WMDs, Weapons of Mass Destruction! The aim is to cause maximum disruption of human life - ricin in the subways, terrorist attacks on buildings and bridges, bombs in holy shrines, pandemics of manmade diseases, or nuclear disasters from the sky or through the port cities. "But I say to you, My friends," says the Lord, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will show you whom you shall be afraid of; be afraid of him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, be afraid of him" (Luke 12:4-6).
The devil has his WMDs too, spiritual WMDs, far more dangerous than nuclear weapons. By means of movies, TV programs and internet spam, he can stifle, maim or kill the spiritual life in millions of souls at a time. The young face a slow spiritual death in the public schools or the once-Catholic schools. Books can be a very effective WMD when you have millions of people reading them, like the Harry Potter novels. The blasphemous DaVinci Code has sold 70 million copies worldwide. We have recently been warned about two books, "Conversations with God" and "Conversations with God for Teens," written by Neil D. Walsh, who dares to speak for God, denying the reality of sin and teaching the young to be tolerant of perverted lifestyles, among other things. Such books do not make good birthday gifts for your niece or nephew.
In former times the Church rushed to the defense of her endangered children by maintaining an Index of Forbidden Books, usually called just "The Index," because she knew that our souls could be easily poisoned by heresy and immorality. But we haven't heard mention of "The Index" for years. Our "stepmother," the conciliar church, suppressed it in 1966 under Paul VI, thus opening a "Pandora's Box" for Catholics. Not that there was a sudden rush to read what was on the Index, but it gave Catholics the idea that they were now free to read anything at all. More freedom, yes, freedom to lose our souls. The Index, however, is still in effect, since our "stepmother" has no authority to veto what has been sanctioned by our true Mother Church. We still need her guidance. Books, like movies and the internet, can be an occasion of sin.
The Church in the United States also maintained the Legion of Decency list, which helped Catholics and others choose movies that were morally acceptable. Those movie studios that wanted a good rating wouldn't dare produce a movie with even so much as a swear word. But times have changed. There is still some kind of list available, but standards of acceptability have changed so much that it's hard to know whose judgment one can trust.
But we are not left defenseless. We have our own WMDs. These are more powerful than anything the world or the devil can dream up because they have been given to us by Christ Himself, and are presented to us by the Church. The Church takes out her "big guns" for Lent - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. With these WMDs we can overturn satan's kingdom and clear for ourselves a straight path to the Kingdom of God. These three spiritual practices are meant to work together, like the three legs on a three-legged stool. Take away one of them and it doesn't work.
Our Lord does not say, "If you do good deeds… if you pray… if you fast," but "When you do good deeds… when you pray… when you fast." Fasting is part of the Christian life. The Angel Raphael, having guarded the younger Tobias in his journey, spoke these words to the young man and his father, Tobias: "Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold; for alms delivereth from death: and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting" (Tobias 12:8,9).
Lent is the time for intensified prayer. Many try to find that one special prayer that will work, as if by magic, perhaps a novena to some saint or other. Such prayers are good, but prayer is defined very simply by St. Augustine as "the lifting up of the mind and the heart to God." Prayer must come from the heart. In prayer we are in conversation with God Himself. This does not necessarily mean words, however. Vocal prayer has its place, but mental prayer is better. Paying loving attention to God by "raising the mind and the heart" is excellent prayer. You don't have to find the right words. God understands.
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For he who would save his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for My sake will save it," says Our Lord (Luke 9: 23,24). Fasting means self-denial primarily in food and drink, but there are many other ways to fast, such as turning off the TV and the radio (or your thingamabob with earphones). Many would find the practice of silence a good penance. "Those who live according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh; those who live according to the spirit, on those of the spirit" says St. Paul (Romans 8:5).
We read in the Book of Proverbs: "The kindly man will be blessed, for he gives of his sustenance to the poor" (Proverbs 22:9). Our Lord says of Almsgiving and of the blessings that ensue: "Sell what you have and give alms. Make for yourselves purses that do not grow old, a treasure unfailing in Heaven, where neither thief draws near nor moth destroys" (Luke 12:33). "Whoever gives to one of these little ones but a cup of cold water to drink because he is a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42). "Give to everyone who asks of thee… give, and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they pour into your lap. For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you" (Luke 6:30;38).
Almsgiving refers in the first place to giving, but the Church has provided us with a "good deeds" list - the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Corporal Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to shelter the homeless; to visit the sick; to ransom the captive; to bury the dead. The Spiritual Works of Mercy: to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish the sinner; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offenses willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead. Examine this list and you will find good deeds that you can do every day.
Thus we have our WMDs, our Weapons of Mass Destruction, with which we may deal a decisive blow to the devil and his evil associates, whether angelic or human, as Jesus Himself did after His forty day fast in the desert: "Then Jesus said to him, 'Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'The Lord your God shalt thou worship and Him only shalt thou serve."' Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and ministered to Him" (Matthew 4:10,11).