Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Armored Heart

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all people could “walk together in harmony in the house of God” (Psalm 54/55)? Wouldn’t it be peaceful and satisfying to stroll in the gardens of a global paradise, free from all manner of evil? We may look with nostalgia upon the original Paradise, or with impatient longing for the establishment of the New Heavens and New Earth, but at the present moment what shall we do? The holy Apostle Paul has some advice: “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against…the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). A wake-up call for would-be utopians if I ever heard one!

In describing this spiritual armor, St Paul speaks of the various virtues that are its components: truth, righteousness, faith, etc. It is interesting to note that “truth” is the armor for the loins. Back then, as today, the liars, relativists, and other distorters of truth commonly hit “below the belt.” So we have to be well-protected with knowledge and fidelity to the truth, especially that which is revealed by God and proclaimed and defended by the Church. “Truth” as protection for our loins may also be armor against the “deceitful lusts” that the Apostle mentioned earlier in the same Epistle (4:22).

“Righteousness” is the breastplate, or armor of the heart. The heart, like the loins, is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body (and most essential) and hence needs the strongest protection. Our poor, wounded hearts need strong spiritual support and fortification. The heart is protected by righteousness, for genuine love flows from a right relationship to God. If we are not right with God, then our love is suspect, or even polluted or false. Righteousness is inseparable from truth, and love can only flourish in that environment.

Notice that among the virtues that constitute the armor of God, you will not find love (love may be amorous, but it’s not armorous!). That’s because love is of the heart, which has to be protected, rather than to protect. Be it fiercely faithful and stronger than death, love is still the deep, warm, interior, all-pervading milieu of grace—not a hard outer shell. But it needs that external armor to function and flourish. Our vulnerable inner life, in which love is always struggling to grow and be firmly established, must put on truth and righteousness as armor, carry the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God. For we have to “stand against the wiles of the devil” and “quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

To armor your heart spiritually is not to try to insulate it from the sufferings of life, from the pain that the vulnerability of love inevitably brings. It is rather to shield it from wickedness and defilement, to protect it from the cunning counterfeits of love suggested by the evil spirits through the mass media and other organs of deceit.

If you want to claim Paradise at the end of your life, know that it is meant to begin now in your heart. Protect your investment. Put on the armor of God.