“The life of man upon earth is a warfare….” Job 7:1
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
As Lent is particularly a time of warfare, and the time when the battle against our threefold enemies- the world, the flesh, and the devil – is more intense than any other time, we would like to share with you in this newsletter a few thoughts on war.
Which of us could deny the fact that we are engaged at this very moment, in the most ferocious battle, probably in the whole of Church history. Both the Old and the New Testament speak much of wars, and battles. St. Paul uses the image of “wrestling”. (Greek pálē).
“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Eph. 6:12)
St. Paul uses this example to illustrate the contest we face against the invisible spiritual realms. Our battle is very real; it’s actually against an organized system of power and influence in the heavenly realms, and we are fighting it today both in the Church and in our own lives. It is as though he were a living witness of the situation in which we find ourselves!
In order to defeat the enemy, we must study carefully his traps and strategies so we are not taken by surprise and we must go on the offense, rather than take a position of defense and weakness. Another similarity of the spiritual war we fight today in the 21st Cent., can be found in Crusades to the Holy Land in the 11th-13th Cent. The Crusaders fought a war against visible enemies using with physical weapons. We too are warring against our enemies. Yet as St. Paul points out, our fighting is not against flesh and blood but against invisible enemies on the spiritual level and hence we must employ spiritual weapons. What motivated the Crusade wars in the middle age also motivate us. Like them, our aim is to drive the infidel from the Holy Land in order to reclaim, and give back to God, what is rightfully His. Like them, we fight under the banner of the Cross; like them our cry is “Deus vult!“- God wills it!”
The Holy Land in the time of the Crusades was Palestine, with their chief goal being the Holy City, Jerusalem. The Holy Land we seek to reclaim today is our soul and the souls of all mankind- the spiritual grounds of Holy Mother Church. No infidel in those days was a more formidable enemy than the one we face today- namely Satan himself, with modernism as his chief weapon. The Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, is our goal and our prize. Like the Crusaders, we seek to gain it not for ourselves alone, but to open the way to all fellow Christians and pilgrims.
By the end of the 12th Century, Christian Knights were weary of fighting and the majority had lost the enthusiasm and zeal of the 1st Crusaders. So also we find ourselves in the same situation today. Once again, Christian Knights are weary of fighting a seemingly losing battle. The enthusiasm and zeal which Catholics had fifty plus years ago has diminished considerably. More and more Soldiers of Christ are laying down their arms eager for a truce..Indeed, to all appearance it seems pointless to keep fighting.
As true Catholics, however, we know that we must “walk by Faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). “Now Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not”.(Heb.11:1) Though the situation appears hopeless from a human point of view, by Faith we know that this very fact means the victory is drawing nigh. In fact, the victory is already ours through Jesus Christ and His Immaculate Mother and ours. The Triumph of Our Lady has been foretold. It will come, but in God’s own good time and in His own way. As the greatest triumph of all time was accomplished upon Calvary through the “folly” of the Cross (cf. 1.Cor.1:23), and through death – the destruction of every human hope – we must not expect Our Lady to triumph in any other way than by imitating her Divine Son and bringing victory through apparent defeat. As followers and imitators of Christ, the triumph within our own souls must come about in the same way, for it is only by dying – dying to self, that we shall possess the true life of Christ Jesus.
Back in the late 12th Cent., after the failure of the Crusades to reclaim Jerusalem, a group of men (including former Crusaders and pilgrims), had realised the great need and importance of spiritual warfare. Accordingly they left the physical battle against the Saracens, to take up residence in the caves on Mt. Carmel. They devoted themselves to a life of penance and prayer, making the Prophet Elias and the Blessed Virgin Mary their contemplative ideals. As their numbers grew, they sought to organise themselves into a brotherhood with a common rule of life and a prior. Hence, they asked Saint Albert (Avogadro), the Patriarch of Jerusalem (1206-1214), to write for them a rule of life which laid down certain guidelines based on the previous way of life of the hermits. Since the Crusade spirit was everywhere, it is not surprising that Albert made use of St. Paul’s image of the soldier or knight in armour in writing his Rule (cf. Eph.6:11-18), which has been adopted by all Carmelites ever since. Thus he preserved for us the aims and ideas of these early spiritual Crusaders- namely, a) that we are engaged in a lifelong battle to reclaim sacred ground – our own souls and the souls of humanity which have been invaded by the devil, and b), that our greatest weapons are to be found in our hidden lives of prayer, penance and contemplation.
Another example from history which has many relevant lessons for our own time is that of our holy Founder, the Prophet Elias. The situation in which he found himself in the days of King Ahab and the wicked Queen Jezebel, is, in many ways, similar to our own. Under the influence of these wicked rulers, most of the people had turned away from the true God to serve idols; just as in our own times, idolatry is widespread. In those days, idols were simply lifeless objects made of wood or stone. Today’s idols however, are far more alluring and not so easily recognised for what they are. They “served their idols, and it became a stumbling block,” (snare) “to them.” (Ps. 105:36) For many people today the greatest idol is “ME” and “SELF”. For others it is money, sport, honour, animals or material things. Those who have remained faithful are few, and like Elias, doubtless we have all felt at times, “I alone am left.” (3 Kings 19:10,14)
What is the remedy to this spiritual drought and widespread famine-“not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the Word of the Lord” (Amos 8:11)? What or whom will bring deliverance from these unseen, but deadly foes, assailing all of humanity? And what can we do on our part?
Again, let us look back to the example of Elias. He “went up to the top of Carmel” [note that this is the very same Mt. Carmel which in later centuries was to become a place of spiritual warfare!] “and casting himself down” he prayed. Though 6 times there was “nothing” – no visible sign that his prayers had been heard – he persevered. “And at the seventh time, behold a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man’s foot” (3 Kings 18:44). Carmelite tradition, together with many of the Fathers of the Church, sees in this cloud a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a promise of the coming Redemption, and a reminder of God’s words to the Serpent: “ I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” (Gen.3:15)
From the very beginning of their existence, Carmelites have cherished a special devotion to the Virgin Mary. But the message which this history teaches is not for Carmelites alone. It contains the solution to the problems of every Catholic. Firstly, prayer; prayer with perseverance. Pray with prostrations and humility; “He shall put his mouth in the dust, if so be, there may be hope.” (Lament.3:29); Pray with confidence and with uplifted arms. “Hear, O Lord, the voice of my supplication, when I pray to thee; when I lift up my hands to thy holy temple.” (Ps.27:2) Secondly look to the remedy God has provided; the Immaculate Virgin Mary; the Woman “clothed with the sun” who will crush the head of the Serpent, the deadly enemy we fight today. Honour her as our Queen and powerful leader of our army. Serve her faithfully as her loyal subjects by praying the Rosary every day, wearing her Scapular and fulfilling her requests. Do all in your power to promote her glory and hasten the hour of her triumph. Though your prayers seem to go unanswered and your labours unrewarded, persevere in her service for she is the one whom God has appointed to defeat the Enemy of mankind and lead her legion to victory.
And so, dear fellow soldiers of Christ, continue to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12), knowing that the day of triumph is approaching. Be assured we are with you in this war, seeking to obtain for you by our hidden lives in Carmel, the spiritual weapons so necessary in today’s Crusade. May “Deus Vult –the will of God!” remain our battle cry, and may we continue to fight zealously as His loyal soldiers for His greater honour and glory, for the salvation of souls- the possessions of our Holy Mother Church, and for the Triumph of the Immaculata.
Labour as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” even until death “for if we be dead with Him, we shall live also with Him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” (2 Tim.2:3,11,12)
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