“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery… for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of His glory!”
When we hear a Scripture like that, what does this stir in our hearts? Do we see it as some kind of statement of future benediction, or is it even possible to see it as a current directive? Does God lead us in joy by the light of His glory? In one sense, this is just a permutation on Nehemiah’s classic line that “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” What keeps us from taking off our robe of mourning and proceeding in joy?
As we continue some reflections on spiritual warfare, that should be seen as one of the significant antagonists to our walking in joy. The temptation is to look at the circumstances and, seeing in them no cause for joy, we let our joy drain away, assuming we had some in the first place! This is not to assume that the circumstances are always rosy or joy-inducing. The tragic events that just took place in Oxford demonstrate that in this fallen world, the circumstances are often tragic and the very antithesis of joy. Grieving in such circumstances is perfectly natural. But even in the midst of our grief, we must remember that we are not perfectly natural, that since our Baptisms, we have been radically configured for a life that is not merely natural, but supernatural.
Part of that supernatural blessing is the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, Who enables us to return to joy even in the midst of gravely challenging circumstances. The spiritual warfare dimension comes in when we find ourselves tempted to only look at the circumstances and take our eyes off the Face of the King Who always stands before us. The Psalm reminds us of the approach to take, to remember that “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” This refers not only to the greatest actions of the Lord done in our past, like the Death and Resurrection of the King, but it also refers to His presence and His gifts in our lives here and now.
How often do we come before Him, especially in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and call to mind all that He has done for us in our own lives? It can be especially useful for us to keep a spiritual journal of the different ways that the Lord Jesus has moved in our lives, that we may review it when things seem bleak. This is a powerful antidote against the temptation to see only the negative. We fight back by calling to mind Who He is and what He has done for us!
Another effective antidote to this common spiritual attack is to seek the assistance of our brothers and sisters. The ability that we are given, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to call down strength and grace upon each other is a powerful and unfortunately, far too neglected asset in our spiritual armory. The Lord Jesus gives us this, and it is very useful as a gift to be used especially in our families, that praying over each other will call down the power of the Holy Spirit with His grace and joy! Receiving prayer from others, especially at settings like the Upper Room, can truly unleash the “more” that the Lord Jesus always has for us, especially at times of great sorrow and distress. It is one of the ways that St. Paul’s words to the Philippians can come to pass in our lives as well: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.”
It is good to remind ourselves of this fundamental reality: we are loved and we are not alone. The Lord Jesus Himself has begun this good work and will see it to completion. To that end St.Paul’s prayer applies to us as well: “that our love may increase more and more.”
The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want, as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Him and continue to avail ourselves of all the means of grace that He generously provides for us. No spiritual warfare can be effective if we continue to walk with the King in the power of His Holy Spirit. This Holy Season of Advent can be a great grace to us if we take advantage of it. The King wants to prepare our hearts for an ever deeper coming of Him into our hearts! – Fr. Ed Fride