The three enemies of our spiritual life.
The classical spiritual writers highlight the three principal enemies to the salvation of our immortal souls: the devil, the flesh, and the world. Ignorance of these three chief enemies can prove catastrophic and disastrous related to our progress in holiness and virtue, and perhaps a real threat jeopardizing our salvation.
WHAT ARE THESE ENEMIES? Jesus describes the devil as the father of lies, a liar and a murder from the beginning. (cf Jn. 8: 44) The flesh is our fallen human nature that seeks ease, comfort, and pleasure, often over carrying out God’s will in our lives. The world in which we live tries to convince us that true happiness can be found in the things the world offers us over our eternal destiny which is Heaven.
TRUE DEVOTION TO MARY: ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT. The classic on consecration to Mary is that of True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. In this rather lengthy process of preparation for consecration to Mary, the saint insists that we spend the length of close to 11 days meditating upon the world and its enticements. Saint Louis invites us to meditate upon the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. Chapters 5 thru 7), and also, various chapters from the classic The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a. Kempis.
The focus and thrust of this article is to present how Jesus Christ, His teachings and doctrine, are not only at odds, but are diametrically opposed to most of the worldly values. The problem is that we live in the world. However, Jesus says that while we live in the world, we should not let ourselves be part of the world.
How easy it is to allow the world and its values to insinuate and seep into our lives. It can be compared to dust slipping into the house, sliding under the door without our even being aware of it. For that reason, dusting and sweeping is a constant chore. So it is in our spiritual lives; we must be constantly dusting and sweeping the dust from our minds, hearts and souls.
WORLDLY VALUES IN CONTRAST TO THE VALUES OF CHRIST AND THE GOSPEL
Perhaps one of the best means to make this marked contrast between the values of the world and the values and ideals of Christ is the meditation at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. These Eight Beatitudes are diametrically opposed to all that the world falsely offers us. Unless we refer our lives to the Gospel and the Beatitudes, we can easily become engulfed in the world, enamored with the world, and live our lives totally dependent on what the world offers us.
THE BEATITUDES OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST (MT. 5:1-12)
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
- “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
- “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
- “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
- “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
How easy it is for us to be enveloped, absorbed, mesmerized and eventually blinded by the world and worldly values. Then our thought processes, our decisions, and our actions are motivated more by worldly standards, while the standards of Christ and the Gospel are relegated to a second place, or worse yet, are totally obliterated from our thoughts and actions.
THE BEATITUDES: SURE PLAN TO REMEDY A WORLDLY LIFESTYLE. If we can read, meditate on, understand and start to live out the Beatitudes as the rock foundation of our spiritual life, worldliness can be conquered.
Off the bat, if we decide to pattern our lives on the Eight Beatitudes, we will be seen by many as fanatics; we will have to go against the grain; we will have to be counter-cultural; and we will be subject to attacks, at least in the verbal arena.
The saints were those who lived a radically different life by embracing the Beatitudes and living them out. Let us take a saint for every Beatitude and see how these lovers of Christ and the Gospel, going against worldly values, lived out these attitudes of the Heart of Jesus. May the example of the saints inspire us to do great things for God with Christ as our Model. Indeed, Jesus is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.
1. BLESSED ARE THE POOR. Perhaps the most famous saint outside the Bible is Saint Francis of Assisi. Leaving a life of ease, pleasure, comfort and sensuality, Francis embraced Lady Poverty as his spouse. His father was a merchant who sold expensive and elegant clothes. Francis wore them, danced and sang and lived the party life. Once converted, Francis gave up all he had materially to follow the poor Christ. Contrast the poverty of Francis to the modern materialistic world. Beg for the grace to be detached from the world of having things, and desire instead to possess Christ as the pearl of infinite price. He who has Christ has everything; he who does not have Christ (though he be a multi-billionaire) is really poor and miserable!
2. BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN. A saint that we can take who exemplifies this Beatitude of mourning is Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine. Her wayward and spiritually lost son, Augustine, was immersed in the pleasures of the world. In fact, he had an addiction, as many do today, and that was to his sexual appetite. He would pray: “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” Monica wept profuse tears, and as predicted by Saint Ambrose, in the classic “The Confessions” written by Augustine, we see how he was converted and became a great saint. In the world, people weep many tears at the loss of money, pleasure, power, and material possessions. This Beatitude teaches us to weep for individuals, perhaps our children and relatives, who have exchanged the love of God for the love of pleasure and sin.
