I went to confession earlier this week, ending what had been for me two weeks of bitter spiritual warfare. I had felt drained and defeated – a result of my weaknesses, obviously – so I dragged myself to the sacrament.
Perhaps “ending” is the wrong word. Maybe “giving me brief respite” is more apropos. The battles don’t really end, they just ebb and flow, wax and wane. It depends on how open I am to God’s grace, and whether I respond accordingly.
While chatting with a friend a day or so later, I compared the Christian life to a boxing match. St Paul compared the Christian life to that of a race, and while I won’t dispute Scripture, for me, I better relate to where he wrote he has fought the good fight. Notice Paul didn’t say he fought well – he said he fought the good fight. In other words, he fought the only fight worth fighting. It was good, because it led to what was good for him, and pointed towards the ultimate Good – life in Christ, and everlasting Life in Heaven.
It’s a constant battle, between flesh and spirit, between pride and humility, between good and evil. And most times, we take hits more often than we block them. Let’s face it – our adversary is bigger, stronger, faster, better trained, and fights dirty. When I retreat to my corner after each round, more often than not, I’m battered, bloodied, bruised, and broken. My eyes are half-swollen shut, my lips are split, I have a couple cracked teeth, and my kidneys feels as if they’ve been tenderized by Gordon Ramsey on a good day. That’s how I had felt heading to confession the other day. And crazy as it sounds, my injuries were mostly self-inflicted. Yes, I battle “powers and principalities”, but they’re so dastardly, not only do they get their hits in, but they deflect and direct my own swings back onto myself.
And when I finally stumble into my corner, Christ is there. He doesn’t merely tend to my wounds – He heals them. Completely. That’s what confession does – Christ removes every sin’s stain, refreshing me and getting me ready to go back out and fight. He provides strategies on how to avoid direct hits – the grace to avoid sin – and sends me back out there.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to jump the ropes and leave the ring. It’s enticing, because if I’m not in the ring, I avoid the fight, right? Well, not really. What happens is, we still get the crap kicked out of us – we just don’t have Christ in our corner anymore, waiting to fix us up. On top of that, the whooping is more subtle. It’s not the barrages of right hooks and left jabs like those we get in the ring – it’s more a culmination of pokes in the ribs, or slaps to the face, given in a way we barely notice. Small things which break us down over time, until we either ignore them – that’s when we’ve lost the sense of sin – or accept them as a way of living – that’s when we’ve been given over to our sins – or blame others for our problems – that’s when pride has established its roots within us. All done in a way that appears inviting and pleasurable – because compared to getting the snot beaten out of us, anything else seems better.
Satan is sneaky like that. It’s part of his dirty tactics. While inside the ring, he tempts us and goads us to jump out. Then, when we’re out of the ring, he does all he can to stop us from climbing back in, dragging us down to Hell. Nasty piece of work he is.
Some people straddle the ropes, or try to stay in the ring while avoiding the fight. Neither tactic works. Straddling means not standing upon solid ground – there’s the risk of falling out. And running around the ring to avoid being hit? Eventually you tire out, left with no strength or energy to resist, and see no point in returning to your corner. That’s when the KO punch smashes into your face, laying you out like a side of beef – but even then, the fight’s not over. It doesn’t have to be, if you don’t want it to be. Christ is still there, in your corner. You only need to crawl over, and He will restore you. Completely. Without question.
Now we fare better in some rounds than in others – perhaps we last a little longer, defend ourselves a bit more successfully. But eventually, we have to return to our corner. We have no ability to solely sustain ourselves – we must go to Christ to renew our strength. We must continually go to Him if we want to survive the Final Round.
So stay in the ring and fight! Stay in the ring, because Christ is in the ring with you. The angels root for you, while Mary, the saints and martyrs continually support you. No matter how many times your nose gets broken, or your ribs get bruised. No matter how many times you get knocked down or trapped against the ropes. Just stay in there. Get yourself into your corner where Christ waits to heal you for the next round. He needs you to fight – the Church needs you to fight. You need to fight.
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