Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I love the great hymn For All the Saints–especially the second verse:
O may your soldiers, faithful true and bold
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold
The lives of all the saints exhibit an awareness of the need for battle. Even the Little Flower–Therese of Lisieux says, “Sanctity! It must be won at the point of a sword!”
Therefore, to make spiritual progress with the saints, we have to engage in battle. The battle is against our own weaker selves. To grow spiritually we have to make an effort. The church teaches us that this effort is our co-operation with grace. In other words, God works to bring us to perfection and we work in, through, and with his grace active in our lives.
Like every great effort, this requires great discipline. We take it for granted that to become a great athlete one needs to train, maintain a strict diet, be healthy and work hard. To become a great artist or musician a great battle must be undertaken. Self discipline and self sacrifice are required. It is no different with the spiritual life. To make progress we need to discipline our desires, our thoughts, and our actions. Every aspect of our lives must be brought into submission to Christ.
There are three parts of our lives where the battle takes place: our bodies, minds and spirits. No spiritual progress can be made if we do not have control of our physical appetites. Lust, gluttony and greed undermine spiritual victory. Intellectual laziness, shallow thinking, emotional lack of control and wrong belief also hinder spiritual growth. Finally, if we do not pray and spend time with God through meditation and contemplation our spirit will wither and we will lose the spiritual battle.
What happens when we begin to win the physical, mental and spiritual battle? Just as a soldier goes through basic training to become physically and mentally fit, so the spiritual warrior becomes ready and fit for further battle. Without these first steps he will never be prepared for what comes next.
When we come to understand this first step, we realize that spiritual warfare is not just a pious exercise in prayer. Everything we do becomes part of our training so that we might be the disciple Christ calls us to be and march forward to become the saints we are called to be.