“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil…having done everything to hold your ground.” (Ephesians 6:11,13)
The word “armor” is a clear indication that a spiritual war is going on. Just a short look into the world reveals that many Christians are not fighting in the spiritual war. Some Christians are not aware of the spiritual war and others believe there is no war at all or the war is over. Consider the philosophy of some: “Jesus is Lord”, so “I am saved”, and “it is finished”, so “I don’t have to worry about sin”.
But sin does matter. Jesus said “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The abundant life in Jesus begins here, in this world. Living in joy and shining the light of Christ to others is abundant life. Living in sin and being a stumbling block to others is not an abundant life. Another consideration when it comes to sin is the Father’s command to “be holy for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16, ref. Leviticus 19:2)
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the penitent prays an Act of Contrition with words to the effect “I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee; and I detest all my sins…I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more.” This Act of Contrition calls the penitent to do something, to take action; rather than walking out of the confessional and hoping for the best. Actively fighting in the spiritual war is proof to God that the Act of Contrition was more than just words.
This article is intended to help Christians who want to shine their light so others will glorify the Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:14-16) and those who desire to “strive for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
A Different Perspective
I’ve read the verse about the armor of God a number of times. I could picture myself standing there with my helmet and shield, looking like a knight in shining armor. Meanwhile, the devil would be throwing fiery darts at me. He must use armor-piercing darts, because I don’t always withstand the attacks. Sometimes, I would feel like I needed different armor because I was losing ground.
The last time I read about the armor of God, a different perspective came to me. The word tactics jumped off the page. The enemy was not just randomly throwing fiery darts. The enemy was using tactics to make his attacks more effective. Tactics is defined as “the science and art of disposing and maneuvering forces in combat or employing available means to accomplish an end”. I began thinking about tactics in war such as deception, sabotage and infiltration. I became curious as to how the enemy may be using these and other tactics against me. So, I decided to do some reading about the art of war.
Sun Tzu and The Art of War
“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.” – Sun Tzu
It is widely accepted that one of the greatest military minds in history was Sun Tzu, who lived in China around the year 500 BC. It was said that Sun Tzu never lost a battle, including times when outnumbered ten to one. His book, The Art of War, has been popular for centuries. To this day, The Art of War remains the most influential strategy text in East Asian warfare. Major victories by the Viet Cong against US forces during the Vietnam War led the United States to take interest in The Art of War. The book is currently on the recommended reading list for all US Military Intelligence and is used as instructional material at the US Military Academy at West Point. The Art of War has also grown to become a reference for non-military competitions such as politics, business and sports.
The Art of War became my obvious choice in learning the tactics of war. The rest of this article is based on quotes by Sun Tzu from The Art of War and my interpretation of how they apply to spiritual warfare. My exercise in learning the art of war was a great benefit to my ongoing spiritual war. I pray that the ideas presented here will also benefit the reader.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu
What knowing yourself means
“Make for the enemy’s weak points. The ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius.” - Sun Tzu
Successful generals learn everything they can about their opponent and use it to their advantage. Weaknesses, tendencies and hot buttons become important considerations before attacking. For example, Sun Tzu said “If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.” Our spiritual enemy wins many battles because he changes and adapts according to his opponent. A person who does not know themself is more susceptible to the tactics of the enemy.
Knowing yourself means reflecting on personal weaknesses, tendencies and hot buttons that need strengthened. Knowing yourself means evaluating lost battles to determine what happened and to consider ways to be victorious next time. Armed with self-knowledge, there are several courses of action. Weak areas can be strengthened, enemy attacks can be better anticipated, defenses can be stronger and weapons can be deployed more effectively.
How to get to know yourself
Learning from mistakes is a great way to improve at anything. Catholics who regularly receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation have a great opportunity to get to know themself. The standard Catholic Examination of Conscience is a great place to start. Typically, an examination of conscience is performed to create a laundry list of sins that need to be confessed and absolved. With only a little extra effort, it can become a pathway to knowing oneself.
Armed with the laundry list of sins, it is not too difficult to take the next step and get to know yourself. All it really takes is asking some probing questions about those falls in battle to learn what led to the fall. The questions below, using the 5W+H method, are a good start:
- Who was involved? Does a particular relationship or attitude about people lead to temptation?
- What led to sin? Does a particular activity or situation commonly lead to temptation?
- Where does sin happen? Are there more battles at work, school, shopping, when alone, etc.?
- When does sin occur? Does hunger, tiredness, stress or moods increase the likelihood of sin?
- Why is there sin? Is lust, greed, envy, pride or one of the other deadly sins a trigger?
- How many of each sin? Is there progress to holiness or is ground being lost?
If an “extended” examination of conscience is performed each time the Sacrament of Reconciliation is received, more information becomes available for setting a spiritual strategy. Progress can be monitored. Changes can be made. And it proves to God the Act of Contrition was sincere and not mere words. If the Sacrament of Reconciliation cannot be received often, an extended examination of conscience can still be done frequently.
Know your enemy
“Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose. Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”– Sun Tzu
There are three enemies
“You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit [devil] that is now at work in the disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh.” (Ephesians 2:2-3)
The devil is not under every rock, just every third rock. The world, the flesh and the devil are all spiritual enemies. Each enemy has their own way of tempting and conducting battles. Let’s look back to original sin and the fall of mankind (Genesis 3:1-6) to see how this works.
The serpent began with a simple question to trick Eve and lead her towards temptation. He did nothing more than put the bait in front of Eve like a master fisherman…let’s talk about trees. The serpent did not lead Eve to the forbidden tree nor hand her the fruit. The world offered Eve something “pleasing to the eyes” to distract her from God and His will. The serpent continued to bait Eve with knowledge and power; a tactic also used on Jesus in the desert. Eve saw “the tree was desirable for wisdom” and the desires of the flesh took over. The rest, as they say, is history.
There were three forces at work in the Garden. Our spiritual war includes those same three enemies. Each enemy must be fought differently, on their own terms. Like the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, the right weapon must be deployed to be victorious.
“Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) The world opposes the Father.
Temptations from the world can be recognized because they separate us from the Father. They are closely related to the first four commandments concerning our relationship with the Father...worship God only, respect God, keep His day holy and honor parents. An object of the world, the forbidden tree, separated Eve from the Father and the Father’s will. Pleasing God was no longer her number one desire. This began the chain reaction that led to mankind’s eventual downfall.
The Apostle Paul warned “Do not be conformed to this age” (Romans 12:2). Some translations use the word world instead of age. The original Greek text literally translates into a warning against conforming to the state of the world as it exists, which explains both translations. The state of the world includes its values on fashion, wealth, gender identity, entertainment, evolution and free will. These states of the world become alternatives to the Father’s values, His will and worship of Him. The world wants us to belong to it, not to the Father.
The temptations of the world are not like temptations of the flesh and of the devil, which are temptations of opportunity and come at specific times. Rather, the world’s temptations are continually all around. The world is not spirit, so spiritual weapons like prayer are limited in resisting the world. Battling the world requires us to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” (Romans 12:2) Christians must “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). It is only in seeking His kingdom first and following His will that one is able to “not belong to the world.” (John 17:16)
“Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other.” (Galatians 5:16-17) The flesh opposes the Holy Spirit.
Temptations of the flesh can be recognized because the flesh seeks to please itself, while the Holy Spirit seeks to please Christ. (John 14:26, Romans 8:5). Temptations of the flesh are closely related to the last six commandments concerning our relationship with others. Breaking any of these commandments is a self-centered act that rejects the virtues of the Holy Spirit and devalues the dignity of others.
The flesh is not evil by nature, it just needs controlled. Human beings have basic needs that must be satisfied (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). These basic needs include food, water, rest, safety and love. The desire to satisfy basic needs is God’s natural law and is good. The Holy Spirit grants virtues such as temperance, patience, charity, chastity and humility to keep human needs under control. When the virtues of the Holy Spirit are cast aside, the flesh can turn to vices such as gluttony, pride, selfishness and lust. It’s like a game of “Tug-o-War”.
The flesh, as a physical being, opposes the Holy Spirit by turning basic needs into desires and pleasure. Temperance says “give us this day our daily bread”, but gluttony says “I will take whatever I can get”. Charity says “I will give my excess to the poor”, but selfishness says “I will build bigger granaries to store my excess”. Chastity says “I will keep physical intimacy within marriage”, but lust says “physical intimacy is for pleasure”.
The flesh, as a spiritual being, opposes the Holy Spirit by elevating itself above others or even God. Humility says “I am on earth to serve God and others” but pride says “others must serve and honor me”. Faith says “I trust God for all things” but mistrust says “I will do it myself”.
