Any St. Paul fans out there? I LOVE St. Paul! He's so passionate and on fire for Christ! He's also very, very flawed and he's the first to admit it. He "does what he hates", he says, despite his conversion and the fact that Jesus chose him to come to and reveal these truths so he would no longer tear down Christ's church but build it up by evangelizing to the gentiles. Have you ever felt like a St. Paul in that aspect? Doing what you hate? Committing that same sin over and over again? I know I have. I think that's why I love him so much. He's so flawed like me and yet his heart burns with the love for our Lord.
Today's first reading was another spectacular St. Paul moment in his letter to the Ephesians (6:10-20) when he wrote the following in blue italics:
"Brothers and sisters: Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power." Do we do this? Do we look to God for our entire source of strength? Or are we looking for strength, emotional support or even validation from others?
St. Paul goes on to say: "Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil." Isn't that FANTASTIC?! The "armor of God"! Do we put on our armor of God daily? Do we pray? Do we spend time in the presence of our Lord? St. Padre Pio said the rosary is "a weapon". Are we yielding our weapon daily?
"For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens." Our battle is NOT natural but supernatural. Yes we may see other humans as our enemies but the truth is, they are doing the work of only one, the evil one! This is why the Lord asks us to pray for our enemies, because they are lost sheep as well. Are we doing this? Are we praying for our enemies, for our adversaries, for those who disagree with us, mock us, or even (gasp!) de-friend us on social media outlets over our beliefs?
"Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." What beautiful imagery St. Paul gives us! Let us gear up daily!
To gird our loins, means to strengthen ourselves for what is to come and Truth is not a thing but a being: Truth is Christ. So when St. Paul asks us to gird our loins in Truth after saying "draw strength from the Lord", he's asking us to do the daily work of learning about Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He's asking us to have a relationship with Truth, with Jesus. He goes on to say we should wear a breastplate of righteousness, meaning in ALL things we do, we must act morally just. This is how we don our breastplate of righteousness.
St. Paul requests he wear our shoes of the Gospel of peace, so when we do encounter another, we can evangelize with our actions and words; we can share the "Good News" of Christ to all people. He tells us to carry our shield of faith so we do not get hit by the "flaming arrows" of deception and distortion of truth with which the evil one continually pelts us. Our shield of faith must be polished daily, renewed in the Spirit through prayer and frequent participation in the sacraments Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
Finally, St. Paul reminds us not to forget our helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Think about a helmet for a minute. What is it's job? To keep our head from injury when we fall. If we wear the helmet of salvation, we are keeping our head, more importantly our thoughts on Christ our Savior and blocking out the "stinking thinking", the muddles thoughts, the doubts, fears and anxieties the evil one tries to make us believe. Thus, when we fall, there is no head injury, rather we can see clearly the mercy and love awaiting our return to Christ. I like to think of this helmet of salvation as a mixture between the Holy Spirit's mental inspirations and my Guardian Angels pokes and prods to keep me on the straight and narrow. I especially ask my Guardian Angel to help me daily to not fall prey to negative thoughts, discouragement, and the emotional lies of the evil one. My Angel is there to help me AND to protect me. With him, I can don my helmet of salvation each day.
The "sword of the Spirit" is such amazing imagery for the word of the Lord. This means the Bible, the WHOLE Bible, not just the New Testament. We cannot understand the new covenant, if we do not understand the old covenant. We cannot trace the roots of certain traditions if we do not read from whence they came. So let us think of our bibles as our swords of the Spirit, as the Spirit inspired the word of God to be written by men.
Here's a little side note which I think is pretty amazing. Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme had a vision when praying for an end to Boko Haram in Nigeria. Christ appeared and handed him a sword which immediately turned into a rosary. Let's think about this for a moment. The rosary, "the weapon for our time" St. Padre Pio lovingly referred to it, is the same weapon Christ gave to Bishop Doeme. But why? When we devoutly pray the rosary, what are we doing? We are meditating on the Gospels, on the events in Jesus' life from conception through the Ascension and the beginning of Mother Church. So going back to St. Paul's description of the "sword of the Spirit" being the word of God, it makes sense that the rosary can be such a weapon! How fantastic is that?! There are no coincidences with God.
St. Paul concludes: "With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must."
St. Paul tell us it's not enough to just pray, we should beg humbly at every opportunity and me must persevere. Only through prayer and the Holy Spirit's gift of supernatural perseverance can we "stand fast" and "hold our ground".
How much do we love when St. Paul asks others to pray for him to have the courage to speak of Christ? I think of the world today and how many, many people are being persecuted throughout the the world who have that very same courage to speak the name of our Lord, Jesus. What beautiful witnesses! Those who live St. Paul's words and wear their armor of God despite the very real dangers they encounter. May we join them in this spiritual battle and become soldiers for Christ.
Many blessings to you and yours,