I am not a morning person. When someone says, “Good morning!” to me, I’m usually thinking, “What’s so good about it?” Usually, however, I don’t articulate that aloud. It’s not polite. I’m also stubborn and obstinate.
Then, there’s my mother. She’s obsessed with cleanliness. If she could choose one superhero ability, it wouldn’t be invisibility or flying, it would probably be the ability to clean things instantaneously. What she wants most in life, is for people to take showers and to wash up after themselves. I’m exaggerating… kind of.
So, I came home one night, and my mother asked if I wanted my clothes washed. I thanked her kindly and indicated, that, no, I would not like them washed for me. Sometimes I don’t want them washed because I simply don’t want my mom doing it for me, other times it’s because I have something in mind. The latter was the case in the story that I’m recounting. So, she asked to clean, I declined, we go to bed, and that, as I thought, was that.
I wake up the next morning in my typical miserable state. I have an appointment almost right away, and I only had the clothes from yesterday. Lo and behold, my mother has washed it, as well as other things that I wanted to wear. Instead of being grateful, I snap. I told you that I didn’t want you to wash them! I think I muttered stuff like “Thanks a lot” (sarcastically) and that because not everything was finished drying that I was going to look badly where I was going. Then I added something really mean. I told her that she didn’t need to be so curious. I’ll come back to this point. You see, for health reasons, I’m supposed to refrain from certain foods. In the bag in which I had put my clothes, I secretly also had peanut butter: a forbidden food. I had it because I had no access to fasting foods where I was, and I didn’t know what else to eat. At the same time, I didn’t want people to know that I had it, because a) I was embarrassed that I was breaking rules and b) I didn’t want anyone to buy me special foods. My mother, of course, didn’t know this thought process, all she received from me, was an accusation of being nosy and curious. She didn’t know that I was trying to hide something, and instead, felt the sting of my wrath.
Let me add more context to this story:
My mom had been traveling from another city the previous day, she’s got her own health issues that fatigue her, she was up late taking care of my new niece, and, well, my brother was a little grumpy the night before as well. So, she’s all over the place trying to help, and what she got from me, was a snappy retort. After I left, she cried. Nothing is worse than seeing or hearing that your mother cried because of you. For me, at least, it’s one of my biggest soft spots.
I got in the car to go to my appointment, and I came to myself, like it says of the Prodigal Son, and realised what a real jerk I was to my mother. I quickly messaged her apologies, telling her I had no right to speak that way to her under any circumstance. Then, to be honest, I wept. I wept, thinking about how my mother had only one intention in doing what she did: to wash my clothes. How could a son be so angry at a mother for wanting to do some act of kindness? My conscience was killing me. It was then that I got a message from my brother informing me that mom was crying. That made me feel even more terribly and cry harder. I got to the place I was going, and I confided to my priest’s wife what I had done and how badly I felt. She advised me that I should call my mother. I did.
I’m telling this story for a reason.
It’s Lent, my mother said to me.
Yes, indeed. It’s Lent.
Lent is a time of spiritual discipline and asceticism; of repentance and confession. Because of this, however, it’s also open season for spiritual battle. “It’s Lent” is an expression that I grew up with from my childhood. It captured the whole spirit of Lent: spiritual battle. You see, if you’re struggling to wake up and become a spiritual warrior, the devil is not going to applaud you and thank you for your valiant efforts. When he sees you getting up to do something with your life, rather than to sit in spiritual slumber, you can bet that he’s going to walk up to you, and attack you. He wants your soul, and he wants it eternally.
Back in my second year of professional school, my parents had some ridiculous idea that I will not write about publicly. It was so ridiculous that when my mom told me about it at Church that morning, I laughed hysterically. There was no way it was serious. Later that night, my sister came to knock at my door (we lived in the same dorm), and she said to me, “I need to tell you something, but you need to remember: It’s Lent. Dad is going to call you. Please remember, It’s Lent.”
There’s this knowledge, this understanding, that Lent is a time of warfare. When I lived in a monastery for a period of time, I thought I could almost see the demons working in the monastery during Lent. The warfare and the mood was so turbulent, and the fights were vicious. The devil doesn’t like spiritual discipline. Period. Anything that is going to increase your spiritual strength and your love for your God, anything that will bring you closer to Him in prayer, anything that will make you enter into the battle with vigour, you can be assured your enemy will attack.
So, what’s the solution?
a) Don’t stray from your rule.
On one occasion four brethren came to Abbâ Pambô from Scete, and they were wearing skins, and each one of them, whilst his neighbour was absent, recounted [to him] his works, [saying], the first one fasteth very often, and the second leadeth a life of poverty, and the third possesseth great love, and concerning the fourth the other three said, “He hath been in subjection to the old men for twenty-two years.” Then Abbâ Pambô said unto them, “I say unto you that the spiritual excellence of this man is great. Each of you hath chosen the ascetic virtue which he possesseth according to his own wish, but this man hath cut off his own desire, and hath performed the will of others; and those who are thus will, if they keep these things to the end, become confessors.”
