Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A sinner on his knees

March 01, 2009
Cogito, DCHerald

“The devil flees when he sees a sinner on his knees.”

Thus runs a famous tongue-twister I often gave my students in my English classes a few years ago in Davao del Norte State College. At the start of this Lenten season, I think this tongue-twister brings more good to the soul than to the tongue!

* * *

“A sinner on his knees” is a very despicable sight for the devil. It means losing an ally. It is like being betrayed by a friend. It entails weakening of his power. It implies his imminent defeat.

On the other hand, “a sinner on his knees” means “more joy in heaven”. It proves that love is greater than sin. It shows that “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more,” as St. Paul says. It manifests God’s victory on the cross once again.

“A sinner on his knees”, moreover, is man’s return to Paradise. It is equivalent to the Prodigal son’s “Father, I have sinned”. It is actually the Father’s sweet embrace that elevates man’s dignity as a son of God, a dignity sullied by egoism and self-love.

* * *

However, “a sinner on his knees” is a target of the devil’s wiles. And it is just logical for he wants to win supporters and sympathizers. This is why, a sinner, who is often on his knees, frequently experiences the assaults of distractions, dryness, lack of inner drive in prayer and meditation. The devil flees but only to plan new tricks on how to get the sinner off his knees.

For this reason, “a sinner on his knees” is also an object of temptations. In themselves, temptations are not sins. But giving up to them is a sin. In themselves, they do not come from God. “How could be God be holy if He tempted us to evil?” asks Benedict Baur, author of In Silence with God.

“Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God” (James 1:13). God does not will that we be tempted but He permits temptations in order to purify the soul and to test whether this sinner is “really on his knees”. “To will” and “to allow” are two different actions we need to distinguish well in God in order to understand the true nature of temptations.

* * *

“A sinner on his knees” is a picture that the Church wants us to contemplate and to imitate as we enter once again into the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Notice how Christ, after having been baptized by John in the Jordan, was led to the desert to pray and to be tempted by the devil.

We may think that Jesus needed neither to pray (because He is eternally united with the Father, and prayer is no other than “union with God”) nor to be tempted (because He is God and the Scripture says, “Thou shall not tempt God”). But willingly, Jesus prayed to teach us how to stay united with God, and allowed Himself to be tempted to show us how to conquer sin and the devil.

Jesus, who is truly God, is truly man in all aspects except sin: “in all aspects” including temptations. “He who has no sin was made sin for us”, says St. Paul. In this way, He – being sinless – shows us how to assume the posture of “a sinner on his knees”.

* * *

“The devil flees when he sees a sinner on his knees”. Yet, this Lenten season, we don’t exhort all sinners – including myself – on their knees just to drive out the devil. Our observance of Lent is not only for the devil to flee but primarily to let God be in our lives.

If there are a lot of temptations that we encounter along the way, it simply means we have not given yet to God the total dominion over our hearts, something that belongs to Him by right. We have not totally detached ourselves from people and things. We still retain a portion (more or less) of our heart to ourselves and this share is what the devil employs to pull us down.

As Pope Saint Gregory says: “The devil has nothing of his own in this world, and naked he comes to battle. If you go clothed to fight him, you will soon be pulled to the ground: for he will have something to catch you by.”

“A sinner on his knees” is detachment from ourselves – our self-love, our pride, our sensuality – and attachment to God – His will, His love. St. Terese of Avila once said that “he who does not pray, needs no devil to tempt him”.

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"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.