Temptations of the flesh are difficult to overcome because the flesh exhibits cravings that do not go away until satisfied. When a person is under bondage or addiction, physical side-affects can be very intense. Scripture often mentions being a slave to sin. The flesh starts by choosing to sin with its free will; but over time has no freedom at all to reject sin, becoming a slave to sin.
The battlefield between the flesh and the Holy Spirit is the mind. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5) To overcome the flesh, it takes willpower and dedication. Paul advises “be transformed in the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
“Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). The devil opposes Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.
Saint Michael the Archangel, protect us in battle.
Temptations of the devil are difficult to recognize because the devil is cunning, a master of lies and often does nothing more than set up situations where the world and the flesh can take over. This is what happened in the Garden of Eden. The serpent baited Eve into temptation, but did not force her to sin. Eve fell to a fleshly desire for wisdom and equality with God. The devil is not capable of forcing anyone to sin, except for the very few who open themselves up to demonic possession.
The devil is viewed by some as being the opposite of God; God’s equal but only evil instead of good. This concept is not true. The devil is nothing more than a fallen angel, created by God and completely submissive to God. The Apostle Paul writes “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:10) The Apostle James gives us even more encouragement, “So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) The devil is not to be feared. But even when the devil flees, but only for a time, there will still be temptations from the world and the flesh.
God allows the devil to tempt only so “the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold…may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) There are two things to consider here. First, one’s response to temptation and sin proves to God whether or not faith is real. “If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins.” (Hebrews 10:26) Knowing that Jesus died for our sins, yet continuing to live in sin without any remorse or attempt to change, is a rejection of His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus warns “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) The second thing to consider is that God allows temptation for the purpose of sanctifying his people and bringing them closer to him. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that temptations can be overcome. The more the believer sets their mind and heart on the Holy Spirit, the more they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Each temptation is an opportunity for the believer to call upon the Holy Spirit and be filled with grace.
The goal of the devil is to separate us from Jesus Christ. Ultimately, he would seek to steal our soul from Heaven. If he cannot succeed in his ultimate goal, then he will do everything he can to delay our union with Christ by being cleansed for a time after death in Purgatory.
Tactics of the Enemy
“Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.” – Sun Tzu
The following are concepts of war as documented by Sun Tzu. Understanding the tactics of war can be beneficial in recognizing when a spiritual battle is taking place and in creating a spiritual war plan. Our spiritual enemies use all of these tactics.
“All warfare is based on deception. When able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must seem far; and when far, make him believe we are near.” – Sun Tzu
The phrase “smoke and mirrors” is used to describe deceptive techniques where the truth is clouded and perception is changed as looking into a mirror. Think of a magic show where the assistant is levitated or sawed in half. The illusions look so real it is hard to imagine there is deception. Our spiritual enemies are effective at deception, with lies so convincing they appear to be truth.
The world deceives with false values of easy money, power, gender freedom, entertainment and happiness. The flesh deceives with desires that go well-beyond basic needs and freedom that turns into addiction. The devil deceives by placing thoughts into the mind, but making them appear to be one’s own thoughts. Common lies include: “God does not love me” or “God and me are just fine”, “That is not really a sin” and “It can’t hurt” or maybe ”The Church is wrong”. One should not pay heed to every thought in the mind. Discernment is needed to know where the thought is really coming from and if there might be harm in following through. The mind must be renewed to follow the Spirit, as “the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (John 16:13)
“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” – Sun Tzu
I can think of a lot of cliches: “Expect the unexpected”, “Be prepared”, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”, etc. This is not something commonly done. Preparations are usually made only for things that are known; meetings, parties, appointments, work, etc. Preparations are seldom made for the unexpected “what ifs” of life. When the house has not been cleaned for a few days, that is when the unexpected guest shows up. When the bank account is low, that is when the car breaks down.
Being unprepared for life can cause discomfort, worry or stress. Being unprepared for battle can be disastrous. The Apostle Peter instructs us to “be sober and vigilant. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The enemy never rests, and is more likely to attack when he is not expected. Be on guard, because an ambush can occur at a moment’s notice anywhere and anytime.
“Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth.” - Sun Tzu
A shopper leaves the self-checkout, gets to the car and notices an item they forgot to scan. A friend says “Don’t worry about it, it was an honest mistake and the store won’t miss it.” A teen goes to the theater and a friend suggests an R-rated movie, saying “Our parents aren’t going to know.” Indirect attacks happen when the devil brings about temptation by placing a thought into someone else’s mind. These temptations are hard to resist since they may come from a friend, family member or even someone in the Church.
Even Jesus was not exempt from indirect tactics. The Apostle Peter became a tool of temptation to Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 16. After Jesus spoke about His coming passion and death, Peter said “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus discerned these words were not simply the reaction of a well-meaning friend, but a thought placed in Peter’s mind by Satan. So, Jesus replied “Get behind me, Satan!”. Peter, himself, was certainly not Satan or even evil. Peter was simply an unsuspecting tool of temptation who, at the time, did not discern the spirit giving him the thought.
Saying “Get behind me, Satan!” would not be appropriate. But one must be firm in faith and be ready to stand firm against indirect temptations. The devil can place an indirect temptation into anyone’s mind. The light of Christ shines into the world when the right thing is done when tempted indirectly. Moreso, it is important to guard against being the one leading others into temptation. Once again, discernment of the spirit is important so the words are not even spoken. Jesus cautioned “people will render an account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)
“The clever general attacks when the enemy is sluggish. This is the art of studying moods.” - Sun Tzu
In 2010 Snickers launched a series of ads titled “You are not you when you are hungry.” They were quite cute, and not far from the truth. In 2018, a new word was added to the Oxford Dictionary…hangry, meaning “the condition of being irrationally angry due to hunger.”
Scientists have determined that hunger, stress, lack of sleep and fatigue physically do affect moods. It is easy to overreact to words and actions of others when in a mood. This is the flesh. It is unchangeable. The devil cannot make anyone hungry or tired; but will certainly send temptations at those times. If at all possible, awareness and avoidance of hunger, fatigue and stress should be a goal. In situations where these cannot be avoided, extra prayer and the virtue of fortitude are needed to avoid falling in battle.
“If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.” - Sun Tzu
“I’ve had enough! I can’t take it anymore!”. This phrase might be said immediately after an explosion of anger and immediately before doing or saying something regrettable. I think about those cartoons where the character’s face gets redder and redder and the boiling bubbles come out of their head faster and faster until their head explodes. This is a perfect time for an enemy attack. Calmness and rational thought are often far-gone when things get irritating. The guard against temptation is lowered and anger can become an explosion on the next innocent individual that comes around. Maybe that person is an unsuspecting family member that just happens to say the wrong thing, or an innocent customer service representative who didn’t even cause the problem. This is often called “taking frustration out on others”, and is a sin because it does not show the love and mercy Jesus desires.
Sometimes things just happen and sometimes the devil stirs the pot to a boil. Whatever the cause, anger is difficult to control. Anger is powerful. This one vice of anger requires four virtues of the Holy Spirit (humility, prudence, temperance and fortitude) to overcome. The time to overcome anger is when the head begins to boil, not after the head explodes. From the beginning, the mind must be set on the virtues of the Holy Spirit and techniques and calming like deep breathing or walking away should be used. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26)
“By holding out bait, he keeps the enemy on the march; then lies in wait for him.” - Sun Tzu
I can picture the proverbial carrot on a stick being held out in front of a donkey. The rider can lead the donkey any place and any distance. The serpent used a baiting tactic in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The serpent casually started talking to Eve about trees. Then, after Eve mentioned the forbidden tree, kept the bait right in front of her. The bait was dangled before Eve’s eyes and her desire grew stronger and stronger, until she could no longer resist the temptation to take it and eat.
Bait tempts the eyes. “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34) Care must be taken to avoid focusing the attention of the eyes on anything that can lead to sin. The more the eyes look, the more darkness enters the body.
The world baits everyone’s eyes day after day. News, advertising and social media continually publish images of beautiful people, happy people, strong people, healthy people. These are all, of course, images based on the world’s definitions and values. Then, the devil gets into the game. With access to the mind, the devil will replay those images over and over. The devil will place thoughts into the mind such as “I wish I had that”, “I wish I was like them” or “I wish I could be with that person”. Thoughts becomes desires. Desires lead the mind away from the Father. Then values begin to change. Finally, the last domino falls and the flesh takes over to lead to sin. It is the Garden of Eden all over again, but with different players.
