Immortal Combat: War in Heaven

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I am calling for the baptized to realize that all of us are called to be warriors, not wimps.

Some might imagine that once Jesus came onto the scene, He ended all that military language in favor of being a flower child.

But He understood from the start that He was in the front line of battle. That’s why, immediately after His baptism, He went into the desert to do battle with His ancient foe.

He recognized immediately who His real enemies were and called them out as a brood of vipers, hypocrites, sons of Satan, liars, and murderers. He said clearly that He did not come to bring peace but a sword, that he would baptize with fire, and following Him would mean separation from wife and children, mothers and fathers. To join Him is to join the forces of light against the powers of darkness.

Nor does it end there. St. Peter and St. Paul take up the charge of the light brigade and use militant language throughout their epistles. Peter says our adversary the devil is like a roaring lion stalking about, seeking whom he may devour. Paul tells Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ and put on the full armor of God and stand firm against the wily plots of the devil.” The apostles do battle against heretics, hypocrites, false teachers, and charlatans of every kind, and their language is sharp and clear.

Find a saint, and you will find a warrior. Virtually every saint mentions the spiritual battle — even the little girls. St. Thérèse of Lisieux cries out, “Sanctity! It must be won at the point of a sword!” And on her deathbed she says, “I will die with my weapons in my hand!” St. Benedict trained his monks to be soldiers in the great battle, as did Sts. Francis Xavier, Padre Pio, Maximilian Kolbe, and every saint who didn’t merely write about battle, but lived the battle. They would not be saints without heroic virtue, and they would not have attained heroic virtue without warfare.

The problem with military language, however, is that we too often go into battle unprepared. We aren’t really sure who we are fighting against or how to engage in the battle. We are untrained in our weaponry, our armor is rusty, and we are out of shape. The strife is fierce and the warfare long, and, being confused by the tricks of the enemy, we often lash out against the wrong foe. Too often we attack the soldiers on our own side, bringing them down with friendly fire, or we attack our allies thinking they are the enemy simply because they wear a different uniform.

This is stupid and disastrous and exactly what our real enemy wants us to do. Instead, to do battle successfully, we must first gather our intelligence. To defeat the enemy, we must know the enemy. To fight successfully, we must understand his strategies. To be victorious, we must first understand the true darkness and depth of the depravity we face.

We talk about spiritual warfare but have not considered who or what we are truly fighting against. Perhaps we imagine we are amateur exorcists, praying the Rosary with furrowed brow and tired fingers. Good. Pray the Rosary, but why are you praying it, and what do you hope to accomplish? To make headway, we must first face the depths. The evil we are battling is not just human selfishness, lust, rage, and greed. These are symptoms of a deeper illness in our race. There are darker monsters in the caves where our ancestors slept.

I call this deeper darkness the Sin of the World, for it is not simply the evil things we’ve done, but an evil that is twisted in and around and through the very foundations of the world. The Sin of the World is an insidious parasitic worm lodged deep in the very viscera of the world itself. It dozes, satiated and smug in the underground caverns of the heart. There Smaug himself — the great reptile — lies in wait.

To understand the enemy, we must first understand that, like every serpent, he slithers and hides. He is not obvious, and he wears many disguises. He is not easy to identify. Indeed, he is so subtle in his camouflage and subterfuge that we are usually blind to his real identity, and he remains invisible.

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This article is adapted from a chapter in Immortal Combat by Fr. Dwight Longenecker which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on Spiritual Warfare: Cover and featured image used with permission.

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