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Introduction to Spiritual Warfare… Part I of IV

October 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Warfare

Archangel MichaelDear Father John, I have been working on my prayer life consistently for a few years. During this time I have been on retreats and other similar activities. I have noticed a strange pattern: the conservative groups I have had contact with talk a lot about spiritual warfare, but the less traditionalist groups don’t. Until now, I haven’t paid much attention to the discrepancy. But lately I was wondering if maybe I should look into it – maybe understanding it better will help me grow spiritually?

It is so encouraging to hear from yet another blog reader who is committed to praying and growing in their prayer life. Keep it up! We are called to be salt and light in this world, and we can only do that by maintaining our flavor and keeping our lamp full of oil, and that means praying.

Before getting into the core of the issue you raise, I would like to comment on the terms “conservative” and “traditionalist.” In the context of your question, I think I know what you mean, but sometimes those terms (along with the term “liberal”) can cause more fuzziness than clarity. The same words are used for political and academic discussions, and so they carry a lot of baggage. When we bring them into our conversations about the Church or the spiritual life, we use them at our own risk – we simply don’t know if our listeners (readers) will think of the same reality as we are. In general, therefore, I have found it useful to be as specific as possible. For example, if I say, “my parish priest has a great respect for papal teaching and often explains it to us in his homilies,” I am being clear and precise. If I say, “our retreat director advised us to avoid using the Our Father and gave us some centering prayer techniques instead,” I am also being clear. Admittedly, this kind of language is more cumbersome and inconvenient than one-word labels, but in the end, exercising a little discipline here may benefit all of us in our conversations about Church issues. At least, I think so. But maybe this is just a pet peeve and I’m being too conservative…

As regards spiritual warfare, your instinct is right. The concept is at the heart of the Church’s identity, and so it is also at the heart of our efforts to grow in the spiritual life. Understanding it better will be a major help for every aspect of your Christian life.

Grappling with Spiritual Warfare

I am tempted to bombard you with Scripture quotations in order to clearly reveal that we, as followers of Christ, are by definition soldiers in an ongoing spiritual battle. But there are so many passages that I wouldn’t know where to stop. Instead, I will share one of my personal favorites from the documents of the Second Vatican Council. It’s from the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, better known as Gaudium et Spes, paragraph #13:

Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, but their senseless minds were darkened and they served the creature rather than the Creator… Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out that “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who held him in the bondage of sin.

This “dramatic struggle between good and evil,” whose primary arena is every human heart, is what we mean by spiritual warfare. Every day, we are faced with decisions about how to use our time, talents, and treasure, about how to treat those around us, about how to respond to difficulties and opportunities. Our ability to make those decisions, those free choices, is what makes us human – squirrels don’t make free choices, they are driven purely by instinct. The quality of those choices determines who we are as human beings, both now and for all eternity. If we repeatedly choose what is good and right, we grow in our communion with the Author of all that is Good and Right, God. If we choose what is evil and self-centered, we distance ourselves from God. And since the very purpose of our existence is to live in communion with God, it is these choices, these free decisions that we make every day, in the most normal circumstances, that determine our everlasting destiny.

As a result, the forces of evil (the devil and his minions, the demons – these are fallen angels who exist in permanent rebellion against God) are interested in influencing those decisions. They want to lure us away from God, expanding their rebellion. They work their influence through temptation. At the same time, God and his servants (the angels and the saints) are working to strengthen us against temptation, so that we can overcome the attacks of evil. This is the normal state of affairs here on earth, and it will be so from now until our Lord comes again at the end of history.

An Imaginary Exercise

If there were a “Spiritual Warfare Daily News,” its headlines would differ wildly from the headlines of our newspapers. Earthquakes, forest fires, wars and rumors of wars, stock prices, sports scores, fashions – all these external realities that tend to monopolize our attention would only appear in the background of the main stories. Instead, headlines would say things like, “Plumber Endangers Soul by Overcharging Widow,” or “School Teacher Conquers Greed by Cancelling Credit Card,” or “Girl Opens Flood of Grace by Being Patient with Her Brother.”

