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Vol. XV, April 2009

St. Paul 9: Man’s defense

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! 

The enemy likes the dark. There he feels free and undiscovered. That is the reason why it is so important to know his ways of approach, of seduction and temptations. But it does not suffice merely to pay heed only there where his presence becomes manifest. The Lord tells us to “Watch and pray”, and St. Paul gives added counsel: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). The apostle tells us herewith: Turn to the good, and the evil will not reach you. Protect yourself positively: Simply try to grow into deeper union with God and you move away from evil. 

St. Paul, as zealous pastor of souls, is very much concerned about man’s faithfulness in living one’s union with the Lord. Here is not the place to list all the means but just those which he mentions in the context of this spiritual battle. Let us listen to him, once more. 

1. Union with God, Sanctifying grace

a. God Himself. St. Paul has his own history, which was a great lesson for him. He, who had been on such a wrong path, blind for the truth, furious in his heart, was ultimately saved at God’s own initiative. Jesus appeared to him in the midst of his anger and hate and called him back from the road to the abyss: “‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do’” (Acts 22:7, 10). God himself blocked Saul and showed him the right way in and through the Church. When we confront Paul with the spiritual battle, he will certainly tell us this his story: You know where I was and who brought me the right light: Our Lord Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:3-4). Therefore, St. Paul states so simply and clearly, but with the deep personal conviction: “The Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from evil” (2 Thess 3:3).

The Lord lives in us, when we live free from mortal sins or in the state of sanctifying grace. The devil flees no one more than God. Therefore, wherever we might be, as long as we try to remain in union with God, He Himself is our defense against the fallen spirits.

b. Prayer. Although God wants to share His love with every person, ordinarily, the gift of grace is given to those who, responding to actual grace, reach out for it and ask for more in prayer. Such prayer can be in our own behalf as he concluded the list of the “whole armor of God” saying: “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18). But, St. Paul also mentions prayer for others, the intercession on behalf of others: “To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me…” (Eph 6:18-19). This we can read more frequently in St. Paul: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, … that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith” (2 Thess 3:1-2). This gives us the hint for a third weapon, St. Paul knows.

c. Faith. The distinctive weapon or defense, which Paul and his fellow-disciples hold up against “wicked and evil men”, is their faith. “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:8). And: “Besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). Through faith we are saved, St. Paul constantly writes. Through faith man transcends his natural limits and enters the divine dimension. Faith unites with God so that, again, God Himself ends up being our defense.  

2. The whole armor of God   

St. Paul refers, on different occasions, to the spiritual battle and gives some orientations. 

a. Virtues or resistance through what is good. To St. Timothy, for example, he writes: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment” (1 Tim 6:6). On the contrary, those who are anxious about money, “those who desire to be rich fall into temptations, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:9-10). Paul recommends Timothy to “aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life…” (1 Tim 6:11-12; cf. Gal 6:1-3), that is, the final goal, and discern and judge from this point of view! And to the Thessalonians he counsels what he said to the Ephesians more extensively: “Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:6-8).

b. A powerful sevenfold weapon. In the letter to the Ephesians St. Paul is still more explicit: “Be strong in the Lord... Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:10-11). And in what does this armor consists? “Take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, 

...having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me. (Eph 6:13-19) 

We can see the following order: We bring ourselves in the full objective reality through the truth, justice and the gospel; this we embrace in faith and so participate in the eternal salvation, gain the word of God as weapon and are invited to prayer as communication with God. Let us look at these closer so as to understand them better.

b.1) As the first defense, Saint Paul mentions the truth. We may refer to truth in three different areas: To the moral truth, caring for the right intention and cleaning the interior disorder of the emotions. This is against the simulations of the devil when he comes clothed like an “angel of light”. Truth refers, then, to the transmission of facts or the methods. The liar who distorts everything can not stand trustworthiness and veracity which ultimately expose his falsity. Truth, finally, refers to the real basis of all, to reality, to what is and how it is. God printed His mark in every creature. Consequently, the big “liar”, the enemy of God can not bear reality as it is, since it glorifies God. Therefore, he has to pervert it in some way, so that it no longer mirror God. 

b.2) St. Paul’s second counsel practically follows from the first. It is that of righteousness or justice. This is exactly what the truth demands: First to recognize and accept reality as it is, second and consequently, to give everything and everyone according to their proper being and dignity, and, finally third, not to take what belongs to others. This ideal causes the enemy a great raging envy, for he lost what was his share in goodness and dignity, and now he can not stand it that someone receive what he had falsely deemed his proper place. 

b.3) St. Paul mentions as the third the gospel of peace; justice already embraces and orders the natural realm, the Gospel lifts us up supernaturally to share  God’s vision and plan of things. This is finally necessary to surpass the confusion the devil (“diabolus – confuser”) causes, and find peace (cf. Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, n. 41-48: “The judgment”). 

b.4) Now, here is the place of “the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.” Through faith we transcend ourselves by accepting the truth and justice and even the call of God. Against the absolute authority of God there are no arguments, no rejoinders. Hence, faith defeats every attack. And as “faith is hope” (ibid., n. 2), we assimilate what we found, and join the divine world in love. This is how we escape the enemy and his seductions. This becomes clearer in the last three arms St. Paul points out:

b.5) Through faith we embrace all God offers, the fruits of Christ’s redemptive suffering and the share in His divine life by sanctifying grace. Through baptism, the sacrament of faith, we “take the helmet of salvation“. God builds His dwelling in us, and then will be found no place anymore for the devil. 

b.6) And again: God in us turns against the enemy with His effective word: “the word of God”; not a word, already weakened through doubt as in paradise (cf. Gen 3:2-3), but spoken with authority as did Jesus before Satan in the desert (cf. Mt 4:4.7.10).

b.7) St. Paul concludes the list of the “whole armor of God” saying: “Pray at all times…” He who embraces faith truly joins the divine family and has there his home. That is what prayer means: Communion with God and the Saints. Praying constantly does not give any chance to the enemies, and concludes our defense against them.

3. The faithful angels

St. Paul does not directly recommend the invocation of the holy angels in defense against the fallen spirits. Should we be surprised by this? He knows from his own experience that God sends His angels to help us (cf. Act 16 or 27). He surely knew that the Father had answered the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane by sending an Angel (cf. Lk 22:43). 

Yet, the reason, he does not invite the early Christians to call upon their help is not due to his ignorance, but rather due to theirs. Paul is the apostle of the Gentiles; the pagans were polytheists. As such, he often had to fight against false forms of gnosticism and preach the true meaning of the economy of salvation, whereby all things, angels included, are recapitulated in and subject to Christ.  Christ who is everything for Paul must be everything for his spiritual children! He is completely confident that the angels will effectively fulfill their mission in those who love and worship Christ in truth. 

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

St. Paul is a good pastor and teacher. He points out the dangers, but he also indicates the means for defense in the battles. We should not be shy: We should explain clearly to souls the dangers that stalk and threaten their salvation and teach them how to make good use of the weaponry of God. This is our duty as good shepherds, defenders of the flock. Our Lord did not hesitate to do so, St. Paul did not. And so let us follow their example.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC
ASSOCIATION OF PRIESTS
IN THE WORK OF THE HOLY ANGELS