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Multitudes in the Valley of Decision! A Meditation on the Dramatic Battle in Which We Live

September 21, 2014

092114A grave deficiency of modern times is the loss of the sense that our lives are caught up in a tremendous, epic battle. And yet here we are living in the midst of a great drama—in the greatest story ever told.

Behind the scenes is a deadly enemy, one of whom many rarely speak: Satan. Yet he is active and involved, manipulating both the world and the flesh (our sinful nature). We are on the front lines of a fierce spiritual war, a war that is to blame for most of the casualties you see around you. Yes, fellow Christians, there is a dragon, the roaring lion—Satan—who seeks to devour our souls.

Ah! But there is also a Son, a Savior, who is born to us and whom we call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (cf Is 9:6). And He shall reign forever. His hand is outstretched, first on the cross, but now outstretched to you to save you and to draw you up out of the raging waters, to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light!

Will you take hold of His hand, or not? This is the decision—your decision—in the great drama of your life and of every life; it is your chapter in the greatest story ever told.

Yes, the battle rages all around us and we are swept up in it! It’s happening in our world, our culture, our families, and in our hearts. The sequence hymn from Easter says dramatically of it,  Mors et vita duello; Conflixere Mirando (death and life at battle in a stupendous conflict)!

The Book of Joel vividly describes the great drama, not merely an eschatological battle, but a battle that is already around us in the decision we must make, in the war we must wage, with God’s grace, against the evil that is in and around us. It is a vivid and dramatic war and we must choose sides. And our decision will one day be revealed in the great judgment that is coming on this world.

Prepare war, stir up the mighty men! Let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Hasten and come, all you nations round about, gather yourselves there. Bring down thy warriors, O LORD. Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.  Multitudes! Multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision (Joel 3:9-14).

Text after text in the Bible describes the awesome drama and the great decision we must make, a decision on which hinges our very destiny. Here are just a few:

  1. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you (Deut 30:19-20).
  2. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against  (and a sword will pierce through your own heart also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-36).
  3. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I have told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM” (John 8:23-24).
  4. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation (Matt 26:41).
  5. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15).
  6. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph 6:12-14).
  7. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed! (Gal 1:4)
  8. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith (1 Peter 1:8).
  9. A great sign appeared in the heavens, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heavens; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne … And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth … Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child … The dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus (Rev 12, selected verses).
  10. “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!” And they assembled them at the place which is called in Hebrew Armageddon (Rev 16:15-16).

And so here we are in the Valley of Decision, in Hebrew, the Valley of Armageddon. Here is the drama of our life! Multitudes in the Valley of Decision! All of us have a decision to make, an army to join, a direction to choose! Tertium non datur (No third way is given). There are only two armies on the field of battle; there are no demilitarized zones, no sidelines. Choose an army! What will it be, light or darkness, grace or sin, Jesus or Beelzebub?

Yes, here is the immense drama in the greatest story ever told; it is our drama and our story.

And yet this drama is hardly ever discussed today. In the very times in which the drama and the contrast between the two ways has never been clearer, never been starker, there is near silence. If anything, our times are marked by boredom and a kind of dull lack of awareness of the battle that is raging around us.  We have “spiritual ADHD,” endlessly fidgeting but never focusing on what matters. There is also a kind of “spiritual myopia,” in which the two armies are lost in the blur of perceived (but not real) “pluralism.”

Put plainly, if you don’t think that this drama is real and that the choice of one side or the other is required, if you think that the biblical texts I have cited are histrionic and hysterical, you have been deceived. You have been lulled to sleep by the spirit of this age.  You’ve been deceived by Satan, as was Eve long ago when he said to her, “You surely will not die.”

All of us must wake up to the battle that rages about us, to the great drama in our life, a drama that is unfolding before our very eyes. If you insist on sleeping through the drama or ignoring the summons to wake up, beware! For Scripture says of such dreamers that there will come upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess 2:11-13).

Awaken to the drama! Choose the Lord! Be a soldier in the army of the Lord! Only Jesus can save us from this “present evil age.” His grace and mercy are there for us in abundance, but His respect for our freedom means that our choices matter, they build in one direction or the other. This is the drama of our life and is also our dignity. Scripture pronounces a great blessing on those who choose the Lord:

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen  (Gal 1:1-2).

In tomorrow’s blog, I will explore how the themes of the drama and the warning are the basis of MOST of Jesus’ parables. There are sheep and goats, wise virgins and foolish ones, servants who are ready and those who are not, and so forth.

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  1. You are Living in the Midst of an Epic Battle - SJB Men's Fellowship | October 21, 2014
  1. Winnie Tan says:

    Sadly we have among us priests who mislead, preaching only one side of the Gospel and thus exempting one from having to make a choice.

