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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | In spiritual terms, humility and trust are the key to greatness

We can fight our spiritual battles better by letting the spirit of trust and surrender grow

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

How do angels fight?

This week we celebrate the feast of the Archangels (Sept. 29) and the feast of the Guardian Angels (Oct. 2). The reading from the Book of Revelation says: “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they did not prevail” (Revelation 12:7-8).

Often enough, we picture Michael dressed in battle armor, holding a sword. And that’s good in this sense: there is a battle to be fought!

But as we mature in our understanding of the faith we have to confront this fact: angels are pure spirits. So we need to think through the question: how do pure spirits fight — what’s the nature of a spiritual battle?

We probably can’t fully understand what spiritual battle means for the angels. But — because our nature is partly spiritual — we can get some window into the question through our own experience.

So, for example, when someone wins an argument, that’s not a physical but a spiritual victory. When someone betrays a trust, that’s not a physical but a spiritual loss. When we try to encourage someone who is struggling, or try to bring a person to repentance, those are not physical but spiritual battles.

At the start of this week’s readings, the disciples want to know who is the “greatest” among them. At the end of the week, the disciples ask Jesus who is the “greatest” in the kingdom of heaven. In both cases, Jesus presents a child as a model of greatness. He’s telling them, in effect, their notion of greatness needs conversion. They’re thinking of greatness in worldly terms; they need to be thinking in spiritual terms. And in spiritual terms, humility and trust are the key to greatness.

Similarly, our notions of “battle” and “victory” tend to be rooted in worldly terms. We think of war, sports, video games and stock markets. But in the life of faith, those notions need to undergo a spiritual conversion. That’s why it can be helpful to think about what it means for angels to fight: it helps us think about what it means for us to engage in spiritual battle, and to reflect on some of our key spiritual battles today.

We can ask a question in order to impress people, or because we’re genuinely interested. The external reality is the same, but the internal reality is different. That’s a spiritual battle.

We can do an act of service out of a desire to be praised, or simply because of love. The external act of service is the same, but the internal reality is different. That’s a spiritual battle.

In the routine of family life, spouses can take each other for granted, or foster wonder and awe toward the gift of the other. We can approach our achievements in a spirit of pride or a spirit of humility. We can listen to children and friends shallowly or deeply. Coaches, teachers and parents can offer guidance in a domineering or in a patient way. In every case the external realities are the same, but the internal realities are different. In every case, there’s a spiritual battle.

One of the key spiritual battles these days concerns a growing and pervasive sense of anxiety and fear which leads to a desire for control. When we give in to that, no matter what we do, our actions help the spirit of anxiety and fear to gain a tighter grip on the world. We fight that by fostering a sense of trust which allows us to surrender situations to God. It’s important for us to realize what’s going on there — that we’re faced with a spiritual battle. When we realize that, we’re more likely to fight the battle well — to let the spirit of trust and surrender grow, rather than the spirit of anxiety and control.

Let’s call upon God’s holy angels, asking them to intervene for us in our spiritual battles, and asking them to teach us to fight our spiritual battles well.

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