Deliver Us From the Evil One: A Primer on the Enemy

02-27-2022Weekly Reflection

On Ash Wednesday the Opening Prayer of the Mass prays “we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service so that as we take up the battle against spiritual evils we may be armed with the weapons of self-restraint.” The Latin uses images from the Roman Army: praesidia and militia. The praesidium was a garrison of Roman soldiers.

The prayer uses the word “campaign” but literally it says may we begin the “garrisons of Christian warfare” with holy fasting and self-restraint with the weapons of self-restraint. The Catholic Faith teaches there is a triple enemy against whom we fight: the world (people, places, things opposed to God), the flesh (the seven deadly sins that attack from within our humanity: pride, sloth, anger, gluttony, lust, greed and envy) and the devil. The first questions in the reception of Baptism are the following: Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? So what does the Catholic Faith say about the devil?

Lent begins with the devil. The first Sunday of Lent always begins with Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert. St. John tells us that Jesus came to undo the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our struggle is not only against flesh and blood but against the Principalities and Powers, which are classifications of the angels in this case the evil angels.

  • The devil exists. Scripture speaks of this spirit from the first to the last of the revealed books.
  • The whole of human history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching from the dawn of history to the last day. Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 7. The Evil One has done great harm of a spiritual nature and indirectly of a physical nature to individuals and society. St. John Paul II, General Audience, August 13, 1986
  • Christians are to resist him as St. Peter advises in 1 Peter 5:8
  • Christ has conquered the devil and freed us from his power Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 6.
  • The devil can cause real harm to those who freely allow him to by consenting to evil and separating themselves from God or by dabbling in the occult, fortune tellers, tarot cards and the like.
  • One of the roles of the Guardian angel is to protect the person from the devil’s influence. This angel gives holy inspirations.
  • The devil is a personal, real, and individual being of a spiritual and indivisible nature who separated himself from God forever by his sins along with other spirits created good by God originally. He is a liar and the father of lies, of sin, of affliction, of all that is absurd and evil on earth.
  • The devil and the angels in general cannot penetrate our innermost thoughts if we do not want them to. The devil cannot violate our freedom unless human beings consent, Cassian Conferences 7
  • Jesus has given us many weapons for victory: prayer, mortification, the Holy Eucharist received often, frequent Confession, love for the Virgin Mary, who has a special role in the defeat of the Evil One.
  • The use of Holy Water is an effective means of protection against the influence of the Evil One. St. Teresa of Avila says that from nothing do evil spirits flee more quickly never to return than from Holy Water.

Blessed Paul VI gave an extensive reflection on the Evil One November 19, 1972. He said the following in his General Audience Address:

…This matter of the Devil and of the influence he can exert on individuals as well as on communities, entire societies or events, is a very important chapter of Catholic doctrine which should be studied again, although it is given little attention today. Some think a sufficient compensation can be found in psychoanalytic and psychiatric studies or in spiritualistic experiences, which are unfortunately so widespread in some countries today…

This is not to say that every sin is directly due to diabolical action; but it is true that those who do not keep watch over themselves with a certain moral rigor are exposed to the influence of the "mystery of iniquity" cited by St. Paul which raises serious questions about our salvation… Are there signs, and what are they, of the presence of diabolical action? And what means of defense do we have against such an insidious danger?

We have to be cautious about answering the first question, even though the signs of the Evil One seem to be very obvious at times. We can presume that his sinister action is at work where the denial of God becomes radical, subtle and absurd; where lies become powerful and hypocritical in the face of evident truth; where love is smothered by cold, cruel selfishness; where Christ's name is attacked with conscious, rebellious hatred, where the spirit of the Gospel is watered down and rejected where despair is affirmed as the last word; and so forth….

It is easier to formulate an answer to the other question- what defense, what remedy should we use against the Devil's action?—even though it remains difficult to put into practice. We could say: everything that defends us from sin strengthens us by that very fact against the invisible enemy. Grace is the decisive defense. Innocence takes on the aspect of strength. Everyone recalls how often the apostolic method of teaching used the armor of a soldier as a symbol for the virtues that can make a Christian invulnerable. The Christian must be a militant; he must be vigilant and strong; and he must at times make use of special ascetical practices to escape from certain diabolical attacks. Jesus teaches us this by pointing to "prayer and fasting" as the remedy. And the Apostle suggests the main line we should follow: "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good…. "

The Rosary and the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel are also powerful weapons to use in our warfare against the Evil One. Our Lady of the Rosary pray for us. St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle.