As I was enjoying my morning coffee yesterday (the first of 3. Yes, I am addicted, but that’s the subject of a future post.), I was jolted; not by the rich cup of java in my hand, but by the sudden realization that, at that exact point in time, I knew exactly what the weak spot in my faith was. I mean, I’ve known it for a long time, but, out of nowhere – courtesy of the Holy Spirit – I knew it at that precise moment on a Saturday afternoon, the First Week of Advent. Some Christmas gifts are given early, you see.
Immediately afterward, this thought was presented to me: “That’s it! That’s my arena! My very own, personal wilderness where Satan has, and will continue, to duke it out with me”. You see, the devil knows what we both pride ourselves in and how to use those strengths against us, creating an “arena” – a place where he plans to lay us out flat, robbing us of our birthright and spiritual inheritance in Christ. According to St. Peter, Satan is always looking for another victim (1 Pet. 5:8 NABRE).
What’s your arena?
In the first season of the original Star Trek series, there was an episode, entitled “Arena”. In it, Capt. Kirk squares off in mortal combat on a neutral planet against an alien Captain of a rival ship. The alien race were known as Gorns. Anyway, Kirk and the Gorn begin to fight hand to hand. The winner gets to destroy the other’s ship. Kirk is clearly outmatched in terms of strength, and it’s not until he is nearly defeated that he discovers some loose chemicals – enough, and of sufficient quantity to make gunpowder – and with the aid of found bamboo and twine (quite the Deus ex machina, these items!), Kirk constructs a cannon with which he manages to render the Gorn helpless enough for him to swoop in and deliver the killing blow. I’ll cut to the chase by saying he relents, showing mercy instead. For those of you born under a rock, the plot can be found here if you just can’t sleep tonight without knowing what happened: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arena_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series).
This is life and death I’m talking about, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. But Jesus Christ Himself walked into that arena. Read about it in Matthew 4:1-11. He not only entered the arena (the wilderness), He overcame its highly personal temptations, and forever exalted humanity because of it. Of course, His glorious Passion is the pinnacle of that cosmic struggle, but in the arena called “The wilderness”, Jesus faced down the Enemy of our souls and bested him using Holy Scripture.
You might be asking, “What does all that have to do with a Star Trek episode”? Just this: Jesus used what He had at that time, at that moment to defeat the devil. Capt. Kirk used found materials on the planet they were warring on to defeat the Gorn, and you and I have all the power and authority of God’s Holy Church to help us, win or lose. St. Paul talked about it on Ephesians. It’s worth quoting in full:
Finally, 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. 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 6:10-17, NABRE
What it all comes down to is this: You want to win in the arena of your temptation? Take Jesus Christ with you. He is the expressed Word of God. There is no better weapon. When you fall, and you will, run, and I do mean run, to partake of God’s grace through the Sacrament of Confession, the Eucharist as food for that wild, unpredictable journey. You and I will be in that arena more than once in our lives.