I recently received an email from a priest friend from seminary and at the bottom of his message there was a quotation from St. Philo of Alexandria that read: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” This gentle reminder struck me as carrying a great truth. We are all caught up in a great battle for our immortal souls and this battle is being fought quietly deep within our interior lives. There is a profound sense of solidarity in this awareness for we all are engaged in this battle in one way or another. The enemy within that we must fight is strong and persistent. Though each of us has their own battle to fight we do not need to fight alone. We can pray for one another and build one another up with encouraging words of faith, hope and charity. Like Aaron and Hur who supported the hands of Moses in his prayer when he grew weary, so must we support one another in our battles by praying for one another.
“In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.” (Ex 17,8) Amalek is the devious, perennial enemy, not only of Israel, but also of anyone who takes up the spiritual journey. Amalek is the darkness of evil that attacks us from within. He is the shadow of doubt and the scourge of cynicism that attacks us from within when we are weak and weary and when we are struggling in our spiritual journey. Amalek comes to wage war against us when we are asking the question, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” as Israel asked at Massah and Meribah. Amalek comes to impede our progress in the spiritual journey as he barred the progress of Israel when they set out on their desert journey after crossing the Red Sea. The Deuteronomist reminds us, “Bear in mind what Amalek did to you on the journey after you left Egypt, how without fear of any god he harassed you along the way, weak and weary as you were, and cut off at the rear all those who lagged behind. Therefore, when the Lord, your God, gives you rest from all your enemies round about in the land which he is giving you to occupy as your heritage, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget!” (Deut 25,17-19)
Remember Amalek! Remember that we are all fighting a spiritual battle and that at times we all grow weak and weary on our journey to the Promised Land of holiness. Amalek was seen by the ancient rabbis and early Christian writers not only as the historical enemy of Israel but also as an internal enemy. The Amalek within attacks us when we have doubts and uncertainties about our faith. When we are weak and weary, when we are lagging behind, we are vulnerable to the attacks of Amalek. St. Augustine writes, “You will certainly have Amalek as an enemy barring your progress. That was when Moses prayed, when he stretched out his arms; and when he dropped his arms, Amalek grew stronger; when he stretched out his arms, Amalek fell back, let your arms too be stretched out, let the Amalek fall back who is tempting you and barring your progress on this journey; be watchful and sober in prayer, in good works; not, though, apart from Christ, because stretching out of the arms was the cross of Christ.” (Sermon 352)
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples a parable “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” (Luke 18,1) The way to defeat the Amalek within is to pray. When we pray, we wage war with Amalek. As long as we are persistent and strong in our prayer, as long as our hands are lifted up to heaven in prayer, then Amalek can be defeated. When we grow weak and weary and we let our hands down, when we neglect our prayer, then Amalek is able to pull us down and defeat us. The prayer that defeats Amalek is a persistent prayer, a deep prayer, a prayer that sinks roots deep down into the divine nature of God and is able to draw deeply from the wellspring of God’s grace and mercy. This prayer needs to be disciplined, frequent and habitual.
St. Paul reminds us to equip ourselves for battle with “the armor of God”: “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…And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6,10-13.17) Paul reminds Timothy, “You have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3,14ff) Faith, persistent prayer and the word of God equip us for this life-long battle that we must fight to become a saint. Remember Amalek!