Posted by: mmreflections | July 9, 2010

The Arena for Peace! July, 2010

“Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.  Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”  (Ephesians 6:10-12)

It has taken me a long time to realize that the most important battles in which I was struggling on this journey called life were not being waged in the proper arena.  As simple as the lessons to be learned may have been, I found myself from early childhood through my school days, college years, teaching career, military service, seminary studies and priesthood battling enemies that I perceived to be somewhere outside.  I had been distracted from the real enemies that were deep within me by looking for enemies outside of me.  Certain periods of my life reflect how often I perceived the enemy to be some person or persons with whom I was in some conflict at the time.  I had been programmed early in life to see enemies in friends who might be a bad influence on me, co-workers with whom I had different viewpoints, people who did not like me or approve of the way I was doing things, friends who had more toys or were more popular, associates who were critical of me, strangers about whom I knew very little or of whom I had no understanding or towards whom I carried some prejudice and those who may have betrayed me or humiliated me.  

The list of perceived external enemies could go on and on from those who had different political viewpoints to those who had different religious affiliations.  If they were right, perhaps I was wrong; there seemed to be no room for differing opinions.  There was a great need to grow up and accept the world as it is and not as I would have it.

About 40 years ago while attending graduate school in Italy I had the great privilege to meet a Jesuit priest who was serving in a parish in Eastern Europe.  Being in the company of this priest was an absolute joy.  We first met in Rome when he had an opportunity to come on a  pilgrimage with a group of students and other faithful people from Prague.  He related, without any bitterness, many accounts of the oppression they were experiencing under the communist controlled government.  Later I was able to visit him in Prague and to learn first-hand what life was like for him, other relatives and friends in their country.  What amazed me was the spirit of joy he had, along with so many others I met, in spite of the oppressive conditions and the difficulties under which they were living.  In many ways their lives were lived very simply but with great peace, joy and love. 

I remember quite vividly an outing or picnic to which I had been invited.  The gathering place was a clearing in a beautiful forest.  A great bonfire burned in the middle of a clearing over which a huge cast iron kettle was suspended.  As the guests were arriving they were adding to the kettle what they had brought with them.  Some brought carrots, others brought onions, chunks of beef, potatoes, other vegetables, adding them to the steaming kettle over the fire.  Others brought bread, desserts, side dishes.  A group of men brought musical instruments and began to play, while others sang and danced.  When the food was ready, I was served the best bowl of stew I had ever tasted – a stew made from the loving contributions of those who had attended.  There was no mention of politics or the oppressive conditions under which they were living.  In fact, they seemed so much happier than many of the people I have ever met who lived in free countries with an abundance of material possessions.  I wanted to learn the secret enabling them to be filled with so much joy and peace.  It was the same joy and peace I witnessed in the life of one of their bishops, of whom I had written in a previous reflection, who had been in  prison for over 13 years because he refused to cooperate with the communist officials.

Even though the secret did not register in my own heart at the time, they taught me that the real enemies for them were not the government officials.  The real enemy was in their own hearts.  They could choose to be filled with  hatred and anger because of what was happening to them or they could choose to be at peace knowing that this time of trial and brokenness in their country was permitted by God for a greater purpose.  They could resist what was happening and live with resentment, bitterness, mistrust, fear and anxiety or they could embrace the blessings that they were receiving or expecting to receive in the midst of all that was happening.  I learned from my time with these brothers and sisters that one of the greatest blessings they received was a deeper love and understanding for each other.  They had drawn nearer to each other; they were not alone; they were all in this together. 

They eventually won the victory for communism failed. During the painful years of being oppressed by a foreign power they drew their strength from the Lord and his mighty power that was at work in their lives all along.  I consider one of the great privileges of my life to be able to return years later and join in the celebration of  the Divine Liturgy with these people as they gathered together on a cold winter day in a field to sing God’s praises with thankful hearts for how he had won the battle for them and restored their freedom.

Over the years since that evening in a forest far away where I was eating stew with  friends who taught me many lessons about happiness, I slowly became aware of the enemies who had taken over my life and stole the happiness and joy God had intended for me.  Fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, resentment, bitterness, refusing to forgive,  jealousy,  prejudice,  harsh judgments were the real enemies of my soul at different times of my  life.  The many defeats I suffered from these enemies over the years were most probably related to a lack of trust in God.  I found it difficult to perceive that my reactions to many of life’s struggles were giving free rein to these enemies.  As I reflect upon many of these painful moments it becomes clear that these were the times when the Lord was using difficult life experiences to mold and shape me into the son, the living stone, he created me to be.  Perhaps this is the very purpose of our life here on this earth.  Perhaps this is the journey on which we are transformed from children living in the  flesh, attached to this world and its allurements, seeking our own desires, struggling for material possessions, pleasure,  fame and power into becoming the manifestations of God’s presence in the world we have been created to be in the first place.

In these golden years of my life, I understand how impossible it is to fight these internal enemies alone.  This is God’s work in our lives.  We are called to trust God and to surrender ourselves and all that is happening in our lives to God.  I believe the Lord waits for us to finally realize that we cannot save ourselves, nor can we win the battles of life ourselves.  On the day of our realization, we will finally surrender to the Holy One.  Only then will we find peace.

“Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.  So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 6:13-17)




  1. Fr. Mike
    Your ability to take life’s mysteries and present them to those of us who have the opportunity to read your Reflections are a true guide for me along the road of life. We are all in such a hurry and need to take the time in our daily lives to accept what the Lord has laid out for us.
    Thank you for your writings.

  2. Fr. Mike,
    This one really hit ‘home’ to me. It sometimes just takes someone as blessed as you to point out things to us. We get so wrapped up in our own reasonings that we forget that there are many lessons to be learned from past experiences. I for one, know that even though I used to think that God was delivering me a great blow, He was really arming me for future wisdom and understanding of the ‘why’ & ‘wherefor’ so that I could use it for good. My past ‘inner feelings’ sometimes of hatred and grief have helped me to help others in the same circumstances of life. One by one they begin to unfold and make sense. So this month’s homily ‘arms’ us with wisdom and makes past disappointments worth while.
    It’s true that God will not give us more than we can bear or do.
    Thanks for another great lesson.

  3. What great insights you have Father Mike. You truly do know what makes people tick. You lay the messages out so well; like a road map. —Even I can understand. Thanks Father.

  4. I finally got to read this, Fr. Mike. Thanks for the computer lesson! Your reflections really make me think. Sometime I wonder why God is still keeping me on this earth — but I guess I He had a good reason. Take care and keep the good thoughts coming.

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