The epistle in the Extraordinary Form this past Sunday (21st Sunday after Pentecost) was particularly appropriate for our times. The Holy Spirit, writing through St. Paul, gives us important reminders of how to live and fight as true soldiers of Christ in a world increasingly gripped by satanic darkness. Let’s examine the whole passage and then reflect on its teachings:
Be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of His power. Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. Therefore, take up the armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of justice, and having your feet shod with the readiness of the Gospel of peace, in all things taking up the shield of faith, with which you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, that is, the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).
I. The Required Resources – The text says that this is no ordinary human conflict and so mere human solutions and tactics will not solve it. We are enduring an orchestrated attack by Satan, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. He has devoted all his resources and cunning to dividing and conquering us, to sowing darkness, moral confusion, and deception. He wants to destroy every vestige of godliness and order within us and to make us lower than the beasts.
Sadly, too many people are more than willing to connive and cooperate with him. But given the satanic origins of the meltdown of our culture, no mere human solution will win the day.
Thus the text bids us to [b]e strengthened in the Lord and in the might of His power. Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. … Therefore, take up the armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and stand in all things perfect.
Yes, the battle is the Lord’s; it must be. Without Him, we are doomed. With Him, we have the strength to endure and to save others from Satan’s deceptions and cunning.
II. The Real Rival – In war it is important to know your true enemy. It sometimes happens in the “fog of war” that we attack the wrong targets and lash out indiscriminately. The Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, cautions and reminds us that our true enemy is not our fellow human beings (flesh and blood), but rather Satanic powers and fallen angels in high and influential places: For our contention is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high.
There is a satanic cause to this world’s woes. Although Satan has enlisted conniving human beings in his service, he and his minions of darkness are the true source of evil. In attacking one other, we only serve his ends.
When some of our brethren take up the cause of the devil, remember that they have been deceived. Our job is not to hate them, but rather to convert them and call them back. Our goal is to understand the true source of the problem and to direct our retaliation there, but only by God’s power.
III. The Rich Resources – The Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, shows us the true arms on which we rely. Notice that the verb forms used in most of the instructions in this epistle are aorist participles in the middle voice. In other words, the qualities described, having been attained in the past by cooperation with grace, are active and ongoing. The individuals are portrayed as having girded their loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, etc. So these are ongoing qualities, attained in the past, but operative now in the properly equipped warrior of God’s army.
Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, – We are to stand, not crouch in hiding.
Girding the loins is the ancient equivalent of rolling up your sleeves. In other words, we are to be ready for work! In the ancient world, the loins of the garment referred to whatever was below the waist. Because long garments were easily tangled in the legs, one would pull up one’s garment and tie one’s belt (girdle) tight to secure them, thus freeing the legs and helping to avoid tripping. This permitted unrestricted work. Thus we are to roll up our sleeves and be ready for work.
But our work must be conformed to God’s truth, not merely to our worldly and political opinions. Too many Catholics permit politics and/or the culture and the world to govern their views. This will never win the day. The only winning strategy is to actively work to promote God’s truth. Yes, God’s truth will win, not my view or opinion. We must be rooted in the truth of God’s whole counsel, His full teaching. Partial or selective truth will not prevail; neither will lies or modern views. Only having girded our loins with God’s full truth can we hope to win the day.
and having put on the breastplate of justice, – We moderns usually think of justice in terms of laws, but the ancient Greek and scriptural view is more relational. The Greek word used here is δικαιοσύνης (dikaiosynes), which means to be in a right relationship with God. Thus, those who would be soldiers in the army of the Lord must have on the breastplate of a right relationship with Him. They must be free of mortal sin through frequent, regular confession.
The breastplate protected the heart and torso, which were vulnerable to attack. If we are not protected by the breastplate of a right relationship with God, we are vulnerable to the retaliations of the evil one, who will not appreciate our work to free souls from his grip.
Frequent confession and daily repentance help to keep us in a right relationship with God: a relationship untainted by serious sin, pride, anger, hatred, and so forth. Without this right relationship, we are an easy target and we risk mortal wounding from the battle against the powers of darkness.
and having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, – What is peace? It is the presence within the relationship of everything that should be there. It is more than just the fact that we are not angry with one another or that do not seek to kill one another. It is the capacity that Gospel gives us to love one another, even those who are opposed to us. Instead of seeing enemies, we see brothers and sisters who have been deceived. Our goal is not to destroy them, but to win them back, to correct them and call them to saving repentance.
in all things taking up the shield of faith, with which you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. – In addition to a breastplate, we need a shield. The errors and lies of the evil one are the fiery darts from which we must be shielded.
How can we protect ourselves from the erroneous views of the world (which are inspired by demonic forces) except with a shield of faith, through which we know what God teaches and can distinguish it from the errors, illusions, and deceptions of the world? Steeped in the truth of God, we are able to see modern errors for the deceptions and darkness they are. Thus, we can without doubt say, “That is not the mind of God!”
But too many today are poorly catechized and, having exposed themselves repeatedly to the errors and foolishness of this world, are lost in its deceptions and empty promises.
Only the shield of faith can protect us and keep us grounded enough to wage the battle to which we are called. Faith will help us to quench the fiery darts of Satan’s error.
And take unto you the helmet of salvation – We must protect our minds against the widely promulgated errors of our day. The evil one targets our minds, wanting to sow error and rebellion there. (I have written more on this problem here: The Battleground of the Mind.)
There is just too much confusion and error today for us to assume that our minds are going to be anything but polluted and possessed by the all the wrong priorities if we do not regularly cleanse ourselves with a dose of God’s Word. His Word is like a helmet that protects our mind!
and the sword of the spirit, that is, the word of God. – The Word of God is also our sword. Scripture says elsewhere, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:12-13).
Thus the Word of God must be at the heart of our rebuff of error and evil, not human views, opinions, or political theories. When tempted by the devil in the desert, Jesus responded with Scripture. We must always have recourse to Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which emerge from the same font.
We are not going to win a battle with the world by using worldly arguments. The world is better at using its own views than we will ever be. We are soldiers in the army of the Lord and our chief weapon must be the Gospel.
While recourse to Natural Law has its place (as a kind of preparation for the Gospel), it is going to take the Word of God to bring about true conversion. St. Paul instructed Timothy, Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2). Yes, the Word of God is both shield and sword.
Take up your sword and shield! Likewise, be protected by the breastplate of a right relationship with God and the helmet that protects your mind from error. Peacefully and confidently refute errors with the Gospel, which bestows that very peace and confidence.
In times like these, be a solider in the army of the Lord.