With so much division in the Catholic ranks, we need to get back to some basics of spiritual warfare starting with a new awareness of how the devil temps us into division in order to conquer us.
Catholics have lost sight and understanding of a basic tenet of [spiritual] combat: A unit divided is a unit defeated. A people divided is a people conquered. It’s true in war, and it’s true in spiritual warfare.
But when a person sees Catholicism as a political party, a social club, or the Boy/Girl Scouts, rather than correctly seeing it as a sort of military, they lose sight not only of the goal but also of the mission and the means of accomplishing it.
I have posted regularly on social media lately about divisions in the Church. One statement that characterizes those posts is, “There is war in the Church because there is war in the world.” The devil divides the world, and he also divides the Church. Why? Because if he can divide, he can conquer. A divided Church is a conquered people. If Catholics are not united, we are weak, disoriented and are no longer a threat to Satan’s kingdom. That’s why the devil works so hard to divide us, and I think Catholics need to be particularly aware of that and be guarded against it.
This morning I read an article on CNA talking about the Holy Father’s comments about this diabolical tactic of division.
“In his Angelus address on Feb. 26, the pope said that the devil uses three “powerful poisons” to attack and divide Christian communities: attachment to material things, mistrust, and the thirst for power.”
The pope was referring to the Gospel for today, the first Sunday of Lent, where we hear about the devil tempting Jesus after he spent 40 days in the desert.
The article continues, “[These] are three widespread and dangerous temptations that the devil uses to divide us from the Father and to make us no longer feel like brothers and sisters among ourselves, to lead us to solitude and desperation.”
That statement particularly resonated with me, especially where he says, “…to make us no longer feel like brothers and sisters.” Our fraternal connection to one another has really been eroded, both in and out of the Church. And I agree with Pope Francis on these three temptations that divide us. Attachment, mistrust, and power are three major temptations that divide God’s children in the world and also divide us in the Church.
Attachment to certain customs, habits, and practices makes us defensive and protective of them and unwilling to progress, adapt, or change when necessary (and when not illicit). The Church is not a changing organism, but it is a living organism. It grows and breathes and sometimes adapts when adaptation advances its mission without abandoning its foundations (Sacred Tradition, scripture, doctrine). And the faithful—individual Catholics and and the culture of the laity as a whole—must grow as well. But often, we refuse to. We want things to remain the same because it is our human nature to find security in permanence. But it is also our human nature to change and grow. The devil can exploit our natural love of permanence, and he can also exploit our natural need to grow. A love of permanence can become an inordinate or unbalanced reliance on the familiar, and a natural need to grow or adapt can become a disordered love of novelty. If Catholics are too attached to the familiar, they will never be made new in holiness. Holiness is more about flux than about permanence. If we are against change and growth, we will be like dead bodies in formaldehyde: we’ll forever look young and fresh, but in truth, we will be dead.
Mistrust of others also characterizes divisions in the laity. When some in the laity hear something unfamiliar to them regarding Church history, tradition, or theology, they immediately mistrust the messenger. “That’s modernism,” they’ll say, not realizing that what they’re being told is actually deeply rooted in the early Church. When some Catholics hear a truth they’ve never heard before, they label the messenger, mischaracterize the message, and block themselves from any knowledge they might have gotten had they only been humble enough to listen with an open mind.
It’s fair and true to say that we have to be careful about teachings or theology or philosophy that appear to be inconsistent with what we know Church teaching and Church thought to be. That’s smart. But it’s never smart to instantly mistrust what you hear simply because it’s foreign to your experience and understanding. It blocks us from knowledge that becomes material for wisdom. Humility, an open mind, and a hunger for Truth characterize all the saints.
Then there’s a thirst for power. It’s a more mysterious temptation because it’s unique to every individual. What tempts me to power won’t be the same as what tempts you. But something universal (I think) about this temptation, as it regards the faithful, is that a thirst for power is a desire to be God. It started in Eden, which we also heard in today’s readings:
“But the serpent said to the woman: “…God knows well that the moment you eat of [the fruit], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods having knowledge of good and evil.”
What we see in that moment in Eden isn’t a temptation to knowledge so much as a temptation to a power that the knowledge provides. For Adam and Eve possessing knowledge of Good and Evil was the power to “not die.” But temptations for power will be unique for each of us because we have unique desires for being like God. It may be a temptation to be omnipotent—possessing power or things that we perceive will provide us with power (money, esteem, material things). It may be a temptation to be omniscient—the distinction of superior or secret knowledge. It may even be a temptation to be sort of “omnipresent”—always on the move, always occupied, never settling down to be tranquil, still, quiet, and ready to hear the voice of God. Sometimes we think that the more we do, the more we control. And being in control is a power trip.
Be aware of temptations to attachment, mistrust, and power. While there are other temptations that cause division, those three are the strongest ones. Be especially careful about division in the Church. Don’t partake of it, and don’t contribute to it. Be saints, and be united to each other, and to God.