Rising to Battle

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2008
Reproduced with Permission

I know of a high school principal that decided, one day, to make an announcement to all drug users and dealers in her particular school. With determination in her voice, she told them directly that she's coming after them, that their days at the school are numbered, that in time they would be caught and would not be returning.

Many admired this woman for her courage; no doubt others thought her a fool lacking the good sense to keep herself out of a battle against an enemy she could not possibly defeat. But she won that battle. I recall talking to her Vice-Principal who marvelled at how they found themselves at the right place at the right time, on one occasion after another. The police now inform them that although one might find a drug here and there, there is no significant drug problem at the school.

There are a number of things that impress me about this story. This principal was able to see - as would any principal - that to win this battle would require 310 foot-pounds of torque, to employ a metaphor from the world of mechanics. She saw, however, that her administration had only 10 foot-pounds of torque to fight this enemy. Nevertheless, she knew what was her duty as a leader and protector of Catholic youth and so, despite the overwhelming odds against her, she stepped out in a spirit of confidence in the Lord, faced the enemy; risked being looked upon as a fool, and in the end was victorious. Had she allowed herself to be guided solely by the light of reason, she would not have taken the posture she did, and certain students would have had to suffer for the rest of their lives the consequences of permanent brain damage from the use of ketamine, ecstasy, or marijuana.

This, I believe, is a great lesson; for it highlights the basic structure of the battles in which every Christian is called to engage. What is obvious to anyone with faith is that the Lord provided this principal with the remaining 300 foot-pounds of torque needed to topple the enemy, on top of her 10. The Lord calls us to battle, waits for our response, then joins us in the fight.

The problem, however, is that most of us have our eyes fixed upon the size and strength of the enemy, and not on all that is behind us that virtually assures us of victory, namely, faith, hope, love, prayer, divine grace, the sacraments, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, the charisms, the wisdom of the great doctors of the Church, the prayers of the saints, and protection of the angels, and God Himself. The enemy has none of this to bolster his efforts. And that too is another problem: we tend to over-estimate the strength and endurance of the enemies of goodness. They are much weaker and far more cowardly than we tend to imagine.

Think back to the days of our youth when we were demoralized and dominated by our fear of a neighbourhood bully, until one person allowed his indignation to rise above his fear and, to his great surprise, toppled the enemy with one hard push. Immediately, the bully turns into a pathetic and obsequious weasel. But then we realized that we had allowed our groundless fears to deprive us, for a time, of a much more enjoyable and carefree existence.

Granted, bullies are not always so easy to defeat. But when it comes to the enemies of the Church, they are always engaged in a losing battle; for God cannot be defeated.

Consider the battle of Midian. The Lord tells Gideon he has too many soldiers for Him to deliver Midian into their power, "lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, "My own power brought me the victory'" (Jgs 7, 2). And so the army was reduced by twenty two thousand men. Still, ten thousand was too large a number, and so the Lord instructed Gideon to take his men down to the Jordan, observe how they drink, and divide the army in two: those who lap up the water as a dog does with its tongue on one side, and those who choose to kneel down and drink using the cup of their hands on the other.

A possible interpretation is that nine thousand seven hundred of the men were so well trained that they refused to take their hands off of their weapons and so lapped up the water as would a dog. Three hundred were so inexperienced that they momentarily removed their hands from their sides and drank from cupped hands. The Lord chose to save Israel by means of the three hundred inexperienced - but brave - soldiers who faithfully followed the Lord's instructions. Their enemies, 135,000 in number, were put to confusion and began to destroy one another.

And that is really all we have to do; faithfully carry out the Lord's instructions, believing all the while that it is the Lord who positions us according to his providential plan and that victory is assured. As in chess, we might lose pieces during the course of the game, but the final celebration will inevitably be ours, if we choose to rise up to battle.

The battles to which every Christian is called to rise up at some level are very important in terms of keeping alive the flame of the Holy Spirit that burns within the heart. Some war veterans are averse to talking about the war not because they suffer trauma, as is the case with some soldiers, but rather because their contribution to the war efforts was not at all very demanding. In other words, they would never find themselves in the heat of battle, and so they have little to remember and little to share with others.

That is why we have to enter the fray, not recklessly and without forethought, but steadily, faithfully and tactfully carrying out our duties - which will at times be very difficult and possibly even terrifying -, but trusting all the while that we cannot lose, since God fights on our side.

It is these small but many victories throughout our lives that increase the divine flame within the heart, giving us much to celebrate and a great deal to contemplate, specifically God's faithfulness evident in His providence that always leads us to victory. The history of the Church is filled with stories of such victories, and we remember them as well as our own precisely because they ignite our sense of wonder, move us to praise and adore God, and render us stronger, more confident, and ready for even greater battles.

To carefully avoid the thick of the fight in the name of human prudence can lead to a slow and gradual diminishing of the flame, leaving us with much less to get excited about, to talk about, wonder about, and much less with which to console the faithful. Our insufficiency does not limit God, and there is no obstacle in our insufficiency when we trust in God's sufficiency. It is very important that we learn to enjoy the ride and love the battle.