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Spiritual warfare and pornography

First slide

When it comes to life, be it board games or the boardroom, it’s generally best to have a plan. Things go better when you strategize. This is especially true of things like sports and eminently true of war and combat, as many people in our diocese know well. But often we forget that living our Christian faith involves strategy, too. It is, after all, spiritual warfare. It is true there are many other good analogies for the spiritual life, but there is a reason St. Paul reminds us that we’re at war with principalities and powers, and tells us to put on the whole armor of God. We are at war for our own souls. How do we win?  We need a strategy. What does that look like?

If you look at famous battles such as Thermopylae and Agincourt, battles where one army has fought successfully against overwhelming odds, I think we can take away three lessons for strategizing and living the spiritual life. To win a battle, we need to know: 

1) What weapons are needed to win. For instance, the Greeks had superior tactics and weaponry at Thermopylae. 

2) We need to find a way to even the odds, using strategy to come up with a battle plan and cut our enemy down to manageable size. The English at Agincourt used the terrain to render the French knights useless. 

3) We need to cut the enemy’s supply lines and force them to fight on our terms. Strip the enemy of resources and they lose their will to fight.

I would submit that in the spiritual life, that translates to: 

1) Knowing that frequent confession, weekly Mass and daily prayer are your weapons of choice.

2) Strategizing where your conflicts will be likely, having a plan to engage them, and knowing that you don’t have to fight all the battles all at once. Pick a small thing and work on it in manageable pieces. Think about it: The people and things that usually set you off are the same every day. That guy who annoys you at work? Probably going to be there tomorrow, and still be annoying. Someone is probably going to cut you off on the Beltway and make you angry. You can control precisely one person in that equation. So what’s your strategy? 

3) Remove all opportunities for Satan to get to you or lead you astray. Avoid the near occasions of sin.

This is especially relevant with pornography, as it’s unfortunately a common habitual sin that a lot of people struggle to conquer in our age, one of our modern overwhelming armies. A lot of people struggle with watching stuff they shouldn’t watch, and then letting that lead them to act poorly afterward. Many people struggle to conquer this sin, and feel like it’s an un-winnable battle. It’s not. Freedom is possible. We just have to stand and fight for it. We have to strategize and act.

So, apply the lessons:  

1) What weapons are needed to overcome it, or any sin for that matter? Basic training and basic weaponry: The essentials are frequent confession, every week if you need to, Mass every Sunday with worthy reception of holy Communion (hence the confessions), and a daily habit of prayer, at least 20 minutes a day. Those are the necessary basics. You will not win without them.

But then what about a winning strategy? Follow the Greeks at Thermopylae and the English at Agincourt:  2) and 3) Cut your enemy down to size, make your fight easier and even the odds, and cut off Satan’s supply line. Does your computer lead you astray? Then perhaps it’s time to install a filter that keeps you away from certain sites. Same with the phone. If you think, “Well, I’ll just end up caving and entering the password anyway,” then make it something hard, like the first letter of every word in the Hail Mary. You’ll never remember it without praying. Replace some of the letters. Cut off the access. Make it hard for yourself to fall. If it’s your TV, cancel the all-inclusive subscription. Perhaps move the TV and computer out of the bedroom to public places. Don’t fight Satan on his own terms. Strategize.

Then finally, strategize to give yourself healthy habits: Regular exercise, fasting, and getting involved in the church community all can help you build allies and win the fight. You will need friends and people to keep you accountable. Therefore, plug in. Find a priest, tell him you’re fighting for your freedom and you want allies.  

The general outline (know what weapons you need to win, make the battle small and winnable, cut off Satan’s supply lines) can apply to all sorts of things in the spiritual life. But the essential thing is to take Jesus up on his word, decide to follow him, stand and fight. The battle is for our souls, and we must fight or all is lost. But we don’t fight alone. God fights within us and redeems us even when we fall, enabling us to fight again and again. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019