Help Me Understand Attacks of the Devil (Part I of II)

Help Me Understand Attacks of the Devil
Part I of II

Dear Father John,  I seem to be constantly tempted to, or away from, one thing or another.  I would like to arm myself as much as possible against this spiritual darkness.  Would you help me understand attacks of the devil?

SECULAR ATHEISTS CAN develop strong willpower and natural prudence,  and they can put them to work in the service of impressive and useful achievements. They can develop the natural virtues of responsibility and dependability through persevering effort. But when we aim at serving God’s kingdom instead of the kingdom of this world, an additional set of obstacles gets involved. The spiritual battle kicks in, a struggle, as St. Paul explains, that “is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Spiritual Struggle

Developing willpower always demands effort and sacrifice, but aligning our will with Christ’s and growing in Christian courage and perseverance—which always require obedience, not just sheer determination—will demand even more. Both our intellect and our will are wounded by original sin…and when we launch out on the path of healing and make loving obedience to God’s plan the desire of our hearts, our spiritual enemies become intensely interested in deterring us. St. John Paul II explained this is in his encyclical on the moral life:

PalazzoSchifanoiaSaloneDeiMesi04AprileFDelCossaToro03_2This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9), exchanging “the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). Man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and skepticism (cf. John 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself.*

The Enemy’s First Strategy: Corrupt the Heart

Jesus had to fight this battle in his life, too. His nature wasn’t wounded by original sin or personal sins, but he had to do combat with our ancient enemy, the devil. And in that combat, he revealed the devil’s three basic strategies.

At the beginning of his public life, Jesus went into the desert wilderness for forty days for prayer and preparation. During that period, the Gospels explain, he was “tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13). We are BarthelemyParrocelJesusAuDesertall familiar with the temptations that were used in this case (see Matthew 4). In these, the devil tried to divide Jesus’s heart, in order to remove or at least corrupt his core desire of loving and obeying his Father. The devil tried to replace it with a desire for pleasure and comfort when he tempted our Lord to turn stones into bread. When that didn’t work, the devil tried to replace it with a desire for earthly power and dominion, showing our Lord all the kingdoms of the world and promising to put them under his control for the simple price of worshipping the devil. That didn’t work either. And so the devil tempted Jesus to seek first popularity and adulation by performing a dramatic miracle of jumping off the top of the temple without being hurt. That temptation failed as well. The devil’s first strategy, to corrupt the heart, was laid bare.

* St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor,  paragraph 1.

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Art: Detail of Palazzo Schifanoia, Salone dei messi, 04 aprile (f.del cossa) toro 03 2, Sailko, 30 September 2013 own work (photography), CC-SA;  Jésus au désert (Jesus in the desert), Barthélemy Parrocel (1595-1660), undated, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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