“The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy.” - Sun Tzu
Is there a more masterful manipulator than a car salesman? Start with charm, assess the opponent’s weaknesses, overwhelm with facts and statistics, overwhelm with red tape, limit time to make a decision, play dumb, refer to the boss and weaken the opponent’s will. Psychology Today documents all these behaviors as manipulative. The crafty manipulator will eventually have the opponent doing exactly what they want, and making them feel good about it.
Manipulation targets emotions. Manipulation intends to break down the opponent’s will and get the opponent to take on the will of the manipulator, believing that it is their own will. Manipulation might seek to get another person to do something they would not normally do in order to prove something like love or bravery. “If you love me, you will…” is the reddest of red flags that the other person is a manipulator. The world manipulates with peer pressure, social shaming and media to impose its will. The flesh manipulates with emotions and physical responses that are hard to overcome. The devil manipulates by placing thoughts into the mind that feel like they come from the person themself. Recognizing manipulation is important. Knowing the Father’s will and standing firm against manipulation will lead to more victories over temptation.
“If his forces are united, separate them.” – Sun Tzu
Consider all the division in the world…race wars, culture wars, religious wars, political wars, age wars, income wars, gender wars, abortion wars, right versus left, and more. The fires of division are constantly fed, and there is always a side to be on. Truth and reality are often defined by the side a person is on. No matter what the other side believes it is automatically wrong. Any policy proposed by a Democrat is automatically shot down and proclaimed to be wrong by Republicans, without any thought or debate. Common solutions to world problems are hard to come by when there is little in common.
But the worst separation of all is being separated from the Church. The Church guides us in faith and protects us from false doctrine. The Sacraments are powerful spiritual weapons that renew us and give us spiritual strength. The prayers, unity and support of the Church are invaluable in spiritual battle. The world and the devil both attack the Church with everything they’ve got. Every reason in the book from unholy priests or bishops to disagreement with Church doctrine becomes a cause of separation. Separation from the Church leads to spiritual weakness and promotes vulnerability to false doctrine, false values and false truth. In nature, predators attempt to separate the weak animals from the safety of the pack to get an easy victory. The devil, our predator, gets easy victories from the spiritually weak who have separated themselves from the Church.
“The opportunity to defeat the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” - Sun Tzu
There is an old saying, “Don’t take a knife to a gun fight”. The idea of this saying is when one knows a situation is dangerous and the odds are overwhelming, don’t go there. Yet, many Christians stumble because they place themself into bad situations, setting themself up for a fall. They might maintain relationships with people who would lead them into sin or hurt them. They might join activities where drinking and sinful behavior are encouraged. They might join the world in the constant distractions of social media, music and entertainment. So many Christians pray to the Father “lead us not into temptation” and then just willingly walk into it.
One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is be in the world but not of the world. Christian activities and service can seem boring compared to the fun and excitement offered by worldly activities. But for the Christian who truly desires to serve God’s will and be holy, places and activities that lead to sin must be avoided.
Having a spiritual strategy will lead to more victories over temptation than simply walking out the door in the morning and facing what life gives. A spiritual strategy is more than simply saying a prayer in the morning or giving thanks at meals. A spiritual strategy is a well-thought plan with dedication to daily fight spiritual battles. It is seeking first the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33) Each Christian’s strategy will be different, because each of us faces different challenges and temptations in life. The following are considerations when setting a spiritual strategy.
There are many spiritual weapons with options for each. A strategy that includes a mix of these weapons is most effective. It would be difficult to create an exhaustive list of spiritual weapons with their options. Listed below are some considerations.
Prayer is a great spiritual weapon. Prayer must include a balance between praise of God and petitions. Beyond the standard prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be) one can consider litanies of praise, Psalms, prayers to the blessed host, prayer of St. Michael for protection, prayer to the Guardian Angel and more. Daily prayer should always include the standard prayers, but also additional prayers specific to spiritual needs. A minimum amount of prayer time should be set every day. It is best to have a regular prayer time as well. Short prayers like “The Jesus Prayer” can be said periodically throughout the day to turn one’s mind to God.
Saints are our allies and they are ready to intercede for us. Studying the lives of Saints inspires ways of seeking holiness. Regardless of the temptation or problem, there is a Saint who faced that same problem. Whatever job or vocation, there is a Saint who lived the same. Reading the life of a Saint who faced similar temptations and situations, then asking the Saint for guidance and intercession, can be powerful. Prayer to a Saint at the time of temptation can be helpful.
