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November 17, 2014

As the Church year draws to a close, the Scripture readings that confront us are filled with apocalyptic images that herald a monumental struggle against the forces of darkness.

On one hand, it is easy to see that battle being waged in world events with wars and savage killings, not only in the Middle East and Ukraine, but also in many parts of Africa. The two recent attacks on Canadian military personnel might also be viewed as indicators that this cosmic battle has even touched our peaceful land.

The cosmic battle may seem remote from our daily routines until that routine is thrown into turmoil by some crime, the death of a loved one or another disturbing occurrence. Mostly, our lives seem to continue outside any overt waging of the ultimate battle between good and evil.

Appearances, however, are deceiving. While Christ has won the final victory over evil through his cross and resurrection, the mopping-up operation goes on in our lives.

DISTURBING IMAGES

The book of Revelation is filled with strange and disturbing images. One that should both challenge and console us is that of the "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars" (12.1).

The woman is confronted by a great red dragon who wants to devour the woman's male child who is destined to rule all nations as soon as he is born. But the child was snatched up and taken to God and his throne while the woman flees into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God.

This statue of Mary in Quito, Ecuador, portrays the woman clothed with the sun of Revelation 12.

This statue of Mary in Quito, Ecuador, portrays the woman clothed with the sun of Revelation 12.

The dragon unsuccessfully pursues the woman, who was given the two wings of the great eagle, and then heads off "to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus" (12.17).

MARY AND CHURCH

The image has been variously interpreted as that of Mary, the mother of the Messiah, or of the Church. Both interpretations are correct, even though the story does not represent the historical life of Mary.

The opening image reminds us of the dream of Joseph in which the sun, moon and 11 stars bow down to him (Genesis 37.9). While Joseph's dream points to the authority he will have over his family, the image of the woman's crown represents Mary's share – as well as that of all the saints – in Christ's kingship in the new Israel.

Mary stands on the moon, a symbol of death, and is clothed with the sun's radiance of new life. The 12 stars are representative of the 12 tribes of Israel and, in this context, depict the whole People of God.

MARY'S CHILDREN

But although Mary is safe in a place prepared by God, her children are not. For theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary becomes the Church in this story. It shows the children of the Church "in an incessant war being waged against the satanic powers."

This war, Balthasar adds, is not one waged with worldly weapons, but with the weapons of the spirit. Throughout the New Testament, the only weapons spoken of are the weapons of the Spirit and the virtues.

The letter to the Ephesians refers to God's armour – the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit (6.13-17). Above all, we must pray to the Spirit in our battle "against the cosmic powers of the present darkness" (6.12).

DESTROYING STRONGHOLDS

Our weapons, St. Paul wrote, are not human ones, but those which "have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10.4).

Jesus himself when he gave the apostles authority over all demons and sent them out to proclaim God's kingdom, urged, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic" (Luke 9.3).

Back in the book of Revelation, it is the Word of God clothed in a robe dipped in blood who makes war, not with cruise missiles and bombs, but with "a sharp sword" that comes from his mouth (19.11-15). The Word of God is the ultimate weapon.

It is naïve to believe that we are not in the midst of a cosmic battle, and that the dragon is not making war on all of Mary's children, including you and me. Each person likely knows the site of the battlefield and the weapons the evil one is using against him or her.

The New Testament describes the spiritual weapons we should use to fight back. Yet, we should never forget that we are Mary's children and that Mary is the best of all possible mothers. She knows how serious the war is, and she will surely fight by our sides if we call for her assistance.