At Rephidim, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”[…] As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. (Exodus 17:8-9, 11)
There can be no doubt that we are engaged in a spiritual battle unique and quite likely unprecedented in human history. The Lord is choosing his warriors, training them with fasting and prayer, and making them lean through sacrifice. With various trials he is teaching them to persevere to the end. The time for ease and rest is past. The lines have been drawn. The battle has begun. Why else would God choose this time in history to put new emphasis on the penitential lifestyle for the laity? Is it not because it is absolutely necessary to the unfolding of his plan for the Kingdom?
Mary has been calling the world to prayer and penance for more than a century. But relatively few have responded. The evil one has amassed a great army, proud and seemingly strong. The army of God is made up of a ragtag few most of whom lack earthly power or influence, many of whom suffer from various infirmities, some are even bedridden. There is nothing in the overall appearance of God’s army that would intimidate an enemy. If the enemy is quaking at this point it might be from derisive laughter; he scorns the army of God at every opportunity. But this is not yet the end of the story.
We can see how God operates in the story of Gideon in Judges, Chapter Seven. The enemy of God’s people, the Midianites, Amalekites, and Kedemites, had amassed in the valley. They were “as numerous as locusts”. Meanwhile, God had whittled the army of Gideon down from 10,000 to a mere 300 men. The enemy had swords and spears. God armed his band with horns, jars and torches. God’s strategy was for the 300 men in Gideon’s army to encircle the camp, break their jars and blow their horns shouting, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” What courage and faith it must have taken for those 300 men to fall in with such a plan! God rewarded their faith with an unimaginable victory. The enemy soldiers were thrown into confusion, turned their swords on one another and fled. There was no doubt who had won the battle. It was God’s victory.
We can see in this story and in the story of Moses against Amalek, that God never chooses the strong to fight for him. He uses the weak to shame the strong. When Moses could not hold up his own arms, he leaned on the power of those God had given him. We are not meant to fight in God’s army on our own power. God wants the weakest of the weak in his army so that there will be no doubt that it is his power alone that has won the battle. It follows then that God leads us to the BSP, not because we are stronger than everyone else, but because we are weaker. Weakness is what God is looking for in a recruit.
Those of us who have been in the BSP* for some time are ourselves the greatest proof of that. The Rule of 1221, as we are constantly being told, is impossible to live in today’s world. And humanly speaking, that is very true. But nothing is impossible for God. If he wants us in this army—and he does—he will surely equip us fully for the spiritual battles he wants us to fight. Again, we in the BSP are living proof of that, for we can only boast, like St. Paul, of our weakness. Anything accomplished through our prayer and fasting is solely God working in us and through us. Nothing but sin and weakness comes from us. This confounds the enemy. To him we seem to be of no account—a deadly miscalculation.
God uses the formation process of the BSP as our Boot Camp. No earthly soldier would desire to go into battle without at least Basic Training. Through the four years of formation, God whittles away at all that will distract us from the battle, until we are transformed—often radically transformed—into the soldiers he needs, humble, docile, obedient, ready.
We are outfitted in the camouflage of baptism; as St. Paul tells us, “Our life is hidden with Christ in God.” That is a great strategic advantage for us, for our prayers and sacrifices fly at the enemy like sniper’s bullets coming from all sides, “out of the blue” of Mary’s protective mantle, to fell him and throw his camp into confusion. In embracing the Rule of 1221, we become the clay jars broken for battle. We carry the torch of God’s Word and the horn of salvation. We shout the battle cry: “For the Lord and for Mary!” Against all odds, a few pitiful soldiers put to flight an army as numerous as locusts.
John Paul II began his Papacy with these words: “Be not afraid!” He meant it, and he meant it for us. Archbishop Sheen put it this way: “We have already won, only the news has not yet leaked out.”
Think you’re too weak for this lifestyle? Perfect! You’ve got the “right stuff”. Answer the call—”For God and for Mary!”
(*BSP – Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. For link see blogroll on right sidebar.)