Saturday, April 14, 2012

To conquer "the world"

Read I John 5:1-6

To conquer Everest ! This was a dream that fascinated me as a child. I loved reading books that told of the adventures of mountaineers as they tackled the Himalayas. These stories spoke to my fantasies of accomplishing impossible things, pushing myself to the limit of my abilities, my talents, my possibilities.

These days, the media report all kinds of conquests. Men and women are taking up strange and wondrous challenges: crossing the Atlantic in a rowboat, circling the globe in a balloon, walking from Chile to England. Others take on more manageable but still impressive challenges: conquering a triathlon, completing a marathon, doing a century on a bicycle, canoeing the length of a river.

The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote something like this: « People find the measure of themselves in the obstacles they confront.” This is so true: there lies in us a need to prove ourselves by overcoming obstacles, by conquering mountains, whatever shape a particular mountain may take.

Yet all of these examples are taken from the merely physical realm: a distance to be traversed, a height to be climbed, a time to be bettered. The deeper obstacles we must confront as humans are the obstacles of the spiritual life. We must overcome hatred, prejudice, injustice, anger. And if we want to overcome them when they confront us, we must first overcome them when they arise in us. This is the greatest and most noble conquest: to master oneself.

These powers of evil are identified by Saint John as “the world.” This expression is shorthand for him: it represents the selfishness of the human heart, the injustice of human society, the refusal to believe or to love. This is what needs to be conquered, according to Saint John: “the world” around us, “the world” within us.

Left to ourselves, such a victory is impossible. The obstacle is too great, beyond our own strength or capacity. Only one man has ever conquered the world: the risen Christ. And the only way for us to imitate his victory is to conquer with him. For if we believe in him, his Spirit will abide in us and give us incredible strength and power. Not a physical strength, but a moral and spiritual power that will help us overcome the selfishness that, within us, is always threatening to strangle love. “What allows us to conquer the world is our faith!”

This is the conquest worth achieving, the victory we must claim. With the risen Lord Jesus, we can do so. With him, we will conquer “the world”.