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Overcoming our three-fold enemy with Our Lady’s intercession

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter, at the Respect Life Mass on April 30, 2016, at Queen of Apostles, Alexandria.

I think I can safely say that each of us here this morning is seeking to draw closer to Jesus Christ. Why else would we gather around this altar where Our Lord will be made present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity? We want to be more united to Jesus through the Eucharist, through prayer, through meditation on the Scriptures. We desire to do the will of the Heavenly Father with the help of the Holy Spirit. We desire to love God and love our neighbor - even our enemy - as Jesus commands us to do.

Yet we know we fall, and fall frequently. (For this we thank God for the sacrament of Confession!). We are led astray from the path of conversion several times a day by enemies who try to distract us from our journey towards sanctification and eternal life. Those enemies, according to the tradition of the Church, are three: the devil, the flesh and the world.

First, there is the devil and his fallen angels, who were cast out of heaven by Saint Michael for refusing to worship God. It was the devil who tempted Adam and Eve into committing the first sin in the Garden of Eden. He also unsuccessfully tempted Jesus in the desert. He works on us as well, tempting us to sin in order to separate us from God and from our neighbors. He is the greatest enemy of our spiritual growth, made even more dangerous because so many people refuse to believe he exists.

The second enemy of our spiritual growth is the flesh, that is, our concupiscence. This is our disordered desire to find happiness apart from God in such actions as over-eating, drinking to excess, smoking, drugs, pornography, or misusing any other created thing. Concupiscence is a result of Adam and Eve's fall, and it is an obstacle to our holiness when our desire to satisfy our flesh is greater than our desire to satisfy our spirit. In this battle, prayer and fasting are our greatest weapons.

The last enemy of our spiritual growth is the world, which is to say, the spirit that pervades those who are not focused on God. In the Gospel just proclaimed in our hearing, Jesus told His disciples, "If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you."

As men and women who seek to follow Jesus Christ, we can lose heart when the world fights against the good work we try to achieve, especially in the pro-life movement. The world passes laws to put to death the most vulnerable: the child in the womb; the elderly patient whose suffering is seen as useless or even evil; those who struggle with their emotional or physical health. As followers of Jesus, we see the value of each of these daughters and sons of God, but the spirit of the world seeks to destroy them through false compassion.

Yes, we too must battle "belonging to the world." In the midst of the battle, we need to reflect on our own ways of giving into the enemy trying to keep us from God. One of those ways could be losing hope, or tiring of our prolife efforts. But, we find hope today in the announcement this week in the Washington Post "that Virginia has temporarily suspended the license of a Fairfax abortion clinic whose owner has a decades-long record of violations and criminal charges stemming from substandard care in multiple states. The state Department of Health found 26 deficiencies at the Virginia Health Group on Arlington Boulevard during a two-day inspection this month and immediately suspended the clinic's operating license." In fact, many of you have joined me in praying the rosary outside that very clinic. What a great reminder that our prayers are being heard.

We must live by the words of Jesus in today's Gospel: "I have chosen you out of the world." As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to remain united with Him in prayer, through the Sacraments, and by works of mercy. He nourishes us at the Mass with His own Body and Blood. He strengthens us in our daily lives with the transforming help from the Holy Spirit. He intercedes for us at the right hand of Our Heavenly Father that we may resist the world, the flesh, and the devil as they try to distract us from doing the work of the Lord. In the Lord Jesus we find strength in our daily battles and a final victory at the end of this life, where we will join Our Lord in heaven, free from all temptation and struggle, and resting in the glory of the One Who saves us.

Today we celebrate the optional memorial of Pope Saint Pius V, who was responsible for many reforms in the Catholic Church after the Council of Trent, in particular: the formation of clergy, and the promulgation of the Roman Missal for Mass, the Divine Office for daily prayer, and the Roman Catechism to help clarify the teachings of the Church that had been muddied by the Protestant Reformation. He is also known as the Pope who urged the Church in Europe to pray the rosary unceasingly before the Battle of Lepanto, which took place in 1571. In that battle, the Turkish fleets of the Ottoman Empire faced off against the Christian League at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. Because the Ottoman naval forces had more ships, soldiers and sailors than the Catholic forces, and because the Ottoman navy had not lost a battle at sea in over seventy years, Pope Pius V asked all Catholics to pray the rosary and he himself led a rosary procession through Rome for the victory of the Catholic navy. Therefore, the miraculous victory at Lepanto is credited to the Blessed Mother, and in particular through the intercession of the Rosary. Pope Saint Pius V established a new feast day on the anniversary of the battle, the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, now known as Our Lady of the Rosary.

We, too, have Our Lady of Victory on our side as we battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, interceding for us with her Son, Who sits at the right hand of the Father on High. This morning, as we pray the Rosary for an end to abortion, we ask the intercession of the Blessed Mother against the forces bent on destroying human life. Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016