One of the most significant childhood lessons that my siblings and I learned was the duty to respect our elders. We learned the importance of remaining quiet and attentive when older people are addressing us, of speaking respectfully and honestly when we are given the opportunity to talk, and of valuing and appreciating our seniors. Our parents also encouraged us to lend a helping hand when the elderly cross the street. On numerous occasions, my siblings and I would help our older neighbors by linking arms with them to cross the street and carrying their grocery bags. These were insightful moments that began instructing me about life. I understood from early on that we must care for one another. Furthermore, I discovered that we may be strong during our younger years, but everyone begins to gradually lose their strengths as they become older.
The Strength of Paul the Apostle
Certainly, physical strength or power is a quality that we value immensely. But our society speaks about other powers as well. Individuals who have the ability to produce, purchase, and put items up for sale unreservedly are said to possess economic power. Other individuals enjoy political power and have the ability to exercise a role in shaping society’s laws and policies. And still others’ social power gives them the capability to influence and persuade other people’s activities, attitudes, or behaviors. Those in our society that possess physical, economic, political or social powers enjoy positions of leadership and are, very often, perceived as intelligent, strong and powerful.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul of Tarsus counted himself among the strongest of his day. However, he was not referring to physical, financial, political, or social strength. They were strong given that they were released from the Mosaic regulations that were still being rigidly observed when they wholeheartedly embraced the Christian life. He stated: “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you fall upon me.” (Rom 15:1-3)
Spiritual Strength – Do We Have It?
This passage reminds us that there is another strength we must acquire, develop, and sustain: spiritual strength. Without it, we struggle to know, love, and follow God and His commandments as we ought to. This strength empowers us to glorify the Lord, accomplish His will, and work for the salvation of our souls. Nevertheless, we cannot acquire this strength through our own human efforts, but only through the graces that God offers us in His divine providence.
In the sacraments, Christ makes us strong in spirit. The sacrament of baptism sows the seed of spiritual strength to give us the capacity to live as children of God. Penance restores our strength; Confirmation transforms us into soldiers of Christ, and Holy Communion nourishes our strength during this spiritual war. Certainly, we Christians develop our strength as we spend time with the Lord in prayer. With King David we can say, “I love you, LORD, my strength, LORD my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold! Praised be the LORD, I exclaim! I have been delivered from my enemies.” (Ps 18:1-4)
The Spiritual War is Real
We need to be spiritually strong to overcome this very challenging period for the Church and the world. Many have noticed that Pope Francis regularly preaches about the existence of the devil and our continuous spiritual battle against this father of lies. Certainly, many false ideologies against the sanctity of life, family, and traditional marriage have developed that are misleading souls away from the path of Christ. This battle is not new. Saint Paul spoke about this spiritual battle when he said, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. 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.” (Eph 6:10-12)
Indeed, our struggle is not against flesh and blood. The devil, the world, and the flesh are our true enemies. Therefore, we must turn to the Lord in prayer, listen to Him in Scripture and in orthodox homilies and sermons, and draw our strength from Him in the sacraments. In this manner, Christians put on the armor of God so that they can reject the devil’s promises and empty show, live a holy life in union with God, and defend the teachings of Christ and His Church. Let us not fear, but have courage and say, “God indeed is my salvation; I am confident and unafraid. For the Lord is my strength and my might, and he has been my salvation.” (Is 12:2)
Lastly, let us remember that God needs us strong to fortify others as well. However, we cannot empower others with faith if we are focused on pleasing ourselves. Christians who only seek to please themselves suffer from the very same vices of individualism and selfishness that are gradually destroying our world. Furthermore, these vices are contrary to the virtue of abnegation that is required to take up the cross and follow Jesus, and that encourages us to voluntarily dedicate ourselves to the service of others for their good, for building up. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us to strengthen and edify one another through prayer, but also by being witnesses to the truth of Christ. As we find ourselves in the midst of an intense spiritual battle, let us courageously proclaim the gospel of peace, carry the shield of faith, and “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Eph 6:15-17) to fortify each other in the spirit.
(Note: This post was originally published on August 2, 2016.)