We beseech thee, Almighty God: look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The importance of recognising one’s enemies is very great. There appears to be a certain combative or competitive instinct in human nature which, if properly developed, can be of real service in the formation of character. On the other hand, it can be the instrument of terrible evil. It is said that Hitler... deliberately stirred up the hatred of his people for the Jews in order to strengthen their unity and toughen their aggressive quality.
The collect for today assumes that we know who are our enemies. Certainly it would give no encouragement to Hitler’s dastardly choice of an innocent race on which to sharpen the edge of his followers' brutality. The enemies it has in view are the adversaries of. the soul, the treacherous assailants so neatly summed up in the three-fold division of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Of these perhaps the world is the most difficult to recognise, because the term itself is ambiguous. Here what is intended is not just the physical universe, but society organised apart from God, or, perhaps more accurately, everything in our environment that would lead us away from God.
The ‘flesh’ is easier to understand, although... we must not make the mistake of thinking that our physical nature is wholly bad. Perhaps we can think of it more easily as the world within ourselves, everything that would take the ordinary and natural instincts and turn their satisfaction into mere means of self-gratification without any thought of God or of others... It applies to any extravagant desire: greed, ambition, gluttony, miserliness, or the mere covetousness which Saint Paul so often warns us against... We are innately self-centred and consider everything in relation to ourselves. All that is a “temptation of the flesh”. It is an enemy to be resisted and subdued. Every desire must be brought under bondage to Christ. This is a war in which there is no discharge.
The third enemy is the devil. He is the very principle of evil, generally conceived as personal because of the subtlety and ingenuity with which he makes his assaults on the citadel of the soul... [His] power is manifested not only in rash impulses and insensate rages, but in sly suggestions and unworthy doubts. It is seen in both the hasty word and the cowardly silence. Those of us who are familiar with the story of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus will remember that it was Satan who entered into the heart of Judas and induced him to betray his Master.
It is from such enemies that we have a “hearty desire” to be delivered. We recognise that it is a really serious matter, a matter of life and death. But we have no need for fear, or anxiety, or even of small worries. God's right hand is more powerful than that of any devil. Jesus is depicted by Saint Mark as the victor over the whole universe of demonic powers. In him we are safe: our victory has been won... If we see our enemies clearly and trust fully in the power of God, we destroy every foe and reign with Christ for ever’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Fr Lee Kenyon