Budge, E. A. W. (Ed.). (1907). The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Vol. 2, pp. 55–56). London: Chatto & Windus.
Whatever your spiritual guide has given you as your rule, do not stray from it. There’s a protection and grace one gets from obedience. It’s a form of humility, and humility is the anti-thesis of the devil. As Saint Antony taught us, the devil can be vanquished through humility. This can prevent you from entering a warfare that you’re not ready for. Basically, if you’re being lax, you’re easy prey. If you’re following your rule, you have a stronger defense and a greater grace.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, 1 Jn 1:8). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
It would have been easy to simply be angry with my mom with an attitude of, “She shouldn’t have done this when I told her not to.” Instead of doing that, accuse yourself. Ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Ask yourself where you are falling short of perfect love. In doing this, you will arrive at..
Antony said, “The greatest might of a man is to bring upon his soul his transgression at all times before God, and he must expect temptation until the end.”
Budge, E. A. W. (Ed.). (1907). The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Vol. 2, p. 226). London: Chatto & Windus.
This is a form of humility, but I want to be more specific. I mean, being aware of yourself – your pros and your cons. If one is going to battle, he needs to know where he is strong as well as where he’s weak. If he doesn’t know his weaknesses, he’s vulnerable in battle, because the enemy is going to be looking for that weakness and play toward it. If the soldier pretends he doesn’t have any weaknesses, he’ll die as well. Instead, a good soldier should play his strengths and cover his weaknesses. Of course, teh soldier should do any training he can to strengthen the areas in which he is weak, but he needs to protect himself against the enemy from his vulnerabilities if he wants to succeed in warfare. So, know yourself and know where the devil may try and play you, and steer clear. If, like me, you’re not a morning person, maybe it’s best to stay away from people until you can handle them, so that you do not become an offense to others.
Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Eze 33:11). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Repentance is to change your mind. When you realise that you are doing something wrong, just stop. That’s repentance: I was doing this, I found it was wrong, and thus I must stop. There’s a deep freedom in the ability to be honest about one’s mistakes. When I identify that I am actually wrong, it’s easier for me to stop doing it and to be freed from the negative consequences of that wrong. If I’m snappy with my mother, the negative consequence is discomfort around her, anger, frustration and a host of other things. When I realise, however, that I am wrong, suddenly the whole mood and context changes. If I didn’t sit and self-reflect in the car, I would have not come to the realisation that what I did was wrong, and that the behaviour needed to be changed. I wouldn’t have realised that I was dishonouring my mother, breaking one of the commandments of God.
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Jas 5:16). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Confess not just to the priest, but where possible, also to the person(s) that you have wronged. We need to acknowledge our shortcomings towards one another. Imagine if I had realised I was wrong, but not apologised to my mother. I’d have left her feeling wounded. She would have thought that her son thinks she’s nosy and curious. She would have been more hesitant in approaching me or speaking to me about things, not knowing how I would take whatever she said or did. She would have probably continued to be hurt whenever she recollected how I treated her. In confessing to her that I had wronged her, and in admitting the reality of the reasons for my accusations (that they were my weaknesses, not hers), all of that was prevented and lifted.
f) Don’t blame others, make excuses for and serve them.
On one occasion when some men of iniquity, and doers of wickedness, and thieves, rose up against him on the eve of the day of the congregation, an old man said unto the brethren, “Let them do their work, and let us do ours.”
Budge, E. A. W. (Ed.). (1907). The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Vol. 2, p. 43). London: Chatto & Windus.
The blessed Antony never deemed it right to do that which was convenient for himself to the same extent as that which was profitable for his neighbour.
Budge, E. A. W. (Ed.). (1907). The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Vol. 2, p. 93). London: Chatto & Windus.
In the event where you are aware that someone else has done something wrong, do not blame them or yell accusations at them, like what I did. I wanted to justify my anger, and thus said, “I told you not to do that“, as though that’s a good enough reason for breaking the commandments or insulting my mother. It isn’t. Someone else’s wrongs are never a justification for your own wrong. If you want to find peace, make excuses for others. In my situation, maybe my clothes smelled really badly or were more dirty than I realised, and my mom cared about my dignity when seeing others. Maybe she thought I said “no” to her cleaning my clothes because I was worried that she was too tired, and so she wanted to show me that she was still willing and wanting to do it. Maybe she felt that it was her duty to do what she did. Who knows? The point is, there are often good and valid reasons for why someone does what one does, and if we waste our time judging, we will just get angry and upset. If we make excuses for the other, than we are denying our will to be angry, and thus showing love. Love increases the work of the Spirit within me, and I will find peace and growth as a result.
I could go on, but the message is clear. I hope. Lent is a time of trials and fights, be on guard, and arm yourself with humility and love, so that you can find victory. And, mom, I’m sorry!
Abbâ Antony said, “I saw all the snares of the Enemy laid out upon the ground, and I groaned and said, ‘Who can escape from these?’ ” And the devils said unto me, ‘Humility “maketh a man to escape from these, for we cannot attain unto it.’ ”
Budge, E. A. W. (Ed.). (1907). The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Vol. 2, p. 107). London: Chatto & Windus.