We all know Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter, his double life—reporter and Superman! As Superman he is invincible, Samson-like, and superior to any first-class athlete. However, exposed to one element—the famous Kryptonite would cause his debacle and downfall.
Like Samson who found strength in his long locks of hair, and Achilles who had to protect and guard over his heel, Superman could not be exposed to Kryptonite; otherwise disaster would be his lot!
Spiritual writers insist upon the necessity of Self-knowledge. A famous aphorism of the desert Fathers were the two shorts words: KNOW THYSELF! Even the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates, asserted: “The life that is not examined is a life not worth living.”
Finally, St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and author of the Spiritual Exercises, has bequeathed to the Church and world at large the classical “Rules for discernment”, whose purpose is as explained by the introductory note for the Rules:
“For perceiving and knowing in some manner the different movements in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them.” (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, # 313).
These Rules for Discernment, the Two Standards of Christ and Satan, the Daily Examen insist upon the paramount importance of getting to know oneself, self-knowledge as an indispensable tool to grow in holiness of life.
This short essay will focus on one of the fourteen Rules for Discernment, actually the 14th Rule which I have coined as the “Kryptonite Rule.” First simple analogies will be presented and then ways to know our kryptonite—our major weak point—and act valiantly so as not to collapse in the spiritual contest!
Analogy from Sports
In athletic sports, team-members study their opponents in various ways. One of these studies is to detect the weak point of a player as well as the totality of the team and to take advantage of this weakness. At times the knowledge of one weak-point of the team or opponent can make the difference between victory or defeat.
Baseball. Having played baseball from five years of age into the University, I can give concrete examples of this. The primary goal of the pitcher is to eliminate the batter. In what ways? The pitcher will utilize all of his ingenuity and skill to get the batter to Pop-out, ground-out, Fly-out, and—best yet—to strike him out. Today professional Pitchers and teams have movie shots and films of the opposing players that they study before the game. From these movies they can detect where the batter has his weak points.
Maybe the batter can pound a fast ball into the seats. If that is the case a good pitcher will throw an off-speed pitch–a curve-ball, slider, sinker, or change up! If the batter can hit a ball on the inside corner, then the pitcher will try to pinpoint the ball out and away, almost nicking the outside corner.
The strategy of Baseball is unique and intricate and demands time, reflection, observation and determination. Excellent pitchers have the ability to throw the ball well, but also to outthink the batter.
In rule 14 of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola offers us another analogy by way of military expertise and strategy. The Spanish saint and expert in spiritual discernment catapults us back to the Middle Ages in the period of time where feudal forts and castles abounded. These castles and forts had to be constructed in such a way that enemies could not enter, penetrate, and plunder the building and the inhabitants.
In other words, the enemy would study the fortress with a fine-tooth comb. Having detected an opening, a crack, leakage, hole in the wall, open door, open gate, or lattice in the wall exposed, the enemy would mercilessly force himself upon the structure so as to capture for his own benefit.
St. Teresa of Avila in her classic Interior Castle presents the interior life of prayer in terms of a Castle with various levels or stories. However, surrounding the castle is a moat where there are ugly reptiles, turtles, snakes, and alligators to intimidate any person that might seek entrance.
Our Common Kryptonite
All of these images refer to our own state of soul—sports analogies, military fortresses and castles, the Superman and Kryptonite. Our concluding remarks will be a common ground in which most people have a kryptonite that exposes them to the vicious attack of the enemy; the enemy is Satan. St. Ignatius calls Satan the enemy of our human nature.
1. Desolation. When you find yourself in a state of desolation meaning sadness, depression, lack of faith, hope, and charity, you might simply feel that life has no real meaning and nobody seems to care about you. What is the purpose of this dreary and bleak existence!! We all go through this state of soul—at times anyway—this is a prime time in which the devil sees our kryptonite exposed and launches his deadly weapons. Be prepared for his attack in the state of desolation!
2. Laziness in Prayer. A prime example of another kryptonite that the devil reaps an abundant harvest from, is when we decline in our prayer life. Example! The Apostles in the Garden of Olives abandoned Jesus when he most needed their presence and friendship. The reason? Instead of accompanying Him in prayer they fell asleep! The devil took advantage of this and they fell; Peter denied Him three times and the others fled when Jesus was arrested! Lack of prayer exposes all of us to a powerful kryptonite!
3. Sickness. The devil takes advantage of all occasions and circumstances. He does not respect our state of health. On the contrary, seeing our bodies weak and depleted by physical maladies, the devil can “up it a notch” in aiming and launching his spiritual bombs hoping for our moral collapse! Even when sick in body, the soul must make a concerted effort not to give up on prayer. What air is to the lungs, prayer is to the soul and our salvation!
4. Failures. Failures in any size, form or circumstance can result in casting us into a state of desolation. Economic set-backs, relational tensions, family altercations and fights, academic failures—all of these can cause extreme turmoil in our souls and result in the state of desolation and be an open kryptonite for the devil once again to shoot for the kill!
5. Secrecy of Soul. When the individual is being tested by a state of desolation, the devil has another tactic or trick up his sleeves. This time it is secrecy! This means while the inner turmoil of soul grows to a boiling point, the devil, never one to rest when he sees his opportunity to attack, convinces the person in this dark state of soul to clam–up and not reveal to anybody his/her state of soul. Then the devil enters in and transforms a mole-hill into a huge mountain, blowing everything out of proportion! St. Ignatius, in the 13th Rule for discernment insists that this tormented soul battered right and left by interior turmoil should seek out a Confessor or Spiritual Director and lay bare his soul. By doing so, the devil and his plans will be frustrated! Once again SECRECY in not opening up to the Confessor is a kryptonite that the devil utilizes with consummate perfection in many souls!
To advance on the highway of holiness, to ascend the mountain of heroic virtue, to triumph in spiritual warfare, to fight the good fight and run the good race and receive the crown of victory it is of paramount importance that we strive to truly know ourselves better. Get to know what your own kryptonite is! Get to know where it is, when it draws close to you and how to flee from it. If done, the victory will be yours in time and for all eternity!