Solid Armor, Trained Arrows: Persevering in the Desert of the Conquering Christ

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Lent is not only a time of bodily affliction and psychological combat; it is a time of continual victory for those who hold onto the victorious head and commander—Christ Jesus. As St. Ephrem the Syrian explains:

Samson killed many with the jawbone of an ass, but the serpent killed the entire human race through Eve. Our Lord therefore took up these [same] arms with which the adversary had been victorious, and the world condemned. He came down into the combat and, in the flesh which [he had received] from a woman, conquered the world. Conquered, the adversary was condemned.[1]

With the victory at hand, how are we to turn to gaze into this divine and human ascendancy? What are we to say when we fail to see or feel the triumph? Yes, we are frail, yes, we are weak, and yes, we need all the help that we can get to unlatch from lower attractions so as to elevate our gaze toward higher treasures. The greater the treasure, the more necessary it is for us to find a way to secure that good. For this reason, I propose that we consider fixing our gaze upon one frequently overlooked treasure—the victorious and conquering attributes of our Lord.

Ephrem pivots toward this mystery with words pregnant with meaning by emphasizing how our Lord not only endured the threefold temptation of the enemy after he was drawn into the desert; the desert became the place from which he drew victory out of a place of poverty and pain:

“The body of our Lord warns all flesh, that if one enters into combat unarmed, he will be vanquished. For [the Lord] first clothed himself with the armor of fasting, and then entered into the conflict. Solid armor is required against him who shoots trained arrows.”[2]

Fasting hurts, temptations sting, but if we are to conquer the serpent with Christ at this stage of victory in the desert, every detail counts.  As Ephrem goes on to say, John the Baptist wore camel-skin on account of the fact that our sacred Lamb had yet to be shorn.[3] Those closest to Christ signify his life by the choices they make, even down to the gritty details of where they spend their time and what they wear.

Our Redeemer is victorious in every desert; and so, let us wear the mark of the Lamb, the armor of Christ, the shield that we bring to this desert of life. Let every choice act as a sigil of the Lord’s army, bearing the mark of purity under the banner of truth. We may be in a desert, but the tables have turned. The serpent took the bait and slew the Lamb. Now we wait until the full bumper crop of the elect turns golden, ripe for the definitive harvest. This Lent, more than any in our past, may we process toward the Sun that never sets with each detail and with every choice; our gaze on the conquering Christ—the source of certain victory and the path toward unbounded peace.

[1] Ephrem and Carmel McCarthy, Saint Ephrem’s Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron: An English Translation of Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709, Journal of Semitic studies. Supplement 2 (Oxford: Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of Manchester, 1993), 40.

[2] Ibid., 88–89.

[3] Ibid., 81.

Br. Matthew Wanner, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE