27 October, Thursday — Get Thee Behind Me, Satan

Thursday of Week 30 in Ordinary Time

Eph 6:10-20
Luke 13:31-35

Put God’s armour on so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics.

When I was a child, I liked a hymn called “Put on the armour of Jesus Christ“. Now, reading this passage from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I realise how closely the hymn follows this passage, which seems to be about putting on combat gear. It looked like a passage that would simply go over my head, so I approached it from another angle — why would all this advice be needed? What ‘knowledge gap’ is this advice trying to fill? And here are the results of my late night musings.

The first verse digs right in to tell us it is all about the Lord’s strength, might, and power. This is something we lose sight of very often when we are trying to accomplish something that we think is God’s will. It may be, in fact, God’s will for us to be playing that particular role at that particular time, but as we go about it, we end up increasing and God decreases. Am I right or am I right? What we are doing is for God, not for ourselves. It is God’s fight, not our fight. It is through God, not through us. I think if we can all keep this firmly in mind, not only would we be able to succeed in our tasks, we would also be a lot happier doing it.  

St Paul then talks about standing against the deceit of the Devil. The greatest deception the Devil pulled is convincing us that he does not exist. There was a movie starring Anthony Hopkins called ‘The Rite‘, which is based loosely on a book about a trainee exorcist priest. The movie plot is about a young man who doubts his faith. He joins the seminary for the free college education, and is sent as an understudy to a well-known exorcist. Plot twist: this well-known exorcist ends up being possessed himself, and the seminarian is now required to perform the exorcism on him. But how will he do it if he does not even believe in God? Spoiler alert: the seminarian finally sees and recognises the Devil, which in turn causes him to fully believe in God, and he successfully performs the exorcism.  

It is easy to be disbelieving when all is well. The supernatural seems illogical too, until we come face to face with unexplainable evil. And that is why the devil is so insidious and won’t show himself openly. In ‘The Walking Dead‘, one character says, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light”. Indeed, we can be very easily tricked by him if we are unguarded and unarmoured, hence St Paul’s warning that we are to put on the armour of God and strengthen our faith in God. Also, obviously, much of the world today simply scoffs at the supernatural, leaving Satan to do his work freely while people have their guards down, whispering deceitful words about hopelessness, despair, and condemnation. But do not be deceived, for God’s mercy is absolutely limitless.

Gird your loins with Truth — Isn’t it true that Truth is now being subverted? Bit by bit, Truth has been chipped away, and boundaries stretched. Now, there are almost no boundaries, and those who insist on limits are labelled bigots. Fair is foul and foul is fair. The trouble with twisting the truth and dressing up lies is that it harms others. Any kind of Truth can be twisted by anyone, not just those considered as progressive. Religious extremism is twisted Truth too, which oppresses and literally kills people. Twisting the truth can happen subtly or overtly. And in either case, there will be people supporting the lies and even more people crushed under the weight of these lies. So this is probably why St Paul wanted us to hold on to the Truth, which of course needs to be carefully discerned.

I wondered why Justice belonged on a breastplate. Perhaps because it is our hearts that interfere a little too much when we think about Justice, and so it needs to be guarded as well. Perhaps. Justice usually makes us think of prison, the courts, punishment for our crimes, purgatory, or even hell. In recent times, our Church has moved towards being more merciful and less judgmental (not less just), and of course this has sparked some backlash that the Church is becoming too progressive. One key example was when Pope Francis approved a revision to the Catechism that basically banned the death penalty. Cue hue and cry. We could go on and on about Justice and Mercy and never come to a conclusion or agreement about balancing the two. But perhaps it would help to remember that every single person is a child of God, and wrongdoers too need mercy. Justice needs to be merciful, for the sake of the dignity of each person, including the wrongdoers. Maybe that’s why a breastplate is needed; to guard against hardening our hearts.

The Gospel of Peace is at our feet, probably as our foundation. That would make more sense  than suggesting we go about based on sowing discord. Peace is so scarce these days. We are quick to retort and fight back, and it seems everyone is easily triggered and affected by something. Why are we so reactive? We need to take a step back to breathe. Then we will realise we were in fact not at peace with ourselves, and that was what caused us to rage. We need these insights so we can tend to ourselves and our needs first. If we can be at peace with ourselves, we could possibly spread that peace around instead of spreading ire. The Gospel is a Gospel of Peace. The message is Peace. The birth of Jesus heralded Peace on earth, goodwill to all men. Let us look to our own peace, and with that as our foundation, we can spread some peace around.

Now how do we put this in practice? I believe St Paul tells us next. The shield of Faith. Here we go again. Faith is integral to our success against evil and the wiles of the devil. Another thing he mentions is the word of God as a sword of the Spirit. At the risk of sounding like I am writing a literature essay, I would say technically, this would be a sword of Truth if it is grounded in the word of God, and this sword of Truth is meant to cut through the lies and deceit of Satan. And the helmet of Salvation helps us to remember and keep in mind that while the war has been won, we are now still fighting the battles. But we fight in God’s name, and by God’s strength and might, for God’s glory, not our own.  

Prayer and supplication is clearly also important to St Paul. Indeed, what would our spiritual life look like without nourishment, without the Sacraments? Our faith would only be head knowledge, and we may even be too cerebral about it to the point of skepticism. I, for one, do not wish to have to meet the devil face to face in order that I believe. Prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God. Prayer is also key to discerning the Truth, with which we are to gird ourselves.   

St Paul then mentions the saints. Indeed, the saints are great role models for us. Saints were not perfect people while they lived. They all made mistakes, they all sinned, some very badly. But they all made it to heaven. We can certainly look to them for help. Read about their lives, their conversions, about their spiritual lives and their works. While they intercede for us now in death, their lives are also a great help for us when we need encouragement and inspiration.

We are all ambassadors for Christ. We all have our roles to play. Some of us preach the Gospel. The rest of us are called to do the same, but not directly. In all we do, we need to bring out God’s love, peace, and truth. This won’t be easy, and it gets harder when the devil is actively working against you. Hence, we need to be on guard, and lean on God. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl through the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for blessing us with the gift of Faith, and for the gift of the Saints to help us along as we go through our lives giving Glory to You.

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