To advance, to grow in holiness, to “possess God” as St. John the Evangelist says, we must fight to earn the reward that the Lamb will give to the victor who perseveres to the end (Rev 3:21). On several occasions, Saint Paul reminds us that we must “fight the good fight of faith” (1Tim 6:12).
It seems that this struggle begins sometime after the creation of man and woman, precisely because they were unable to repel the tempter. God now announces that there will be “hostility” between the serpent and the woman, between her lineage and his (cf. Genesis 3:15). Fortunately, He promises that the woman and her offspring will win the final victory. (In reference to this scriptural passage, the Catholic Church teaches that this victorious woman is none other than our Blessed Mother Mary, united to her son Jesus, and to all the faithful disciples who constitute her descendants).
Remaining faithful to the end implies that we must fight against the tempter who won the first round in the Garden of Eden. And from that time when man and woman rejected Him who is Love and Truth, a void emerged within their hearts. This absence is painful and tormenting, because it is similar to a mysterious and profound sense of loneliness caused by God’s departure from the soul: a yearning for the absolute that never seems to be quenched, and which only God can satiate deep down, as the great St. Augustine expressed so well in his work “Confessions.”
Spiritual warfare is therefore inevitable: because man has freely rejected God in the Garden, he must freely reject Satan if he wants to regain that original communion with his Creator. It is a struggle that will have to continue until the end. What an unequal struggle, you will say! And in this, you are entirely right. But what we often forget is that once we have given our will to God, when we allow Him to take back all the space He deserves in our hearts, He comes to dwell in us with His Cherubim with flaming swords (Gen 3:24). Our heart then becomes the new Garden of Eden, and God himself fights within us and with us to defeat the ancient serpent.
How can we bring this reflection to life in our concrete lives? Let us take, for example, the resolutions we make during Lent. You have decided to renounce desserts as a means of mortification (and why not to eliminate a few extra pounds!). But two weeks later, you didn’t sleep well at night. Your pale face bears witness to this, and your concentration is considerably diminished. During the day, everything goes wrong.
Someone humiliates you at the office. You have a ticket on your windshield. When you get home, the tempter knows the heat is on. He reminds you that your humiliations have created a feeling of inner emptiness…and that you well deserve a tiny piece of chocolate to compensate for the frustrations you have incurred, and that it could fill the inner void they have caused. You negotiate, perhaps a little too much…and of course, you succumb to the temptation of taking a small piece. But the cunning enemy has not yet completed his diabolical plan. On the contrary, it is growing all of a sudden, because he makes you realize now that you were not strong enough to keep your promise of penance during Lent. The cunning serpent has now succeeded in introducing guilt into your mind and heart, and now you feel even worse!
Then, a new inspiration from the devil enters your mind and whispers, “If you’ve committed a sin, you might as well sin even more thoroughly!” Then, you succumb a second time, with the difference that you now decide to eat the whole cake! But the consequence is aggravating: “Oh no! What have I done?” By confronting you with your total inability to dominate yourself, your tempter has now succeeded in sowing discouragement in you, a disastrous seed whose ultimate goal is to take you away from God of your own accord.
Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do to avoid the tempter’s traps?
‐First: don’t negotiate with the tempter, as Eve did in the Garden. After hearing his insidious voice, she made the mistake of getting closer to him, out of naivety and recklessness, opening her heart to the possibility of further discussion with him, knowing that she would run an enormous risk by disobeying God.
‐Second: to take genuine time of intimacy with God every day, reading and meditating the Word of God, and asking Jesus to fill our poor, ailing hearts with His loving presence.
‐Third: in the hour of temptation, tell Jesus again that we are too weak to win the victory, and that He alone is able to defeat the Evil One. In other words, we must learn to take off our boxing gloves and place them at the foot of the Cross, the place where Jesus won the decisive victory over the evil one with his mother Mary, the “Woman” whom the Church also calls the new Eve!
In the inevitable spiritual battle that every Christian must wage during his life, only those who learn to trust and surrender themselves to God as children—powerless and dependent on His Providence and Power—can win the victory against this opponent who is far greater than we are! If you want to give him a lightning uppercut on the chin and knock him out, say to the Lord often, “Come into me; fight for me; win the victory over him, Lord Jesus”!
In closing this reflection, my dearest wish is that God comes to dwell in the depths of each of us, to fill the emptiness and suffering that His absence causes us. That with our poor collaboration, He may deliver and win victory over all the enemies who assail us from within or from outside. Let us profess today, dear friends, never again to succumb to discouragement, the preferred tool of the devil who slows us down or prevents us from advancing on the path of perfection, which will one day lead us to the magnificent City of God.