In warfare, both sides lose. There are no real winners when nations or peoples war against one another. The war in Ukraine is a high-profile example of this as are several other wars raging as I type this. War leads to death and defeat, in a sense, for all involved. It must be avoided at all costs.
But before you peg me as a pacifist, I will say that I believe some—though perhaps few—wars can be just, but only for one side. By that I mean, when a nation or people is unjustly attacked, there are cases where self-defense is strictly necessary. One side is an unjust aggressor; the other is innocent of this provocation and must defend itself. This is essentially the same principle as to why a person who kills in self-defense cannot be prosecuted as a murderer.
An Interior Battlefield
Yet this post is about a different kind of war, consisting of many battles, and which lasts the whole of one’s life. In fact, one can never fully win this battle in one’s lifetime. Neither can one ever completely defeat this enemy. There is no truce or “ceasefire,” and one should struggle every moment of every day to advance in this clash. The war is within oneself. It is an interior struggle.
An Irish military chaplain in World War I—Fr. Willie Doyle—died in the Battle of Passchendaele while rescuing two wounded soldiers in August 1917. He exhibited extraordinary heroism and is now a candidate for canonization as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. He was capable of such heroic and extraordinary courage because he trained himself interiorly: one slab of butter at a time.
The “Tragedy of the Butter”
For you see, his personal notes were found after his death: “Didn’t take butter…; did take butter!” and so on. He tried to deny himself the simple pleasure of buttering his bread at breakfast time. But for anyone who has tasted Irish butter, it may become apparent that this self-denial was not easy. He struggled nevertheless to deny himself in little things, so that he could be ready to deny himself in bigger things—ultimately giving his life in the service of his fellow countrymen.
Perhaps you and I won’t be called to give up our lives on the battlefield of some world war. Yet we should live each day as if it might be our last, denying ourselves in ordinary ways in order to strengthen our will and prepare for whatever may be asked of us one day.
The war for freedom is a central theme—perhaps the central theme—of The Shadows of Freedom Series. Yet can that war ever be won … and at what cost? The third and final installment of the series—As Strong As Death—addresses this question. The conflict waging throughout the first two books comes to a head and the principal characters must make difficult decisions in the attempt to weather the storms swirling around them. Interior freedom proves to be even more important than exterior freedom and the likewise, the interior struggle transcends the exterior one.
This interior freedom is not the same as cold detachment. Stoicism—a way of life inspired by such thinkers as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca—has caught fire among many entrepreneurs, business leaders, and others today in a revival that is encouraging yet also somewhat concerning. While Stoicism encourages self-discipline and detachment from the things of this passing life, it lacks a proper, full rationale as to why one should practice this kind of self-denial.
Interior freedom is not so much saying “no” to the things here on earth but saying “yes” to perfect love. Interior struggle in some ways resembles Stoicism, but ultimately, transcends it. What may be popular in Silicon Valley is a good start towards a life of self-denial, something praise-worthy. But it’s just the start; it needs the proper orientation. The interior struggle I refer to must be done out of love and service to those around us. Like that heroic military chaplain, Fr. Willie Doyle, we must deny ourselves in little things, out of great love, so that when the time comes, we can give of ourselves for others because we truly love them.