– Thursday of the 3rd Week of Lent –
‘When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’ [Luke 11:21-23]
Anyone who has experienced some, or all, of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, would be familiar with the imagery at the heart of today’s gospel reading. In a manner that does not always sit well with today’s sensibilities, St Ignatius encourages us to think of particular stages of the Christian spiritual life as a battle. It is a battle in which Christ is going in to fight with Satan for your soul, while you too do battle with the forces of evil by declaring yourself as one who stands under the banner of Christ (see ‘Spiritual Exercises Week 2: ‘The Two Standards’).
The imagery in the context of St Ignatius’ Exercises is medieval, masculine, and not easily related to by people who like to think of the spiritual life as a gentle journey in the presence of a loving God. Yet there is no denying that this is imagery with which the gospel writers would have been very familiar (see today’s gospel reading), as would have St Paul (see Ephesians 6).
While the battle imagery is not perfect (no image is), it does have some inherent strengths. It serves to focus our attention on what is at stake as we journey towards Christian spiritual maturity. We have choices to make as we learn what it means to embrace fully the life God has for us. This is not always an easy thing for us to do. We tend to want to delay making those choices.
Today’s reading, and the battle imagery it presents, tells us that we cannot fight for both sides. Ultimately, we will stand revealed as being on one side or the other.
By Shane Dwyer