Recently I’ve heard a number of
people talk about feeling utterly defeated by the way the government is
pursuing a hard, ‘no deal’ Brexit.  The
petitions they’ve signed, marches they’ve attended and letters they’ve written seem
to have proved useless and they now view severing ourselves from the EU as inevitable,
unnecessary and toxic. And all over the world they see demagogues and dictators
stirring up strife and damaging the planet to the benefit of a few rather than
the good of future generations.  There
seems a darkness moving over the face of the earth that’s clouding people’s
hearts and minds.


Against that background I
happened to read a brief account of the way St. Benedict, whose life has had
such a profound effect on western civilisation, responded to a call from
God.  He lived in 7th century Italy at a
time of profound chaos as the world around him began to disintegrate and his
first move was to retreat to a cave overlooking the ruins of Nero's palace near
Subiaco.  The palace had been sacked by
the barbarians and Benedict must have experienced a variety of emotions as he
considered the demise of the civilisation of Imperial Rome, a civilisation that
had ruled the 'known' world for so long.
Yet the eye of his heart was not on that world – a world which is always
in flux – but on the kingdom and the King who drew him to this cave of solitude
which he inhabited for three years.

It's important at times such as we're going through to remember that our eyes
need to be fixed on Christ and his Reign rather than any earthly kingdom.  It’s not that we should all retreat to a ‘cave’
and stand aside from being involved, but there’s a danger that those evil
forces which are stirred at times like this will affect all who engage
with them.  That debilitation of which
people speak is more akin to desolation; a loss of faith, hope and love; people’s
hearts can be blinded and drained by the darkness to which they give such
attention and by anger (even righteous) at the abuse of power, the use of lies
and disinformation or the stirring of prejudice, xenophobia and nationalism.  For all these are the consequence of the
action of the Evil One; dark forces are at work and the anti-Christ prowls
around, delighting in winning over the hearts of Christ's servants and causing
them to lose heart.

'Our struggle is not against
enemies of blood and flesh,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' (Eph.6.12)

St Ignatius Loyola SJ taught that
desolation was the consequence of  the
heart being overwhelmed by 'evil spirits'.  Sadly that’s become a term
associated with fundamentalists, but the loss of such an insight into the way
we are influenced – for good and ill – by the movements of spiritual
forces beyond our control means we can easily become affected – subjected – by
those which are not life-giving.  We
shouldn’t be shy of reclaiming the term.

Clergy and
spiritual crisis

Unfortunately at a time when we
need to look more deeply into our hearts I'm aware that the church seems to
ignore the spiritual dimension of this crisis.  Clergy, in particular, rather
than being advised to give priority to their spiritual development are often
encouraged to consider 'well-being' divorced from any religious or spiritual
teaching.  This ignores the primary place
of their relationship with God as they seek to cope with the pressures of life
and the affects of that ‘darkness’ which can permeate their hearts.  And if clergy aren’t being told to give this
priority, if courses designed to help them, neglect this essential dimension
then no amount of secular 'well-being' can address our deepest needs at this or
any time of crisis.  In spite of the way I pleaded for the church to take
seriously and give priority to the spiritual life of priests in my book 'Enfolded
in Christ', I keep hearing that this is ignored as diocese's seek to respond to
what are, at heart, spiritual needs.  No
wonder, then, that when we are faced with such an existential malaise ordinary
Christians don't look at the spiritual roots of such desolation. Unless priests
are relearning the basics of being rooted in Christ it's likely they won't be
helping the laity in this vital task.


There is a spiritual
warfare going on which requires us (as it always has) to embrace faith in the
power of the Incarnate, Crucified and Transcendent Christ.  We're
called to keep our heart fixed on Him lest it become the victim of anger and
rage or ceases to return to the Fountain of Life.  If we are not being refreshed by those streams
then we'll become exhausted – drained of the grace offered by God.  Whilst
we should not cease from opposing corruption we need to do so because we are
rooted in Christ, who has conquered the powers of darkness.  We need
faith that this darkness has ultimately been overcome and then face life with
the compassionate love of God – with faith and hope and love.  To deepen
our prayer, meditate on the scriptures and realise the need to Retreat from
time to time from the ‘battleground’ of life and immerse ourselves in places of
prayer.  There’s no doubt that we are, as always, facing a time of warfare
and we need to tools which will help us:

‘Take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be
able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand
firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and
put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on
whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of
these,[c] take the shield of faith,
with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil
one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is
the word of God.’ (E[ph. 6.9ff)

We will need the support of a
spiritual director, the grace of the Sacraments and a deepening of
contemplative prayer.  That's why I
developed the Spiritual
Association of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary
  - to try
and offer some on-line resources to nurture the heart as we face hard times.  The Church of England needs to remember the
importance of the spiritual tools she has but which are turning rusty and to reclaim
our spiritual heritage.