Battlefield of Our Hearts
Convivium, 18 January 2018
This December Convivium's editor in chief, Father Raymond J. de Souza delivered this inspiring address to over 900 faithful young people of faith gathered in Ottawa to ring in the new year together at CCO's Rise Up.
You are a great sight! I wish that you could all see yourselves as I see you, or as I saw you last night. I said to Andre during Adoration – we were up at the front – “Turn around and look!” And he said, “I don’t allow myself to look as it is too overwhelming.” But then he looked, because I told him to.
Permit me to say a word on behalf of the CCO board of directors. Bishop Scott and I are the two board members here at RiseUp, and if I might speak on behalf of the board: Congratulations to the missionaries and the participants on doing a mighty work for the Lord in our nation’s capital. We are so proud of you and so inspired by your witness. The work that we do is generally work that is not as exciting as evangelization, but it is part of the necessary institutional work that makes our evangelizing mission possible. It is a blessing for us to be involved in that work, and so we say are grateful for God for the opportunity to serve you.
This evening we will welcome the relic of St. Francis Xavier, missionary and patron saint of Goa, the part of India from which my family comes. A few years ago we hosted Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, and also from Goa, in Kingston and Toronto. On one occasion at a gathering of Indians, he complimented our work and said “And I am proud that [sons] of India are doing this in Canada!”
There are many Goans here, and many more Indians. And it a matter of great emotion for me to see that the relic of St. Francis Xavier – the arm that may well have baptized my own ancestors – will soon be here, blessing our work. When that arm went to Goa, who could have imagined that almost 500 years later it would come to Canada to be welcomed by the descendants of those St Francis met, who are doing so much good for the spread of the Gospel in this new mission country. Praised be God!
On December 3, 2002, the 450th anniversary of his death, I offered the Holy Mass on the altar where the relic is kept in Rome. If you go to my new website: fatherdesouza.com – launched on his feast day a few weeks ago – and click on the welcome message you can read the homily I preached on that occasion. It might serve as spiritual preparation for welcoming the relic.
Every year I look forward to spending these blessed days of Christmastide at RiseUp, and Providence has granted me the privilege of attending 14 consecutive RiseUp conferences, which means that the youngest of you were not even in kindergarten when I first met CCO at RiseUp 2004 in Toronto. If I return each year it is because it is important to see, if only for a few days, how life is meant to be.
These days at RiseUp are not a step away from the “real world”, they are a step into the “real world”. To gather as fellow disciples in the joy of Incarnation, to strengthen each other in the faith, to rejoice together in the Gospel, to adore together the Eucharist, to receive together the sacraments, to be sent out en masse on mission – this is the reality for which we were created, and which is more difficult to see the rest of the year than it is in these days. We experience what is real in these days so that when we return to our day-to-day less real lives, we might bring to them a greater measure of reality.
The day to day life of a Christian disciple is a battle. Reality is a battle. St. Paul makes that very clear:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-17)
I have been asked to speak on the “Battlefield of Our Hearts.” Specifically, I was asked to address the ways of thinking that we absorb from the culture around us that weaken us in living a life in Christ. No one is entirely unaffected by how the world thinks. Even if you lived in daily intimacy with the Lord Jesus, even if you saw His great miracles and listened to His wisdom, you might fall into a worldly way of thinking. Consider what Jesus says to St. Peter, soon after Peter’s marvelous confession of faith:
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:22-23)
On what is your mind set? On God’s way or on our ways? Do we try to think as God thinks, or do we think as the world thinks?
The answer is likely some of both. Our hearts find it difficult to be set on one thing; our hearts are so often divided. One of the great Christian prophets of our time explained that the battle is not something outside of us alone, but within our very hearts:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago)
I hope to share with you some suggestions about which pieces of our heart that we should destroy, those pieces that have become corrupted by the world, those pieces which need the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. You will forgive me if this talk is more of a challenge than a consolation. It is not easy to destroy those pieces of our hearts that do not belong to the Lord, those pieces where the Lord does not exercise the dominion that is His.
While the Christian life often means going out into battle, it always means fighting the battle within.
As our speaker Immaculée said yesterday – we sin from within.
The key in any battle is to know the circumstances in which the battle is being fought. Where are our weaknesses? Are we fighting on favourable ground? Are we walking into the traps of the enemy?
Just recently, our culture lost a great military leader who for more than 30 years was alert to the wiles of the enemy. I speak of course about the late, beloved Admiral Ackbar.
Admiral Ackbar is sadly no more. He didn’t see the enemy coming and now he is dead, his frozen corpse hurtling through deep space.
So without Admiral Ackbar to guide us, who will guide us? Who will warn us that wanting to think like all those around us is a trap?
I would normally suggest Master Jedi Yoda, though his most recent work is suspect. However, back in 1980, in Empire Strikes Back, he was in top form:
Yoda: You must unlearn what you have learned.
Luke: Alright, I’ll give it a try.
Yoda: No! Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.
We must unlearn what the culture around us teaches us. St. Paul did not live quite as along as Yoda, but he makes the same point:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. (Ephesians 4:14)
We have to “unconform” our minds that they may be renewed in Christ. We have to “unlearn” what we have learned from the culture around us.
This past year, we have marked a number of important anniversaries, which I used as a sort of scaffolding upon which to hang a lot of my writing.
I propose to do the same now, using the various anniversaries to identity ways of thinking that we need to be on guard against – a year of battlefield anniversaries.
So let’s begin.
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