Father Fortea, do demons have a plan when tempting us?
Remember: a demon is a spiritual being that possesses a greater intelligence than ours. Therefore, in temptation, a demon tries to enter into a conversation with the person he is tempting. If the person being tempted resists and never considers the temptation for even a moment, then it is a one-sided conversation – the demon speaks but gets no answer; his words are ignored.
But a demon can be at our side for a very long time, analyzing us and coming to know our particular weaknesses. He will then seek to tempt us at our weakest point. A demon is extraordinarily pragmatic, and he knows that the probability of success a type of temptation will have. If a particular person is virtuous and is therefore unlikely to commit a mortal sin, a demon will tempt the person with a venial sin. If he knows that even this temptation may be unsuccessful, he will tempt the person with an imperfection. For example, tempting an ascetic with gluttony would be a waste of time, but getting such a person to fast excessively would much more likely be successful. And, if the demon has success in this area, he will then try to tempt the person to fast in a way that builds up his pride or is most damaging to his health.
In another case, a demon knows that tempting a nun to neglect prayer would probably not be fruitful, but tempting her to pray excessively and thereby neglect her work has a higher likelihood of success. Or to convince her that she does not really need to obey her confessor since he is a man and is less spiritual than she. A demon never tempts blindly but always analyzes and attacks where he sees there is some possibility.
The examples given above are of temptations directed toward people of prayer and virtue. The man given over to vice (i.e., a person who habitually commits mortal sins), on the other hand, has little protection. Without the armor of God’s grace, his spirit presents numerous flanks that are unguarded and exposed to temptation. His passions are easily incited by the action of the demons. This is why we pray in the Our Father for God to “deliver us from the Evil One.” Even though we are free to resist temptation, we need to constantly ask for the Father’s protection and deliverance. This is why the Lord has given each of us a guardian angel – to counter the evil inspirations of the devil with inspirations to goodness and virtue.
Temptation is incompatible with prayer. If one is tempted and prays, the temptation disappears. Prayer creates a barrier against temptation, since in prayer our intellects and wills are centered on God. Eventually, a demon cannot resist this and leaves us alone.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about spiritual warfare and demonology, Catholic Spiritual Direction recommends Fr. Fortea’s excellent book Interview With An Exorcist – An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance.
Art: Beelzebub and them that are with him shoot arrows, Frederick Barnard (1846-1896), engraved by Dalziel Brothers, undated, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; detail of Padre José Antonio Fortea 2017, photographed by Elgatoconbotaselgatoconbotas, 5 May 2017 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; both Wikimedia Commons. Cover of “Interview with an Exorcist” used with permission, all rights reserved.