  2. Nate says:

    This battle hasn’t been forgotten in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, many people and the city chose the wrong side. Can anything said better incapsulate the decline of America than this statement by one of the protestors in favor of yesterday’s sacrilege?

    “Well it’s freedom of religion in America right? We’re all free to do what we want,” said one supporter.

    • one annoymous says:

      reminds me of another misguiding quote: “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”

      • Doug says:

        That quote is from Lord Voldemort, nee Tom Riddle, the arch enemy of Harry Potter, and a good reason to read the Harry Potter books with skepticism. The author doesn’t realize God as a source of good and Satan as a source of evil.

        • Doug says:

          But then it was Dumbledore who said something like ‘Harry it isn’t our abilities that reveals who we are but our choices.’

          • one annoymous says:

            Satan loves to deceive and uses our propensity to be distracted and compromise to deceive us. Many evils have been introduced to children and adults under the guise of “good” when ultimately we are being exposed to and led into evil. The “apple” that looks “good” to eat but once bitten into exposes us to and brings us into the realm of many evils. I can see now the children lined up in their witch and warlock/wizard garb with their wands and spells waiting to buy the next edition. Our decisions to compromise, to be distracted by the dangling carrot of good which draws us into the big spring-trap of evil, these are the decisions we make, this is the battle we fight.

  3. C Beltz says:

    It’s funny, as I was reading I kept thinking we are asleep, lulled into a comatose state by our inordinate love of self. We are so focused on our wants, our needs, our fears, our appetites, our stuff. You would think such an overwhelming love of self would cause us to want to save ourselves, but instead, the opposite has occurred. We don’t want to save ourselves, we want to save our stuff.

    Once we shift our focus to The Lord, we awaken from the coma, we shed our earthly blinders. Thank you Monsignor, for your tireless efforts to rouse us from our stupor.

  4. Larry Peterson says:

    Great post Monsignor,
    I have been posting about the power and influence of Satan also and I believe it has never been more “in our faces” as it is today. He must be just reveling in all of those new recruits heeding his evil call.
    I know this–he can never win.
    God bless you,
    Larry Peterson

  5. Myles Crowe says:

    read this daily, but this is one of the best descriptions of our lives as it emphasizes not only our ability to choose; it also emphasizes our ability to know the choices for what they are. while we have the ability to know, satan has the ability to cloud both our vision and judgement if we allow it.

  6. Michael Marsili says:

    Thanks Monsignor

    It baffles me how one could look around today and not realize that we are indeed in a battle. It’s like I’ve told my kids, you are either moving toward the light or away from at any given time, there is no treading water. You must be on your guard and choose the light.

    Mike

  7. Greg says:

    Brilliant. What a beautifully stated introduction to the world in which we live. Hard to believe there are so many who try to shove this wisdom under the bushel basket. The teaching is so difficult to confront we end up trying in so many ways to simply dismiss the reality. It is not the type of message that plays well in a commercial for the utopian lifestyles being sold.

  8. BXVI says:

    Thank you, Monsignor Pope. Keep ’em coming. This ties in precisely with your posts over the past week about sexual morality (fornication and homosexual acts). We are in a battle with the forces of evil that wants the Church to capitulate on sexual morality and marriage. Very timely, as it seems to me that although he talks about the Devil frequently, the message from Rome these days is to quit insisting so much about this stuff because it hurts peoples’ ears. Laying down our (rhetorical) weapons will not cause the enemy to suddenly throw down their own weapons, and join us. I was highly vexed by Pope Francis comments to a group of bishops in Rome last week, where in he said “I beg you not to fall into the temptation to try to change people.” He went on to say the bishops should just accept the people God has entrusted to them as they are. Hmmm, I just don’t get it. In my view trying to get the people to a) recognize the danger they are in and b) change their hearts and their behavior, is precisely what our bishops and priests need to be doing at this time.

  9. Linus2nd says:

    Love that music!!

    Linus2nd

  10. Doug says:

    Alas, I read Monsignor at bedtime and my bedtime is delayed. Another excellent post. You say, as I have noticed, that there are more and more contests which admit no neutrality and for which compromise is not an option.

    I have grown fonder over the years of “For All the Saints”, particularly verses 5 and 6. The path to victory is clear but the road is not always easy. I was going to say “not well lighted” but then in Psalms we are reminded that God’s word is a lamp for our feet, and we only need to see well enough to take another step in faith. These verses remind me that the sound of victory will steal on the ear, and won’t be trumpet blasts at first, and we must hold fast in faith. Thanks again Monsignor.


    5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
    Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
    And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

    6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
    The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
    The King of Glory passes on His way.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

    • teomatteo says:

      Doug,
      I have thought, back in my college days, that so much information is lost in the final chapters of text books. The profs never get to these chapters by the time the semesters end and so generation of students miss the answers to great questions. Likewise, I think that some of the best theology and inspiration can be found in the last verses of these hymns. If I were a music director I would start singing the last verse and proceed in reverse. Kinda like how I read a magazine. but that is a different issue altogether.

