I have not been writing a lot the last couple of weeks. I’ve started various posts, but been unable to find the words to finish them. I hit a rather intense period spiritually in which I found myself taking assaults on all sides. I even ended up having two of the most horrifying demonic nightmares that I have had in years. I’ve had them on occasion for about 15 years or so, some truly terrifying. They will leave me weakened until I can figure out–through prayer–the best way to show strength in the face of the either outright lies in them or the horrifying battles I must contend with in them.
Most recently in one of the dreams I found myself in a dark wood with my daughter trying to beat snakes off of her that were biting her that then turned on me, grew in size, and started attacking my face as I struck them with a large stick. I know it was demonic because of the dream that preceded it, which I have no desire to write about. I had awoken myself from the preceding dream because I identified it for its demonic form, blessed myself, called on Our Heavenly Mother and then fell back asleep. That’s when I was met with snakes. The Enemy had revealed himself. Even though it was terrifying, I was glad to be able to clearly see who was attacking me.
We need to rest.
Last week I was emotionally and spiritually drained. I’ve spent the last few weeks writing and following the scandals, as well as helping people respond to the scandals in whatever way I can in my own parish. I entered into a 40-day penitential season in atonement for the sins of the Church. After entering into that period of prayer and fasting, the stresses of life started to pile up. My husband is showing signs of a flare up of his disease. My dad has been dealing with Shingles on top of his RA. We have had to figure out if homeschooling our daughter is the right fit for her. Spiritual attacks in various forms started to arise, culminating in these terrible dreams. By the end of last week, I was so battle worn that I felt like I could barely stand.
Sometimes these spiritual battles can be difficult to work through and discuss with other people. My closest, trusted holy friends do not experience things at the intensity level that I do, and neither does my husband. Don’t mistake me. I am not some kind of holy soul. Not even close. Most days even though I want to grow in holiness, I’m praying in God’s mercy for Purgatory. I’m selfish, proud, stubborn, quick-tempered, distracted, and too attached to aspects of this world. I’ve discovered weaknesses and darkness within me that I didn’t know existed, which is why when people start talking about how we are good people, I immediately think of the line in my own heart between good and evil. I don’t want to be some vague notion of good. I want to be holy and most days I’m not objectively good. I don’t mean that to be overly scrupulous, I mean to say that I’m not there yet. Someday by God’s grace I will be truly holy.
Engaging in Spiritual Warfare.
Sometimes I don’t think we are prepared by our leaders for the battles we will wage in the spiritual life. We focus on the good aspects, the consolations we receive, of which I have been blessed in abundance at times through no merit of my own. What we don’t hear about is when the Enemy comes for us. When he will launch a frontal and brutal assault against us, and at times, our spiritually fruitful relationships with other people. Since it’s not talked about, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught that came at me beginning two years ago. I had to study spiritual warfare on my own in order to begin understanding some of the attacks I was taking spiritually and to understand some of the attacks I must endure and persevere through now. There will be weeks when I feel like I am low crawling across the battlefield with very little energy left.
It is only in the Sacraments and time of rest where my reserves are repleted. On those weeks, I will go to Mass as much as possible, even two times for the Sunday obligation. This past week required my dual attendance as well as a nearly four-hour kayak paddle on my favorite lake in the area. I needed to be able to sit on the water, watching the sunrise, and the fog slowly lifting over the Appalachian Mountains. I needed to leisurely paddle across the lake with one of my closest friends. I needed timelessness. No rush. No stress. I had a graduation party for myself to plan, but I didn’t think about it or worry about it while I was on the lake. I took the time I needed to recoup. I knew that I had just taken an intense beating and the glory of God’s creation would help bring me strength.
We all need that quiet time on the mountain with Our Lord. That quiet time happens in prayer anywhere, but most frequently for me that time is before the Blessed Sacrament or in God’s creation. There are times I quite literally need to be warmed by the sun and I will close my eyes and soak in as much light as possible because I know all of it comes from God. It is through this rest that I am then able to discern how to make a show of strength–which is essential in times like these–to respond to the attacks I am enduring. These periods of rest bring stillness, peace, clarity, and proper ordering back into the soul.
These are dark days for the Church. We are being asked to engage in spiritual combat with “powers and principalities” and if by God’s grace we are making progress or helping in the fight, the Enemy may take notice of our successes and come for us in a more personal way. We always battle temptations, some of which we never expect until we are faced with them and must seek God’s grace to overcome them. The spiritual life is not easy, nor is it a constant straight line. It is up and down and comes with many falls, failures, and disappointments. In the end, what matters is that we get back up. We look to Christ in hope and let Him help us to rise again and continue in the battle. We seek rest and peace in Him. He will bind our wounds and strengthen us for the next round because there will be another round and another and another, but with each new barrage we will find ourselves growing stronger and our trust and strength in Christ greater still.
Living Communion in the Church.
We also must come to rely on one another, to truly learn to love one another as Christ loves. Fraternal/sororal love between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ is a great gift and it is one of the great blessings we are given in this life. We are meant to lean on one another, to seek the face of Christ in others, and to draw strength from good and holy friendships within our communities. One of the most striking features of the Epistles of St. Paul is this deep love within the community. It is spoken of freely. It is something that is sorely lacking in our own communities.
This love is one of the many ways we enter into even deeper communion with God and one another. We must be willing to do battle in those relationships as we overcome our own selfish and sinful ways in order to make those friendships holy and pleasing to God. Holy relationships require more of us as we learn to die to self in them. These are friendships that are ordered towards Heaven and must constantly be re-oriented as we fulfill the requirements of our vocations and the demands of our daily lives. They require vulnerability and an openness to God’s working in our lives that may be different from our other relationships.
Love is demanding, which is why holy relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ require more of us than a friendship of utility. They also require courage in an age when true friendship is largely misunderstood and our culture calls us repeatedly to rugged individualism. We cannot possibly wage the spiritual battles required of us in this time of great moral and spiritual turmoil without deep bonds with one another that are grounded in Christ. We need one another. We are brothers and sisters in arms who are engaged in battle for the sake of Christ’s Church and for souls. Battles forge deep and lasting bonds between brothers and sisters. Let’s remember this truth as we find new ways to confront the great evil within the Church. Let’s look for good and holy relationships that allow us to see Christ in others and to walk confidently into battle arm-in-arm. By God’s grace, our reward will be great in the end.