“our lives are a constant struggle, a battle between our old fallen nature and our new redeemed Christian nature.”
In the 1999 film “The Matrix,” the heroes of the film, those who fight against deception and oppression are betrayed by their own Judas, a character named Cypher. Cypher makes a deal with the enemy. In exchange for his betrayal he is promised the illusion of a life of comfort and pleasure. It doesn't matter to him that it is not actually real because it will seem “real” to him. He explains his betrayal by telling Trinity “I'm tired, tired of this war, tired of fighting.”
In the ongoing battle between good and evil, the spiritual warfare in which we are all engaged, our hearts are the battlefield and our souls are the prize. This war takes place within each of us and is characterized by the conflict between our fallen nature and our redemption in Christ. Through Baptism we have received the Holy Spirit. The law of God is written on our hearts, we know in our hearts what we should do.
But at the same time our fallen nature tugs at us, tempting us to self-indulgence and self-centeredness. This fallen nature battles against our angelic tendencies of self-sacrifice, and self-giving. We so often want to do the right thing, but we get tired of “fighting the good fight,” doing the wrong thing seems so much easier.
Our Hero's Journey
And so our lives are a constant struggle, a battle between our old fallen nature and our new redeemed Christian nature. This conflict within us is so universal it is at the core of the “Hero's Journey” popularized by Joseph Campbell. The Hero's Journey is a pattern that emerges in hero stories from all over the world. It resonates within us because it is the story of the journey of our own soul, the great adventure of our lives. We tell this story over and over again in endlessly creative ways, from simple folktales to big budget blockbuster movies.
Think about your favorite movie, it most likely follows this pattern. The hero (male or female) discerns that there is something wrong, either with himself or with the world. He embarks on a quest to fix the problem, to do so he must achieve some noble goal.
When the hero decides to act, he crosses a threshold into a new world. He learns new rules, acquires new skills, and uses those skills to overcome obstacles and temptations along the way. When the hero succeeds in his quest, he often returns to where he started, transformed and ready to help others on their own journey.
The people and situations a hero encounters in his journey reflect the people and situations we encounter in our own adventure. The hero may encounter guides and mentors who help him along the way as well as villains and tricksters that try to trip him up. In our spiritual journey we likewise encounter people eager to help as well as people who try to dissuade us from our goal because it is too much trouble.
We cannot avoid conflict, it is how we are made. It is conflict that urges us to discover our true nature. The villain of our story would like nothing better than for us to remain in our self-centered little worlds, never thinking beyond our own wants and desires. But when we begin to consider that there is something out of place in the world, something we can use our gifts and talents to help fix, then we take the first step in the great adventure that is our life.
Our journey is to discover who we truly are, our true nature that lies beneath the baggage of lies and expectations that the fallen world heaps upon us. Our fallen nature reflects who the devil wants us to be, but our redeemed nature beckons us to discover who God meant for us to be. Therein lies the conflict, the eternal struggle between good and evil, between self-centeredness and self-sacrifice that defines our lives.
This pattern of human existence plays out in the conflicts in our society. Because our hearts are divided our society is also divided. When we accept this reality we realize how important it is to continue the fight. Discouragement, is a tool of the devil.
The devil preys upon our fallen nature as he did so long ago at the beginning of all things. It is our fallen nature that leads us to think we will never be good enough, we will never “win,” so what is the point in trying? But our heavenly nature, full of God given grace, transforms us into warriors for the Kingdom with the knowledge that the prize we fight for, is our immortal soul.
As long as we live on this earth we will be faced with temptations, trials and obstacles. Temptations tempt us to discouragement and weariness, but when we overcome trials and obstacles we emerge invigorated and stronger, ready to take up the fight anew. We continue to fight because that is what we do. Just as a gardener continues to garden in spite of weeds, pests, and the never ending labor of nurturing the garden. This is how God designed things. To become discouraged in the war we are here to wage is to display a lack of trust in God's wisdom.
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com