Living in New England gives me a deep appreciation of each season. The biting cold gives way to the heat of summer. Contrast is embedded throughout the design of existence itself. For example:
- Night and Day
- Dry and Wet
- Hot and Cold
- Life and Death
Beyond the more obvious physical opposites, however, lie less-obvious polarities that bleed into the spiritual realm.
The Opposite of Satan
A trick that the devil often employs is to deceive us about these spiritual opposites. Satan himself is often erroneously considered the opposite of God. While Satan holds to principles that are contrary to God, Satan is a created being and not anywhere close to the same realm of God. God is unmatched. What’s the opposite of Satan then? Mary, the Mother of God would be a much more accurate contrast since they are both creations of God the creator and were both given free will to serve God or not. Her “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) stands in direct contrast to Satan’s ‘Non serviam.’ (‘I will not serve’).
Spiritual Opposites: Enter by the Narrow Gate
When I think of how to be less sinful and more virtuous, I call to mind Christ’s analogy of the entrance to heaven being like a narrow gate:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.—Matthew 7:13-14 (RSV2CE)
This is important because a gate has a barrier on both sides of it. So if we find ourselves too far to the right, we won’t enter, but if we swing too far to the left, we still won’t enter. Worse, we may come across a different, easier gate and enter that instead. It’s only in the center of many spiritual matters that we are where God calls us. Here are a few examples.
1 – The Gate of Humility
The extreme opposite of pride is not humility, but rather despair.
Along the fence that spans from too much confidence to too little confidence, both extremes are dangerous (pride and despair).
Humility is the center, the gate, the balance that we gently approach when we neither think too highly (pride) nor too less (despair) of ourselves.
Humility grows when we recognize God as the source of any goodness we possess.
2 – The Gate of Studiousness
Curiosity is often thought of as a perfectly fine quality, but as we grow into a rational thinker, we can come to find that there are good and bad pursuits of knowledge.
We are called to a Christ-centered pursuit of knowledge, namely studiousness (knowledge pursued well). This knowledge and its application will make us a better version of ourselves.
Curiosity, on the other hand, is knowledge pursued improperly, like learning simply to impress others.
If curiosity is a gluttonous approach to knowledge, then the opposite side of the gate is a slothful approach to knowledge, where one chooses not to pursue it at all.
Studiousness, part of the virtue of temperance, is the center, the gate where we wisely pursue knowledge, information that helps us become holier.
The Venerable Fulton Sheen discusses studiousness in this video: How to Improve Your Mind – Archbishop Fulton Sheen
3 – The Gate to Escape Vanity
When vanity is discussed, it’s usually limited to one of its manifestations: an inordinate regard that others think highly of you.
This is not the full story, however.
We have to be careful of an over-correction of this, swinging us past the gate, which would be an inordinate regard that others think little of you. This is still vanity.
In both states of mind, we have an excessive concern of what others think and we’re not attributing the proper measure to our worth.
The focus, the narrow gate, is in the center of either extreme of vanity: it is to have a complete regard for what God thinks of you.
Death Star: The Target is Dead Center
It’s valuable time spent to pray and meditate upon the virtues and vices, and that, rather than visualizing that they lie opposite one another along a gradient, it’s really that the vices try to entrap us at either extreme, sandwiching the virtue that lies at the center.
Holiness lies perfectly balanced, between the outer chaos.
Another visual I call to mind is the trash compactor scene of Star Wars:
Or another visual from the same film is the destruction of the Death Star. In this case, barriers lie on both sides, and danger even comes from behind! The center, straight ahead, seemingly against all odds, is the narrow gate we are to aim for: