In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. –Eph. 6:16
Faith, like a strong shield, is our protection for spiritual combat. Shields are needed in the heat of battle, and we need this shield most of all in the tough moments of life, in times of moral quandary, the loss of home or employment, or in sickness and death.
But to be effective, a shield has to be sturdily constructed. It must have a particular and concrete shape. Our shield of faith is forged from the habits of faith: personal prayer, participation in all the sacraments, a love of the Eucharist, and desire to know God (which leads one to some study of theology or reading of Scripture), among others.
If the shield of faith is flimsy or poorly forged, it offers no protection. We will be naked and exposed before the “flaming arrows of the evil one.” Nor is it sufficient to turn to virtuous habits only in times of trial. It is precisely in those moments that we need an already well-established shield. Otherwise, we find ourselves simultaneously developing and relying upon our faith, like a soldier duct-taping his shield together on the battlefield in the midst of heavy fighting. His chances aren’t good, and neither are ours.
While there are many fundamental habits out of which, in times of peace, the shield of faith is built, I want to draw your attention to one in particular: frequent confession.
Frequent confession isn’t a particularly easy habit. It is unpleasant to confront our sins and humbling to name them out loud, but much of that unpleasantness can be eliminated simply by consciously developing the habit of confessing frequently. Familiarity breeds comfort. If we are comfortable with the rite and practice of the sacrament, then, in the especially difficult times when we have failed in a particularly grave manner, it will be easier to approach the sacrament. Comfort with confessing small sins will make it easier to confess that big sin, and it is in greater failing that we are in greater need of the mercy of God. On the other hand, unfamiliarity with confession creates an additional obstacle to confessing that big sin. Imagine an elderly man in a nursing home facing death who has not confessed since his first confession in 2nd grade:his last confession before facing Christ will be that much more difficult.
Evil times come to all men, and all will need the shield of faith, the inflexible and solid reliance upon God, given a particular shape by the habits of Catholic life. It is vain to rely upon a shield not yet built, and foolishness to be caught unprepared for battle. Rather, prepare yourself now, in times of peace. With the Psalmist pray to God, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, who prepares my fingers for war” (Ps 144:1).
Image: Blacksmith working