In two recent blog articles (“Does Evil Exist?” and “The People of the Lie”), I reflected upon Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press. 2020) and what he says about our battle against evil.
Now I would like to conclude my discussion on his book by reflecting on his “Swords of the Spirit” as he presents them in the final chapter. As Fr. Longenecker writes, “The Christian life is a battle, or it is nothing at all. The baptized are warriors, and the Church is not mild; it is militant” (135).
To be militant does not infer a battle with tanks, ships, and planes. To be militant to be aggressive against a cause. Here, by “aggressive” I do not mean war for the sake of war. Rather, it calls us to acknowledge that Satan exists and that he remains steadfast in his attempts to tempt us into evil. We must be steadfast in our battle against evil.
Fr. Longenecker offers us ten “Swords of the Spirit” as our weapons, our resources and tactics in the battle against evil.
As Catholics we know “The Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131). To put it more simply they are a way that God gives us grace. We need God’s grace if we are to win the battle against Satan (see my video series, Sacraments: Channels of God’s Grace for much more on the Sacraments). As Fr. Longenecker says, “Each one of the sacraments is a participation in the Cross and resurrection of Christ” (136).
#2 “Sacred Scripture”
Fr. Longenecker says, “The Letter to the Hebrews proclaims, “The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (4:12). Scripture is a dynamic force in the battle” (136). Scripture is God’s Word, revealing God’s way for us. Revelation 12:7-12 shows us that Satan can, and in fact, has already been defeated. Christ is victor over sin in his Crucifixion. We need to read and know the Bible. This is not a matter of memorizing verses. We need to live what God reveals to us as his way.
Earlier in his book, Fr. Longenecker discussed Mary’s place in the divine plan. She did not look for glamour and a name for herself (pride). She simply looked to fulfill what God asked of her, to be the Mother of Jesus and, in turn, the Mother of the Church. We might desire to perform the big and the bold. At times we might but often the small, taking “baby steps”, can be the best way to succeed against evil. Honestly, sometimes I look for ways to evangelize in great numbers. I look for ways to bring people back to church in large numbers. At times, maybe God will make that happen. More often, we are called to take it one step, saving one soul at a time. Maybe you don’t feel qualified to bring large numbers to Jesus. Perhaps God isn’t asking you to. God just wants to you be the best Christian you can be, bringing one or two souls at a time to him by the way you live your life. (See Fr. Longenecker on “small” on page 137)
Here, I think of the gospel for Ash Wednesday where Jesus calls us to do our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in secret. Our service to God begins and ends in prayer. We are not to focus on the exterior. Rather, we are to work on the interior, what is going on in our hearts and soul. Satan loves the limelight. We are called to work in secret (see Fr. Longenecker 137-138).
As Fr. Longenecker writes, “Satan cannot understand the power of being small, so he can never understand self-sacrifice” (139). Our actions of self-sacrifice, “no matter how small, is a word thrust into Satan’s heart” (139). Our simple acts of fasting and abstinence for the good of others are important against Satan. They are acts of love and obedience.
As was already said above, Satan loves the limelight. As Fr. Longenecker writes, simplicity is a “form of honesty…allows no lies.” When we lead simple lives, we are not as easily tempted by power and greed. When we lead simple lives, we reduce our efforts to have the fancy car or other forms of material wealth. It is not that it is wrong to have a fancy car. It is only wrong (as greed and pride) when we obtain the car because it is fancy (Fr. Longenecker, 140).
We must be it in for the long haul. We might want everything to change in an instant. However, Fr. Longenecker reminds us, “When faced with faults or sins in our lives we should not attempt to break them quickly, but to bend them slower over time” (141). We need to be patient, continue the hard work and never give up (141). “Being steadfast in the midst of hardship, disappointment, and failure is the mark of a saint” (141).
The battle against evil can involve words. However, “In the battle, there comes a time when speaking has ended” (141). We have said what needs to be said. Sometimes others are no longer listening. Sometimes the discussion has become unreasonable. Sometimes, we get trapped in the arguing (see Fr. Longenecker, 142). When we reach this point, we need to turn it over to God. At this point, prayer may be the best course of action.
We may think the battle is for us to win. However, Fr. Longenecker reminds us “that “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers…with the evil spirits in the heavens” Ephesians 4:12)” (143). The battle is of “eternal significance” and that “we can do nothing by our own strength” (143). The battle is not ours alone. We need to rely on God.
The tenth sword is “suffering.” This may seem odd. We might think suffering is exactly what we want to defeat. Even Jesus, in his agony in the garden prayed, ““My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). In the end, Jesus accepted his suffering because He knew it would save us. Satan is happy when we put all our efforts into avoiding suffering. We overcome Satan when we accept suffering and offer it up for the good of others. In doing so, our suffering becomes two swords, suffering and sacrifice (#5). Remember, Satan does not understand sacrifice.
This concludes my articles reflecting on Fr. Longenecker’s book, Immortal Combat. It has given me a lot to think about. I hope these articles have been a help to you.