Holy Week

The Cross and Spiritual Warfare

It's time to face the facts—left to our own devices, spiritual warfare will always end in defeat. We need God's power to stand up to the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and that power flows out of the Cross.

If we take a step back and think about it, this should seem very weird, even nonsensical. After all, crucifixion is the ultimate defeat. It is a slow, agonizing, humiliating death inflicted upon criminals and rebels. There is nothing romantic about it. Dying on a Roman cross was just about as bad as things could get in the ancient world, and people were justifiably terrified of crucifixion. In short, conquerers don't get crucified.
Yet, Jesus chose to flip everything on its head. As St. Paul says, "we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

If Jesus had wanted to, he could have conquered the world by force with an angelic army. But engaging in the world's type of warfare would not have solved the problems of sin and death. Instead, Jesus chose to conquer the world with love and humility. He did the last thing that Satan would expect, because all Satan knows is hatred and pride. He gave himself up as a sacrifice for our sins—the sins of the whole world. On the Cross, Jesus abolished the kingdom of this world—the kingdom of Satan—by shedding his blood. By dying he destroyed death once and for all, shattering its gates and rescuing its prisoners.
We can have confidence in the day-to-day grind of spiritual warfare because the final victory has already been won for us. What outwardly appeared to be the ultimate defeat was in fact the ultimate triumph, and we can participate in it insofar as we are in Christ. "When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:23-24)
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.