to order our lives in gratitude for that sacrifice. Anything less from us would be an appalling injustice.
Next week, I will offer a reflection on the Feast of the Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation and is a member of the National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association. His book on preaching, “I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel” is now available at Amazon in both paperback and electronic form.