Spiritual Warfare

The devil isn’t fashionable any more. Behaving diabolically seems as popular as ever, but the devil? He’s just a figment of fevered religious imaginations. You won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t subscribe to that view. I would much prefer to believe that the devil doesn’t really exist, that evil is an abstraction, only of use to those who write tabloid headlines; but I can’t. Evil exists: it is intelligent, personal and dangerous. When St Paul wrote about our having to do battle with the elemental spirits of the universe, he was using the language of his day to express a conflict that will go on until the end of time.

There are two points to grasp. First, the devil may be a fallen angel, but he is still an angel of light. If we were to see evil for what it truly is, none of us would be seduced by it. But we don’t see evil for what it is most of the time. We see something attractive, that has the appearance of good, and we fall for it. Secondly, the battle against evil has been won and the devil is vanquished. Our problem is how to reconcile these two apparently contradictory notions without giving way to either fear or presumption. To Catholics I would say that prayer and the sacraments are the ordinary means of  ensuring that we remain spiritually alert, but we have to be perpetually on guard, aware of the deceits that can affect us.

Whenever we have important decisions to make, about our own lives or the lives of those who are dear to us; about the politicians who will serve in government or the way in which public funds will be spent; about the use (or abuse) of the earth’s resources; we need to keep in mind that we cannot simply assume we are doing the right thing. Christianity is full of paradoxes, and one of the most sobering reminders comes from St Paul who, when he wanted to do the right thing, often found himself doing the very opposite. Sobering, yes, but also encouraging: God made a saint of Paul. He can surely make saints of us, if we let him.

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10 thoughts on “Spiritual Warfare”

  1. The Devil may have been vanquished but, like anyone who has died, lives on in memory. Memories are powerful things, still with the capacity to tempt us into improper behaviour.

    • The devil has been conquered, but he is not dead. That is the problem. I’d say there is more than memory at work. We have to deal with a very, very clever being dedicated to evil.

    • Tut, tut! I think what I say is in accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, and therefore Benedictine and Dominican and Ignatian because it is true in every age.

    • That’s a life’s work. I’m not being flippant, but how we follow Christ and battle against evil is something we have to work out every day. For us the battle is not over until we die. We must trust but not presume. That is where prayer and practice interconnect. For example, every evening at Compline we have an examination of conscience. I ask myself just one question: what have I desired today? That usually throws a spotlight on things I’d prefer to keep hidden. Saying the Confiteor that follows, asking God’s forgiveness and the prayers of Our Lady and all the saints to help me amend for the future, is very powerful.

  2. Thank you for profoundly helpful insights, specifically that Satan is an angel of light, and we are distracted into not seeing evil for what it is. In this context, a whole new meaning is attached to St Paul’s words..further illumination. I do thank you.

  3. I share your views. I believe that Evil exists and is working in the world to separate us from God. Whatever it is called, the Devil is the most familiar term.

    Evil is the opposite of Good and each time we bow to it, we allow evil space in our lives. So many things that happen demonstrate that Evil exists, through the actions of people. The murders of the family and an innocent cyclist in France this week highlight this beyond any doubt in my mind.

    The trauma caused to the two children, one severely injured and the other hidden behind the legs of her deceased parent for over eight hours is another demonstration of it.

    I pray that I can avoid evil, but like everyone, we are human with human weaknesses. It’s a struggle not to give into them, which is life long.

    The words of the Lords prayer come to mind……

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