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Covid, Lent and Spiritual Battle

Just as I was preparing this reflection on ‘Covid, Lent and Spiritual Battle’, I received an email with the following quotation from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis:

“My Dear Wormwood,

Plagues are a most effective weapon given to us by our father below. Normally, Christians are quite comfortable in receiving the dreaded sacraments and gathering in their prayers and other heinous Arts. But if you can stir up a hysteria by means of a plague so that they cut themselves off from our enemy’s gifts to them, the torment of isolation will drive them to despair and season them quite deliciously much to our delight.

Get them to forget about their usual practices of prayer, fasting and alms giving and encourage them to become gluttons, slanderers, and lose all regard for their neighbor thinking only about themselves and their immediate needs. Storing up treasures which we can send moth and rust to destroy further sweetening their torment.

If you can, help them to redefine their usual words like “church” and “fellowship” and “ministry” so that they feel comfortable cutting themselves off from our enemy’s care and they can be tempted all the more.

Yes, Wormwood, a plague is a tried and true method of taking their eyes off our enemy and getting them to worship their own bodies. A most desirable position for we tempters. Never let a good crisis go to waste!Your Affectionate Uncle,

Screwtape”

Thank you for that incredible insight Mr. Lewis!

Let me be quite clear that I am not typically one to ‘see the devil behind every bush.’ However, anyone with a modicum of spiritual attentiveness and awareness can see how the Evil One can ride the wave of Covid. He is, after all, an opportunist of the most capable kind.

The present Covid-inspired crisis is more pernicious and undermining of the spiritual life than one might initially imagine. These times, – which we pray will be short-lived – give us an opportunity to live the deeper significance of Lent like never before. Like the pandemic, this Lent can be for each of us ‘unprecedented’ for its capacity to forge us in the Spirit.

Just think, now that many are obliged to stay at home with potentially a lot of time on their hands, what do you think possible first “go to’s” can be? What is a potential first ‘go to’ for you?

If our imposed isolation and consequent anxieties are not dealt with by honest self-knowledge and a sturdy life in the Spirit we will be, not may be but will be, lead down the road of what the Church’s spiritual tradition calls ‘disordered affections’.

We find the expression ‘disordered affections’ in Preface II of Lent: “For you have given your children a sacred time for the renewing and purifying of their hearts, that freed from disordered affections, they may so deal with the things of this passing world as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure.”

Going back to Ash Wednesday, at the Collect of the Mass we prayed: “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.” Evil spirits will prefer to attack us through our Achille’s heels and from what I can see, these spirits are riding the situation created by the virus.

What are some of these ‘spiritual evils’? Well, our Catholic Tradition points us to following, known as the Seven Deadly Sins:

Pride (Proverbs 3:34)
Greed (1 Timothy 6:10)
Gluttony (Proverbs 23:20-21)
Lust (Matthew 5:28)
Envy (Exodus 20:17)
Sloth (Ecclesiastes 10:18)
Wrath/Anger (Matthew 5:22)

To cite some examples, it should be of no surprise that the internet has suddenly seen a substantial spike in the visits to porn sites because people are bored, hence there is a clear association with Sloth. Pride creeps in for those who consider themselves better than others and look down on them, most especially the privileged looking down on the poor. The Scriptures speak of the ‘proud man’s disdain.’ (Psalm 123:4) We can become angry over the interruptions in our lives caused by ‘stay at home orders’ and worse, take it out on those we live with. The temptation to hoard and overeat or drink are obvious children of gluttony.

Some of the above may be related to addictive behavior and that is a different issue. At this time I am especially thinking of all of you who may suffer from anxiety, depression or are struggling with addiction. For those who suffer with one or more of these issues, it is often suggested to fight isolation. Now isolation is imposed. This puts you in an incredibly difficult situation. Rest assured of my heart-felt prayers for you and your loved ones.

Addictions aside, all of us are deeply afflicted with a condition we call ‘humanity’ and we may be incited to any number of unhealthy activities driven by the simple need to quench our angsts.

Perhaps the worst temptation of all is the one to lose faith. In the quotation above, Lewis speaks of the demons’ mission to lead us away from Christ and towards the worshipping of our own bodies. There really is nothing new under the Sun. The first reading for today’s Mass (Thursday, week 4 of Lent) is taken from the Book of Exodus. God is expressing His anger to Moses over the ‘stiff-necked people’: “They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshipping it.”

Lent 2020 remains an extraordinary time of grace and an opportunity to ‘take up battle against spiritual evils.’ We all have the necessary weapons in our armory, you just need to be proactive in drawing them out: daily participation in live-streamed Masses; the Rosary; the Liturgy of the Hours; the Divine Mercy Chaplet; Confession; the Prayer to St. Michael.

To turn Screwtape’s admonition around: “Never let a good Lent go to waste!”

Fraternally yours in Christ,
Joseph Barbieri, C.P.