We are — whether or not we choose to admit it — a fighting people, and we’ve been at war for many of the years we’ve been a nation.
War rages on until someone gives up — until someone surrenders. And until someone surrenders there can be no peace. That’s how it is with military action. The goal pursued, even through the worst fighting, is peace.
The difficulty with you and me is that we’re fighting a war, but our opponents are not outside us. We’re at war within ourselves. This is our spiritual warfare. “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” (Ephesians 6:12).
The fallen angels wish our demise, and they tempt us to join them in their rebellion against God. They promise us every good, but they are unable to deliver on those promises.
The Lord calls us his way, but makes no false promises. He shows us his wounds. He shows us his cross. He lets us know that the only way to glory is through sorrow, which is an inevitable condition of life in this world.
The fallen angels want to conquer our will. They’d like us to give up on God and reject His terms. After all, why should we choose the cross when we could have another drink, skim off some money for ourselves, or have an affair?
If this choice is simply between immediate pleasure and immediate pain, we’ll always choose the pleasure. But it’s not that simple. Because the pleasures associated with sin are just sugar coatings on pure poison. They carry with them far greater sorrows than the pain of the cross. They bear hidden shame and loneliness, regret and loss, guilt and broken relationships.
Any time the devil offers us pleasure, we can be sure it would be fleeting. The demons despise our happiness and will deliver only the pleasure that’s needed as bait. They’ll give us only enough to keep us occupied while they close us in a trap of despair. They are fighting for our souls as if we’re disputed territory in a galactic war.
This is one battle we cannot refuse to fight. In the end we will surrender to one or another of the forces that vie for our souls. We will surrender to God, or we will surrender to the devil.
Surrender is the necessary precondition of peace.
What exhausts us now is that we try to fight off the devil by our own power, negotiating with him all the time. Yet we won’t surrender to God because we fear the terms of divine peace. We fear the loss of our autonomy. We fear the mockery of our unbelieving neighbors and co-workers. We fear the cross.
We know we cannot continue to fight our battle on two fronts. Surrender is inevitable. But to whom?
That is the question most people would rather defer forever. Very few people will admit, even to themselves, that giving in to the devil is a possibility. But neither can they bring themselves to “let go and let God” — to let God work in their lives on his terms.
We are just beginning a Year of Mercy. Pope Francis, as the Vicar of Christ, is calling us to turn away from sin, to abandon anything that might keep us from the grace of God.
Neither God nor his vicar will violate our free will. All they can do is invite us to surrender — unconditionally. To surrender — everything.
If we do, we can rest assured in God’s peace. We can live peaceful lives even in the midst of social turmoil.
Right now is an extraordinary time of mercy. We should not let our fear of the cross keep us from surrender. Our Lord wills only our good. To gain it, we need only give our trusting consent.
We’ll talk a bit more about surrender in the next column. Till then, let’s pray the great prayer of mercy and make it our own: Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.