  11. Doug says:

    As a convert to Catholicism there are so many things I love about the Church and it’s teachings. The Church is very unambiguous about the Four Final Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven or Hell. My pay this year is about cut in half as I went from teaching in a public high school to a diocesan high school. I get to pray at the start and end of every class. My classroom has a Crucifix, a Divine Mercy picture and a statue of the Blessed Mother. We have a priest, two nuns and two brothers on staff. How cool is that? And my how I am blessed.

  12. Peter Wolczuk says:

    At first glance this may well appear like the worldly call to arms of “with us or against us” but, upon viewing the power of, and the victory of, the cross I evolve into seeing it as the battle is won on the outside of ourselves and that the internal one which continues within so many of us must now be resolved for each of us to benefit from the victory.
    The temptation to avoid paying tiny initiation and dues by suppressing discomfort, to a hidden place within us from whence confusion wells outward, is huge for many but the benefits are beyond the false comfort that comes from shouting down the truth of our denial of that frustration.
    So, I come to see the decision more as; call to a huge discount beyond what any (worldly) merchant can offer since they don’t have the infinite resource.
    A servant was forgiven a huge debt which was comparable to a billion dollars in today’s spending power but, lost the forgiveness because he wouldn’t forgive a tiny debt owed to him.
    Will we accept the discount or … choose the false lies of a free ride described by those who selectively preach an imbalance of a warm and fluffy gospel?
    So, I try not to compare God to a merchant but seek to show how He is infinitely beyond what the merchant seeks to imitate.

  13. Skysix says:

    Your vision of the battle is certainly correct. I would like to add that one of the most intense sufferings of the Faithful is the perception of losing this battle on all sides, in every issue, especially in the once Christian world.
    It is a great spiritual and emotional pain to wait, wait, and wait for the Day of the Lord when He will be vindicated and establish His Kingdom. This does not mean Christians long for this as if it will be a day to laugh and “show up” our enemies. We just want the garbage thrown out, and if some people want to go live in the trash heap that is their problem.
    “Come, Lord Jesus!” must be our daily prayer. I think the Church ought to add it as part of the closing rite of every Mass.
    I am sure the Lord understands what we are going through, but I can’t help wish He would just end it!

  14. ann says:

    thank you Msgr. Pope. Once again you “nail it.”
    We each of us must go into that Valley of Decision. There is no third way.
    Sky six, I too am weary of this struggle and wish the Lord would come but at the same time I have loved ones who are far from Him and I am anguished over this, hoping for their conversion before it’s too late. It’s a terrible tension desiring the Triumph but fearing for those for whom time may run out. God have mercy!

  15. David Zacchetti says:

    People would understand this better if the Fatima message had not been supressed.

  16. William Harcourt says:

    We’re just figuring this out now?

      • Peter Wolczuk says:

        I have considered myself to be a Christian since I was eight years old, about 1960-1961 Anno Domini, but I never even heard of the incident at Fatima until after I decided to become a Catholic just over ten years ago; even though I’ve regularly (admittedly on again/off again) attended that, and many other, churche(s).
        When I mention it now there’s usually puzzled looks from others who also haven’t heard of it or a dismissal of it as some Catholic thing.
        This dismissal seems to be vague and general but, so thoroughly so, that it tends to seem conspired as a passive suppression that is made so in order to be appear as a harmless suppression. That is – only appear harmless
        Trying for a general, and objective, look I wonder how such an impactful thing is not held up as a major historical event (by the overall providers of such information) as the splitting of the atom, the discovery of anti-biotics and other such incredible additions to human knowledge.

  17. Andrew says:

    Yes, this is very clear from an understanding of Scripture, history and world events. What I find most troubling however is that it is not always as simple as choosing sides. I have been a lifelong Catholic. I won’t use the word “faithful” because that would indicate I have never fallen, but I have always accepted ALL church teachings, and tried to live by them. This means at nearly 50 years old, I still have small children to care for, am living paycheck to paycheck, have no money saved, and am in declining health. I don’t know any clergy, at least in the affluent west, that live in similar circumstances. In reality, they are well fed, well rested, well-vacationed, well cared for, etc. etc. I also find more often than not, the Church confuses me with it’s heavy handed disposition toward faithful believers, such as that poor nun who simply upheld Church teachings on sexuality, but gives an abundance of mercy, compassion and tolerance to dissent, abuse and heresy. We have Cardinals marching with active, unrepentant homosexuals, and a pope giving prestigious assignments to men of questionable allegiance to Church truths. It is all very disheartening, to the point where my favorite Scripture passage has become “I myself will Shepherd them, when others have led them astray”. I find myself drawing closer to Jesus, and away from the clergy. I would discourage my own sons or daughters to follow a religious vocation in today’s church climate.