3. BLESSED ARE THE MEEK. Only once in the Gospels do we have Jesus explaining and describing His Heart: “…learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart…” (Mt 11: 29) Contrary to what the world thinks, meekness is not weakness, but powerful emotions under control. Let us take as a model for this virtue the great Saint Frances de Sales. By nature, young Frances was irascible, impatient, and prone to anger. He finally dominated these bad inclinations, but it took time. There was an incident in the latter part of his life when he was talking with a friend and a rude man barged into his room and insulted the mother of the saint. Frances allowed the man’s insults and did not respond. Afterwards, he told his friend that he did not want to lose in one minute what took him close to 40 years to acquire—a meek, patient and well-controlled emotional life. Let us learn from the saints. The world attacks and seeks revenge; but “the meek are slow to anger and rich in mercy.” (Psalm 86: 15)
4. BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO HUNGER FOR HOLINESS. The Venerable Lucia de los Santos, the oldest of the visionaries of Fatima, when she made her first Communion, receiving the Lord Jesus into her heart for the first-time, begged Jesus to make her a great saint. Her two little cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, who died at ages 10 and 9, are already canonized saints. In general, the saints have a great longing—to become the saint that God has called them to be. Leo Bloy stated the following: “The biggest tragedy that could befall any of us is to fail to become the saint that God has called us to be.” In general, the worldly person could care less about becoming a saint, caring more to be exceedingly known, applauded and honored, and have statues made of them even in life.
5. BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL. The saints are merciful, having the merciful Heart of Jesus as their model. To exemplify this Beatitude let us take the modern saint Pope Saint John Paul II. He wrote a superb Encyclical, “God Rich in Mercy”, and he lived what he preached. One of the clearest manifestations of his mercy was related to the attack on his life. On May 13, 1981, he was shot and almost died. That same year, on Christmas Eve, the saintly Pope went into the prison cell of the would-be assassin and forgave the attacker. Those immersed in the world have as their motto: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—the law of revenge”. Those who embrace the Beatitude of the merciful are ready to forgive even the gravest of offenses, calling to mind the words of Jesus as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk. 23: 34)
6. BLESSED THE PURE OF HEART. What a challenging attitude of heart in a world immersed in sensuality, impurity and the modern drug—porn. Let us take as our model the little girl who died at 11 years—Saint Maria Goretti. Rather than give into the sexual passions of Alessandro Serenelli, the little girl preferred to be stabbed to death—14 times in total. She valued her immortal soul and her great love for God over the safety of her body. Now she is a great saint and patron for all, but especially for the young and the teens. So many today are slaves of the world and the sexual pleasures the world has to offer. However, if we want to see God in time and in eternity, we must live out the Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.”
7. BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS. In a world where wars are constantly raging and perhaps will be until the end of time, Jesus preached the importance of trying to be a Peacemaker. Let us take another young saint—Dominic Savio. There was an episode in his life where two teens grew to hate each other. They planned a rock-duel with the intention of hurting the other, even to the point of death. Aware of this, Savio placed himself between these two enemies (risking his own life), lifted on high the cross, and then invited the two who were bent on murder to throw the first stone. Totally embarrassed, they dropped their stones, and at the command of Savio, both shook hands and went off to make their peace by making a good confession. How often the worldly seek fights, quarrels, and attacks over the smallest offense. On the contrary, the peacemakers seek both harmony and peace in social relationships.
8. BLESSED ARE THE PERSECUTED. There is a clear category of saints who lived out to perfection this Beatitude of being persecuted; this would be the MARTYRS. There are many, and of course Jesus is the King of Martyrs. Perhaps one of the most famous and relatively modern martyrs is the person of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. As a child, he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary offering him the choice of two crowns—a white one and a red one; he chose both. The white crown symbolized purity which he lived his whole life. The red crown, martyrdom. Kolbe offered his life for the salvation of a married man in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. He was left in a bunker to die by dehydration and starvation. After two weeks passed and he still was not dying, the executioner injected him with carbolic acid and then incinerated his body, so that he would be seen no more, as Kolbe had predicted. The world flees from suffering in all forms. The martyrs understand suffering to such a degree that they are willing to die for love of Christ and the salvation of immortal souls.
In conclusion, there are three principal enemies or obstacles to our growth in the spiritual life: the devil, the flesh, and the world. We have presented clear and concise means how to think, decide and act against the worldly values that can so easily blind and enslave us, through meditating on the Eight Beatitudes, and the manner in which the saints lived out these simple but sublime attitudes of the Heart of Christ. Pope Saint John Paul II stated that if we desire to have a window into the Heart of Christ, then we have to meditate upon the Beatitudes.