From my friend Paul of Theandric:
Last year around the time of the feast of St. Matthew, I described how God put on my heart to begin devoting time to the memorization of major sections of Scripture. I’m happy to say that I have continued to devote myself to this challenge, even if my initial enthusiasm has waned at times, requiring me to re-commit myself on more than one occasion.
After my last guest blog at CBB, a reader wrote to me expressing an interest in beginning some memorization. I offered some tips, and in doing so it reminded me of the element of spiritual warfare that is an important aspect to consider when we’re trying to grow in our love of God. The truth remains that Satan is real, and just as he tried to do disrupt God’s plan in the life of Christ, he will also try to halt, twist and altogether destroy God’s plan in our own lives.
Before we address the issue of scriptural memorization itself, let’s first consider some of the tactics of the devil. I am going to offer this passage from Matthew’s gospel to serve as a departure point of our reflection. To provide context, this passage recounts what occurred after the magi failed to return to inform Herod that they had found the Christ Child.
“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.” Matthew 2:16
Fortunately, before Herod ordered the massacre, the Lord had already warned Joseph that Herod intended to destroy the child. After the warning, Joseph obeyed the Lord’s directive and fled to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus.
Now this passage can tell us so much about how the evil one thinks and operates. The first thing we should note is that the devil wants to destroy life itself. As Jesus warned us, the devil is a “liar and a murderer from the beginning.” Murderers earn the name by committing murder, that is, by destroying life. In contrast, Jesus proclaimed, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
In the case of Herod, we can be certain that his own heart had been corrupted by the influence of Satan, for Herod, corrupted by the sin of pride and lust for power, would not abandon his plan to destroy Life. Since the magi did not inform him of the whereabouts of the Christ child, he then devised a diabolical plan to commit a full-scale massacre and to destroy life that was still in its nascent stages. This led to what we know as the “massacre of the innocents” - the barbaric destruction of innocent, weak and vulnerable children. But again he failed in his quest to destroy Jesus.
This shows us a second aspect of how the jealousy and pride of the devil causes him to seek the death of something holy and humble. If he cannot destroy life at its beginning, he won’t give up on trying to kill it when it is still weak and vulnerable.
So now get back to considering the challenge of learning God’s Word by heart. If we’ve prayed about it and discerned that God is inviting us to memorize His Word, we know it will take time, effort and daily devotion. And just as a child does not become a man in a day, we won’t be able to learn God’s Word by heart in a day. If we say “yes” to the Lord, we must be aware that the evil one is going to be saying “no” to our desire to do the will of God. So we can acknowledge at the outset some important lessons of spiritual warfare:
#1. The devil will try to stop you before you begin a good work.
#2. If he can’t stop you from starting, the devil will try to stop you after you’ve begun, especially in the nascent stages. While old habits die hard, new habits die young!
Let’s take #1 first. How would the devil try to stop you from memorizing the Scriptures before you begin? Here’s some of my ideas how. Feel free to share your own.
a. He will try to make you believe that the whole idea is too ambitious, and only suitable for those who have no full-time job, no children, no hobbies, etc.
b. He will keep you preoccupied with finding a “perfect translation” such that you don’t bother beginning at all, since we are exposed to a variety of translations in our worship, spiritual reading, etc., making you worried that somehow becoming more familiar with one translation will “confuse” you…
c. He will keep you preoccupied with surfing the internet throughout the day so that you never commit to memorizing even one passage of scripture, or at least stall your efforts to make progress. (This was and is the tactic that continues to plague me!)
d. He will tempt you with a slew of other tantalizing forms of spiritual reading, that will take priority over reading the Gospels themselves. The secondary sources, while certainly helpful for the spiritual life, should always remain just that, secondary sources. Should we not seek the Primary Source itself, the Word of God, in whom we live and move and have our being?