War may be either a crusade or a curse: either a token of man’s love of God, or the fruit of man’s godlessness; either a sign that men are with God, or a token that they are againsthim
Fulton Sheen Whence come Wars? 1940: 1–2
There is something about martial or manly language when used in Christian context which is apparently politically incorrect these days. We have hymn-books which no longer allow the faithful to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ instead we are supposed to sing ‘Onward Christian Pilgrims’ and other such trite nonsense because well-meaning so-called ‘liberals’ tell us that we should. Despite their best intentions the Christian life is one of constant warfare: spiritual warfare against the powers of this world, and the Prince of Lies, Satan, who though utterly defeated on the Cross still wages a campaign against the Body of Christ. Our vocation, then, is to fight, armed in the way described by St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:11–17).
In this evening’s second lesson we see St Paul giving advice to Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus. He addresses him as ‘my child’ not only because he is younger but also because the Church is a family, which is one in Christ – we are a family which cuts across gender, race, class, and time. Timothy is strengthened ‘by the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ it is the only source of grace, and it alone can strengthen us, the Church, and her bishops. He is encouraged to pass on to others what he has heard from St Paul in the presence of many others – the teaching office of the Church is something public, to pass on the truth and to share it with others so that they too may pass it on. It is a serious task, one which is entrusted to me, and which I am to entrust to you. We are all part of the greater whole charged with the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ by thought and word and deed. It is a serious business, and not to be taken lightly. It is of the utmost importance, so that we all may stand strong in the faith, entrusted to the Church.
It is something which will lead us to share in suffering – our sharing the Good News will lead us to share the suffering of Christ, we are to be conformed to Him, sharing his pain, his trials, for His sake. The world is always ready to persecute the Church because the message of the Gospel seeks to transform it, to turn away from the ways of selfishness and greed and sin, to establish a kingdom of love. All around the world our brothers and sisters are persecuted for their faith, they have to practise it in secret; they risk imprisonment, torture, and death, all for their allegiance to Christ Jesus. As those who have been baptised, we are to share in Our Lord’s death and new life; we are to place our allegiance to Him before anything else. It is radical; it has the power to change the world. The world is rightly scared of the power of the Gospel – nothing, not even Satan himself, can stand against it.
We are to approach our faith with the training and resolve of a soldier – we are to be single-minded, and not led astray by worldly things, so that we can do the will of Him who loves us, and who died for us. We are to be like athletes, competing to win a prize, playing by the rules, living out the love which we have received. We are to toil like a farmer – it is hard, back-breaking even, but we will receive our reward. It is through doing this and through thought and prayer that we can come to understand what God has in store for us.
It is not an easy undertaking, it is not for the faint-hearted, and if we were to rely upon our own human strength then we would most surely fail – but if we rely upon the God who became human so that we might become divine, who understands our weakness, who proclaimed the Gospel of love, and healing, and forgiveness, then we can do marvellous things for the love of Him who loves us. It will be difficult; we will face opposition, from a world which would rather not be transformed into the image of God, but it is our calling. So let us stand firm, and fight the good fight, so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.