That’s not peace you’re feeling A reflection on discernment

Over the years, I’ve had quite a few people express that they know they have made the right decision because they feel at peace about it. Sometimes that’s true (obviously), but not always. More than that, what we experience as “peace” can be misleading and exactly the opposite of the right choice. Don’t ya just love it when things are in no way clear?

We are at war. That is the spiritual life while we live on earth. That’s why we are called, in the traditional language of the Church, the Church Militant. There are a few ways that a war can end, but there’s never a true peace while the war continues – perhaps just a cease-fire.

Satan’s biggest desire is not even to get our souls. He doesn’t have any use for our souls. Satan’s desire is more that our souls, our lives, our very beings, belong anywhere but to God. He does not do his thing out of desire for us, but out of spite for God. Satan knows that God desires us and desires our happiness, so, in some perverse way, he thinks that he hurts God1 by taking us away from him. We are nothing more than pawns in his petty little temper tantrum against his own creator.

So let’s keep the war metaphor (though it’s truly more than a metaphor) going. Satan mounts a spiritual attack on us to draw us away from something to which God is leading us. Or he whispers in our ear, “Psst. Do this. You’ll be happy. I promise.” If we are already engulfed in sin, we often jump in full force. (That’s another blog entry rolling around my head – watch for it).

If we are fighting our way through the purgative way,2 the temptation results in an internal struggle — and there’s no question struggle is real. Someone in the midst of that struggle might get moments of peace as God gives a bit of encouragement along the way, but the struggle is real. We can go days, weeks, or months knowing little peace as we fight.

In the end, battles are either won or lost, and Satan doesn’t take too well to losing. Unfortunately, unlike real battles where those in charge have to eventually admit that the strategy isn’t working or give up an offensive (unless they are most of Europe in World War I, but I digress), Satan has near limitless resources to focus on each and every one of us. That means, he keeps coming at us as long as we are on the right path. So what do we do? Well, we either fight back (which leads to peace only when we receive our reward) or we surrender. Surrender sometimes seems like a wonderful option. Once we surrender, the attacks stop (at least temporarily). But that’s not because we have made the right choice and we know the peace that is found in Christ. Rather, it’s because Satan knows well “no town or house divided against itself will stand” (Mt 12:25). Once he wins, he’s gonna let you think you’re good. That is all too often the peace I find people seek.

But that is not peace, but surrender.
That is not freedom, but slavery.
That is not life, but death.

This is part of the reason that we, as priests, from the very beginning of seminary are expected to have a spiritual director. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discern those. Sometimes, the strength to fight on has to be encouraged from an outside source.

So we should not be seeking that peace here on earth. Until the day we breathe our last, we are foot soldiers. We are called to fight in one way or another. The only way we escape the battle is to either surrender and become a prisoner (and eventually succumb to a sort of spiritual Stockholm syndrome and join forces with the enemy) or fight on, sometimes battered, bruised, and bloody, until the victory is won – and we know how this war ends.

We know God will prevail, so our choice is easy. We have to decide which standard we want to be carrying when the battle draws to a close. Do we carry the sign of the lamb, the banner of Jesus Christ who suffered more than any of us ever will so that we would have a chance, or do we carry the sign of the enemy. There is no middle ground. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30).

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

(Rev 3:14-21)

Every day, we choose which banner to carry. So which will it be?

If it is displeasing to you to serve the LORD, choose today whom you will serve… As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD (Joshua 24:15).

Don’t get me wrong. I fail at that in big or small ways every day, but I will not surrender. If that’s the only way to get peace, then I will not pray for peace but for strength to persevere. Why? Because I want to be able to one day join in the Easter hymn.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

  1. The strife is o’er, the battle done;
    the victory of life is won;
    the song of triumph has begun.
    Alleluia!
  2. The powers of death have done their worst,
    but Christ their legions has dispersed.
    Let shouts of holy joy outburst.
    Alleluia!
  3. The three sad days are quickly sped;
    he rises glorious from the dead.
    All glory to our risen Head.
    Alleluia!
  4. He closed the yawning gates of hell;
    the bars from heaven’s high portals fell.
    Let hymns of praise his triumph tell.
    Alleluia!
  5. Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
    from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
    that we may live and sing to thee.
    Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

  1. Obviously, we know God can’t be hurt. But Satan is both immensely more intelligent than us and blinded by sheer hatred for God. I’m sure he knows that it doesn’t really hurt God, but he will do anything he can to get his revenge and exert power.
  2. If one is in the illuminative or unitive way, the dynamic is totally different. I think the post would get too long if I try to hit all of them, and the specific risk about which I’m speaking is most prevalent here.

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