The ARM of St. Michael
The last words on the way to freedom are:perseverance, perseverance, perseverance. Can the most salient of all instructions, be more strongly asserted by the writers of the Twenty Ways? Our complete restoration is possible, in Christ. Yet freedom does not appear also without our part: sincere, humble, tenacious faith.
A popular recent book, Born to Run, brings attention to the apparent ancient ability to chase down any animal prey on foot, even for hundreds of miles if necessary. Perhaps a theory offered is that human beings were really 'born to survive' by outrunning every next meal.
Revelation that may be, attention to physical survival sometimes obscures a far more vital matter: the eternal life of soul. As all earthly creatures one day die physically, what of the life of the world to come? Are those of us in the modern world aware of the hazards, what causes the destruction of soul? Do we sense the darkness trying to outrun the creature to the finish line of life which opens a gate into the eternal Kingdom of God?
There is an adversary, the one cast out of Heaven, with one third of the angels, detained here now on earth; the deceiver and accuser, who give chase. In the scriptural moment where Satan tempts Jesus with worldly kingdoms, we learn that the thwarted corrupter promises to return again at a later time. St. Paul exhorts us by his example to run a good race in the troublous, contentious days of earth. The feat of perseverance is not dependent on physical stamina, but on grace - the grace to pray without ceasing. "Jesus" is the perfect single-word prayer, which means "God saves". Our prayer of ten thousand miles can be one word alone: Jesus!
Yet, if the invisible armies of evil are thought not to exist, neither is there then also a sense of urgency nor even that a choice is being competed for. Woe to the one who does not know the enemy, the Demon who desires to destroy. It is for this deliverance, from evil, that we are all born to pray.
For an addict, victory over lust is something that happens progressively. The Way of the Cross is in one way a sign unto the 'sin-damaged', that our Savior free-of-all-sin stands in solidarity with those who would fall more than once. Jesus shows us the only thing that matters: keep going. Translated for Jesus' followers, it means keep praying. God is our help, God delivers, God alone grants freedom. Perseverance in one thing - ceaseless prayer, will win the prize of freedom, and more than this, the treasure of treasures: eternal life with God.
His love and help never fail, He will not ignore the persistent. Our challenge then is about desire; how ardently do I want freedom? Is desire sufficient? Pray for the desire to be free! Do not let up until it arrives!
Nature offers wonders of perseverance; epitomized perhaps in trees. In this part of the world, trees are abundant and yet even in high remote deserts dwell certain arbos with fantastic tenacity. Oaks and evergreens persist despite all varieties of adversity and change. The strong tree stands, enduring it all, silently, faithfully, heroically. Spiritually, are human beings any different in the course of time and seasons?
St Paul:"We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Rom 5: 3-5)
"But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved."(Mt 24:13)
"If we persevere, we shall also reign with him." (2 Tm 2:12)
"With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones, and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must." (Eph6:18-20)
The mystery of the Gospel is the deliverance into freedom, in Christ. Freedom itself is inextricably woven with 'walking in it'. Our freedom is a gift from God, the fruit of Christ's immaculate and infinite offering of atonement. It does not compute from the limited human point of view. When God allowed His Son's death and resurrection, it was to show His power not only to create but to restore. Everything is ordered to Christ.
Walking in freedom is sharing how we receive it. 'How we got it' is the sacrificial death of Jesus, whose merits have washed away disorder and sin, of those who believe with faith. Our freedom is preserved by being continuously instrumental in sharing this prize beyond price. Our work then is to take good care of this knowledge of how freedom is come, to remember what Christ did and how it is an act still unfolding in its benefit for all, to share freely the good news of the unsurpassable, cosmic, gift of salvation.
Is there any doubt about this? Even the unconvinced speak of the excellency of the Redeemer:
"In the minds of men, in the ideal world that exists inside one's head, Jesus is immeasurable. His dimensions are beyond comparison; His level of grandeur is hardly conceivable. The history of the West - from the Roman Empire onwards - is ordered around one central fact, one event-generator: the collective representation of Jesus and of His death. Everything else came forth from that, or adapted itself to it. Everything that has been done in the West for so many centuries has been done in the gigantic shadow of the Cross."
-Philosopher Paul Louis Couchoud (1879-1959)
Couchoud's secular-phenomenological description only vaguely brushes the surface of Jesus Christ's 'working reality' of salvation. To know Jesus personally in relationship enters that blessed one into the mystery of spiritual well-being, the true 'survival', eternal Life. To receive the food that is His sacred heart is to receive life itself, the purity itself, receiving it by persevering petition, by persistent visits to His sacramental outpouring of mercy, by lifting up time and again the sword of prayer, invoking His defending Name.
Blessed are the ones called, who enter the dominion of grace, which the world cannot detect. Let it resound, the power of Jesus' name! Be reminded: the fullness of His name contains the fullness of His substance and power. He is always where His name is. This is the name above all names. Our faith is His very name! Ask in His name, with faith, gratitude and confidence. Has it yet to appear? Keep asking, do not 'go away', do not quit!
Jesus speaks thus to the persevering who would not desist in hope and pursuit until he receives the blessing he desires, to hear finally: "Little one, your faith has saved you." Let us be those for whom faith has the strength to save, Jesus has done and will do all the rest. Where is this amazing grace obtained? Christ Himself. The table is set, the supper of victory is ready. He will make you the pray-er, He will put the prayer on your lips, He will be the fulfillment of the prayer. He is all of the promise of freedom. Receive Him Who Is new life!
Blessed Triune God Most Holy, we have desire to be free in Christ, help our undesire. We are exhausted with unfreedom, grant us the grace of continuous prayer and tenacious faith, that we may be delivered by Your mighty hand to Your pastures of peace. We beg in the exulted name of Jesus. Amen.