Fasting and abstinence are good ways to gain control over fleshly desires. Outside of Lent, a simple fast or abstinence even one day a week can train the flesh that it does not always get its own way. Fasting and abstinence can also include giving time to Christian service. Service can be even more spiritually beneficial if once in a while it replaces a favorite activity.
The Sacraments are probably our most powerful weapons, as Jesus comes to us with graces in the Sacraments. If possible, attend a daily Mass once in a while. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives graces and power over sin every time it is received. Regular confession of sins is good for the soul.
Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church to remind us of Christ and to sanctify different circumstances of life. Examples include crucifixes, rosaries, blessed candles, holy water, etc. A home altar or other dedicated place of prayer in the home can inspire the presence of God when praying.
Give God the best
Scripture says to give God the first fruits. He should not get the leftover scraps of either money or time. Even if the Biblical principle of tithing is not followed, some percentage of income should still go to God first. God provides, and He should not simply get a portion of what is left over after expenses, entertainment and savings. Time for prayer and meditation should be dedicated, rather than dropping into bed at the end of the day and saying there was no time for God. God may be everywhere, but He still wants His people to come to Him.
Maintain life balance
Years ago, while at a seminar, the instructor asked us to name our highest priority in life. To some it was God, to others family and to others their career. The instructor then explained that life consists of six areas: spiritual, health, me-time, relationships, and career. He had us write down, as best we could, everything we did for the last two weeks. If doing two things at once, like watching TV while eating, split the time. Then activities were categorized and time for each added up. The instructor explained that life balance does not mean equal time in each area, but a healthy mix. He also said that each area should have its own priorities. We were then given homework to study our current life mix and make plans to bring it into balance. This is a great exercise for anyone. It works best if a few minutes are spent at the end of each day journaling activities for two weeks. It might reveal some surprises about where God stands in one’s life.
Follow the Church
Don’t be tempted to become disobedient to the Church because of worldly or personal opinions. Don’t be tempted to leave the Church because there are some evil people inside the Church. Infiltration is the tactic of putting your own people inside the enemy’s camp to destroy the enemy from within. The devil has always used this tact against the Church, often to much success. The thing to keep in mind is the Church is made up of people, but the Church is not the people. The Church is the bride of Christ who will not itself go astray. Jesus said “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Regardless of the world’s or personal opinions the Church is right; even if the people inside the Church are wrong. It is very beneficial to learn the Catholic Faith by listening to a podcast of the Catechism or studying the early Church Fathers. Know what the Church really teaches and do not listen to what the false prophets say the Church teaches.
Include the family
The family is called the “Domestic Church”. The family should act and be honored as a church. Become holy together. Pray as family, go to church as a family and pray for one another. The devil seeks to destroy marriages and families, so there needs to be more effort to keep them together.
Mix it up and stay fresh
Christians often face dry periods where their prayers and spiritual life seem repetitive and boring. It can be beneficial to mix things up and do something different once in a while, even for just a short time, to stay fresh. For example, switch from praying the Rosary to praying the Stations of the Cross or some other prayer. Maybe change what is being fasted or abstained. Try a different community service.
Have a winning attitude
A desire to win and do whatever it takes to win leads to many more victories. The good general never accepts defeat, but considers defeat nothing more than an opportunity to learn and do better next time. A winning attitude means seeking the Kingdom of God first beyond everything the world, the flesh and the devil have to offer.
This all seems like a lot of work and effort. It is. But whatever effort we put into our spiritual battle, the enemy puts in a hundred times more. The world, the flesh and the devil never stop. What makes the war easier, however, is the grace of the Father, the mercy of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit. They are always on our side and ready to helps us, as long as we also help our self and prove our confession of faith is true.
There will always be temptations, and there will always be battles lost. But perfection is not the goal. Holiness and union with Christ is the goal. The goal is abundant life both in Heaven and on earth. Mortal sin can and should always be avoided, as mortal sin separates us from God’s grace and power. But God will take us back because nothing can separate us from the mercy of Jesus. Venial sins are simply minor skirmishes of war that were lost. There is a saying, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” In our spiritual war with three enemies, this is most certainly true.
To the question "Why am I not able to achieve holiness?", maybe the answer is "Holiness is not really desired enough to fight for it." God is always there with everything He can give us to help us be holy. It is up to us do the rest.