Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist if by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” — CCC #1264
I have been working on a number of large projects in recent months and none have gone smoothly. Projects that, at the outset, seemed anointed by God were mired in personal and professional quagmires. At the height of one of these instances, a brother-in-Christ revealed that he had just been feeling that he wasn’t much of a challenge for satan because satan had been leaving him alone for quite some time. And the fact that present circumstances were filled with drama and upheaval seemed to indicate to this brother-in-Christ that NOW he was working well for God. This man was jubilant at the difficulties because he longed to know he was a tool for God. The reason he shared was simple. If we are going about our business, not really working for God’s kingdom and not really being an instrument for God, we aren’t cause for satan’s attention. He (satan) leaves us alone. Like any good army commander, why would satan use his energies or forces upon us if we aren’t a threat? Satan’s going to go after real threats to his evil work which would be those people working for God. I can’t say I joined my brother-in-Christ in his elation for the problems we were experiencing but I can say that it made me take the notion of spiritual warfare much more seriously.
His way of thinking also made me see the opposite as true, too. Couldn’t spiritual warfare be those times in which we are not making conscious choices for God and thus become tools susceptible to satan’s handiwork? As Catholics we acknowledge that our walk with Christ is a daily re-commitment. We may have been blessed, at some point in time, with a “fall to our knees” experience, and while this event may have provided an impetus for us to regain footing in our walk and revitalize our efforts, we must, nonetheless, awaken every morning and make a conscious effort to give the day to God. We ought to intentionally walk with Christ in all we say and do. So, couldn’t spiritual warfare be those times in our lives when we fall prey to the trappings of secularism? These are the times when the ultimate liar feeds upon our weaknesses and we begin to believe that there are a limited number of blessings available from God or that a humble spirit will only make the strong take advantage of us. We forget the absolute humility in which the Christ child was born into this world and quickly overlook the value of such truly noble traits.
Concupiscence is the teaching of the Catholic Church that the result of original sin, even while washed away in the waters of baptism, is an inclination towards sin or sinful behavior. It is only with, and through, the graces of God that we, as fallen beings, are able to rally against the consequences of our own inherent natures and proclaim victory. We were not created weak and imperfect but with a free will that allowed our first parents to make their own decisions. It is with that same free will that we are now called to live in accordance with God and His teachings. But in exercising our free will we tend to constantly find ourselves “wrestling” with issues, probably on a daily basis. This is our spiritual warfare.
Thus, when we aren’t doing much wrestling, chances are we aren’t really working all that diligently for God’s kingdom. Maybe we are passing on God-given opportunities to extend help to others or are too quick to engage in unkind conversations. It might be in forgoing daily offerings of prayer and supplication in favor of 25 minutes at the gym. Whatever it is, it is easy for us to fall into a lull in our lives and eventually be of no threat at all to satan. So, he forgets about us but, and much more importantly, we forget about him.
If we don’t recognize the reality of sin we can’t claim the victory of the cross. If we don’t recognize the different ways in which satan can take hold of us, we experience spiritual warfare. Indeed, as our Church teaches, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
Sin is present in human history; any attempt to ignore it or give this dark reality other names would be futile. To try to understand what sin is, one must first recognize the profound relation of man to God, for only in this relationship is the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history – CCC #386
At this point, both interpretations of spiritual warfare are valid. First, we are not a threat, and so satan ignores us. But when we become a threat, satan’s attention is focused on us and we experience problems. Our plans are disrupted and our goals are challenged. We aren’t able to achieve those things we felt God had called us to accomplish. Then, on the other hand, not actively living for God also makes us vulnerable to behaviors that build up evil in the world. When we live as abject Catholics, embracing the truths of the world over the Truths of the Church, we are ripe for spiritual warfare. To remedy this, when our eyes first open each morning, we ought to be making a conscious affirmation of our lives belonging to Christ and covered in His blood. When we live consciously, we are able to see God’s graces more clearly and find the protection and strength we need in them. We aren’t fodder for evil.
Whether or not you believe in the reality of spiritual warfare, it is time to take to heart the truth found in 1 John 4:4: You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you in greater than the one who is in the world.