From the point of view of spiritual warfare, which is the point of view of eternal life – God’s point of view, the circumstances of the world around us, however dramatic they may appear, are like the stage sets of a theatre play: what really matters is how the characters, you and I, respond to them, confront them, work with them, and carry out our life-mission (to know, love, and follow Christ and helps others do the same) within their parameters.

I would like to write more about this topic. But before I do, I would like to see how you and other readers respond to this post. Let me know what you think.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", Inside the Passion--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

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  • http://authorette-nouveau.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2009-01-12T08%3A37%3A00-08%3A00&max-results=25 Karen Johnson

    It’s easy to be a good Catholic while sitting in the Mass. But the true quality of Christian life is reflected in the parking lot afterwards.

  • Linda

    Father, thank you for explaining a very complex subject clearly and succinctly. I’m looking forward to the next portion. So many terms get thrown around, some rather loosely, which can be confusing (“the enemy” at work?) The enemy. The evil one. Satan. The devil. Evil spirits. Demons. What role does “human nature” and “concupiscience” play in all of this? The need for sharp discernment in the day-to-day situations is critical and I daresay quite a challenge. Holy Spirit, be our guide.

  • Betsy

    The term, “spiritual warfare” conjures in me the image of something that has almost become a cottage industry in some Catholic and Christian circles. They talk of demonic attacks and binding spirits and hedge prayers and all kinds of specialized terminology. I find it rather off-putting.

    On the other hand, your post, Father, casts it in a very commonsense light. Every day we have a choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing. With the help of grace, we do the right thing. If we reject grace, we give in to temptation and do the wrong thing. It’s all very ordinary and very grand at the same time.

    I am reminded of something that doctors teach their students: “If you hear hoofbeats, think first of horses, not zebras.”

    • http://aquietcatholic.blogspot.com Lynne

      Betsy, did you skip over this paragraph?

      As a result, the forces of evil (the devil and his minions, the demons – these are fallen angels who exist in permanent rebellion against God) are interested in influencing those decisions. They want to lure us away from God, expanding their rebellion. They work their influence through temptation. At the same time, God and his servants (the angels and the saints) are working to strengthen us against temptation, so that we can overcome the attacks of evil. This is the normal state of affairs here on earth, and it will be so from now until our Lord comes again at the end of history.

      And the binding prayer that you mention is In the name of Jesus, I bind you Spirit of ______ and send you to the foot of the Cross to be judged by our Lord where _____ is anger or envy or some other sin you are battling…

  • Mary

    Father, I hope you do write more about this–I would like to hear more. For some reason, seeing the battle between good and evil as “spiritual warfare” seems to help me “fight the good fight” just a little easier. If I have a choice over doing something good (a minor small task), and not doing it, I might be inclined to not do it, and think, “not doing that is not a sin, I’m just not that good of a person”. However, if I see the task in terms of an opportunity to make an advancement in the spiritual battle, I am more inclined to take the time to do the good deed. That perspective may not work for others, but does seem to help me.

    And thank you for explaining your “pet peeve”– great way to illustrate the concept! :)

  • hope

    I would really like to know more about this topic as I rarely have heard about it in those terms. Also, it would be helpful to have tips to win the battle for us and our children. Lastly, I heard an excellent talk given by Fr. Corapi and he recommended invoking the Immaculate Heart of Mary whenever we sense evil around us and our children…that was a very simple and practical suggestion, yet powerful! Thanks for all your awesome website!!!

    • joan smidowicz

      I usually say the prayer to St Michael the Archangel when I feel that there might be spiritual warfare waging around. On other occasions it might be simply, Jesus I give you my heart and my soul please help me.

  • Margo

    Hello Father John,

    I really enjoyed your Spiritual Warfare news headlines: “Plumber Endangers Soul by Overcharging Widow,” or “School Teacher Conquers Greed by Cancelling Credit Card,” or “Girl Opens Flood of Grace by Being Patient with Her Brother.”

    I was just thinking about this from another angle, yesterday. I have really enjoyed reading Tolkien’s *Lord of the Rings* and seeing Peter Jackson’s rendition of them into films. I find both versions inspiring. But, as fairie tales do, they have the advantage of being able to show how high the stakes are re our daily decisions (or at least: to show *that* the stakes are high).

    One of the things that I find tough about spiritual warfare — and I know that this is part of the ‘dust’ that fairie tales wipe away — is that it’s not easy in my daily life to see clearly what’s at stake, or to see the significance of what’s at stake.

    Seeing what’s at stake helps me make a better choice and stick to it more firmly. Are there ways to see What’s Going On Behind Our Decisions better?

  • http://www.hisdaughter02.blogspot.com Karin

    I agree with Karen above! Father, Thank you for this very clear explanation of spiritual warfare. I don’t think many if us realize that, as you said, we are all soldiers in an ongoing spiritual battle. I look forward to hearing more from you on this topic. Loved the Spiritual Warfare Daily News.

  • Woody Jones

    “We will never progress without fighting. It is a serious error to think that we can reach our ideals, no matter how beautiful and noble they may be, unless we decide to fight, and fight to the end.” (Centered on Christ, n. 751)

    Thank you for starting this topic, Father John. Keep up the good work. And by the way, when will “Cristo al Centro” be available in English?

  • Susan

    Thank you Father, and YES, I would like more on this topic. It is especially helpful when trying to explain to teens that it’s a real battle out there and they need to be prepared and aware. The decisions we make each day have eternal consequences.

  • MaryK

    What a clear, concise explanation!

  • Tim English

    Words of wisdom. I want/need to hear more. The analogy of headlines really hits home. If we could see our lives through Gods eyes we would be terrified.

  • Monica Check

    This is an excellent article. Thank you Father John. ~ People of faith are cognizant of the fact that we all have within our hearts an ongoing battle to progress in the spiritual life, becoming ever more purified, and culminating in union with Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Along our earthly journey, we fail, seek forgiveness, get up and carry on. ~ However, in the world around us, consciences have become dulled and people live as if God doesn’t exist. In society at large, hearts have become hardened to God’s Truth. ~ In terms of “spiritual warfare”, what can you do to help others living in mortal sin when they will not admit they have a problem because they do not want to change? ~ I know the conditions for mortal sin, and they apply in the case. ~ I am praying and offering sacrifices already.

  • Zilkia Jimenez

    Thank you so much for this. I definitely want to learn more. I personally feel the spiritual battle getting stronger. My husband and I (along with some friends who follow your blog) belong to a marriage ministry. Surely you can imagine the difficulties when it comes to ministering to marriages/families. Please do share more with us. It would be beneficial for us to learn how to battle or just know what else we could do especially during our retreats. Thank you.

  • Karen Hjelstrom

    Very well put, I used it with my 8th gr class to explain the subject. Keep it coming

  • Mark

    Dear Father,

    Wow! I am a cradle Catholic and am old enough to have studied from the Baltimore Catechism. I admit that I kind of thought the whole “spritual warfare” thing was a vestige of an older time in Catholic life and, maybe when I learned it as a kid, I remembered it, well, as a kid. You shed an incredible light on this topic. Please write more!

    Mark

  • http://google Mary Macharia

    Thank you Fr. John. Your uncomplicated explanation of what the spiritual warfare is all about it very illuminating, especially to one like me who cannot differentiate between my own”comfort zone” which I use not to upset my lifestyle too much and the can insiduously, become an instrument for the evil powers to lead me astray by enticing me to avoid doing the good I need to do which God wants me to do. Please teach us more on this. You have no idea how it is helping us in our spiritual journey which is made more muddled by the daily situations which Satan uses to penetrate our lives and lead us astray – not in major sins which we are aware of and reject outright – but the little things that help us grow in our Faith. God bless you

  • http://bready@fuse.net Becky Ready

    Fr. Bartunek,
    I loved your imaginary exercise with the “Spiritual Warfare Daily News.” Well done! Right to the point! We, as Catholics, need to be more aware and more trained in this holy pursuit of “spiritual warfare.” I am a DRE in my parish and see many signs all around me of the need for more skilled warriors. Keep on teaching..keep on praying….and most of all keep on sharing your wisdom from God. I can’t wait for your next book!!

  • http://google Mary Macharia

    God bless you Fr. John. Now I understand why I feel there is something I don’t quite understand but which is holding me back from experiencing some progress in my ardent desire to feel near to Jesus. Thank you very much for making me understand what is at play in my heart and the cause of my desolation when I feel I am heading nowhere.

  • Andrew

    I need help; every day my prayer life becomes stronger and the closer I come to as the saints were on their journey; but I suffer from temptations everyday and I can not drive to go to a church and my mother is saving the money she has; since the people who help you when you loose your job hasn’t been paying her. What can I do to a room in the house to make a spot for holiness and for prayer? Would that give some comfort from dealing with temptations and give me a break from them? Please let me know what I can do. Thank you very much and God Bless.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Andrew in Christ,

      Do you have a spiritual director? Have you ever read Interior Castles by St. Teresa of Avila?

      Pax Christi

    • judeen

      your on a spiritual journey.. temptations …. trying to get you away from Jesus and purity ,,   you have a job to do for God… that is why temptations are so stronge… bless your house with Holy Water,, and the st. michel prayer… go to confession… adortion makes you stronge.. but when attacked.. start to Praise Jesus Christ as your savoir and redemmer… this protects you very much.. say out loud You are a child of God… this proclaims your beleif and baptizism..  look away from impurity… say a our Father .. Plea the precious blood of Jesus over you.. calll upon your guarden angel… for help… there is so many things to do to not get dooped into following the demons temptations….

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  • Elaine

    Hi Fr. Bartunek,
    I am very interested in learning more on this subject regarding Spiritual warfare. Your explanation helps very much. I feel when I am praying and coming closer to God at a more deeper relationship with Him my life is more difficult.Therefore decisions in life need a deeper understanding of our Lord to gaze our eyes only on Him.
    God Bless you for your continued love for our Lord.

  • judeen

    when you go to war even in the army they take the enemys weapons apart and put them back together again. and learn about the enemy to fight Him and win.. spiritual warfare is the same..knowing who your fighting.. fallen angels.. the small 1s are size of your mouse.. millions of them .. they make you stuf your toe, or agravate you in some way.. the next size is 1 ft. long.. they do bigger agravations.. arguement… the next size is 3 ft. long , the next our size…habits that are bad. addiction… the bigger ones.. are 8 ft. -unforgiveness great sorrow, deep heart acks from sin… sexual addictions… lust…
        they come from the different choirs of angels.. we deal with them everyday… and write it off… our lives filled with them.. causing us sorrow.. and pain.. why would we not do spiritual battle and get them out of our lives.?

  • judeen

    a good catholic sitting in church….. nothing makes us a good catholic… if your just there,, and not praying ,, you really are not attending church.. … your mind , heart and soul is somewhere else….. do we mean our prays or just say them if your only good at mass , then how weak is your faith? if you have any faith at all… and then you wonder where God is? who is in charge if God isnt? rememmber the sins we do make the demons stronger and we get weaker.. the more you feed them the more powerful they get.. they dont just go after you.. but your marraige, children, family…. freinds.. it is not just you your fighting against them for….

  • judeen

    a good catholic sitting in church….. nothing makes us a good catholic… if your just there,, and not praying ,, you really are not attending church.. … your mind , heart and soul is somewhere else….. do we mean our prays or just say them if your only good at mass , then how weak is your faith? if you have any faith at all… and then you wonder where God is? who is in charge if God isnt? rememmber the sins we do make the demons stronger and we get weaker.. the more you feed them the more powerful they get.. they dont just go after you.. but your marraige, children, family…. freinds.. it is not just you your fighting against them for….

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