Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith (1 Pt 5:8-9).
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
28 January 2018
One of the central messages of scripture is about how the devil is real, dangerous and deceitful. The Bible’s first few pages, in fact, narrate how the devil cleverly led Eve and then Adam into choosing to sin gravely against God by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree in the “middle of the garden” (Gn 3:3), a tree which represented the limits of man’s freedom—a boundary the first human couple decisively broke.
Following that dark day is found the overarching O.T. theme of the people Israel’s struggle with sin, evil and the devil. Further, the gospels contain several accounts of individuals whom Jesus Christ freed from demonic possession. Jesus of Nazareth liberates these people on his own authority. He does not ask for God’s help, but exorcises demons by virtue of his divine power. Additionally, Jesus himself was tempted by the devil in the desert.
One cannot be biblically literate without also being introduced to the diabolical influences of Satan. However, people today often disbelieve in Satan and his cohorts, the other fallen angels who went agreeably along with his choice to forever reject God. It seems people are often convinced that the devil is simply an imaginative figure of speech leftover from an unenlightened era. Rather than existing as a real, spiritual being of vast intellect and exceedingly strong will, the devil is but a name given to represent the forces of evil, which are themselves nothing more than a dark manifestation of man’s poor choices. These kinds of errors add to the devil’s powers of deception.
In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us something about who the devil really is:
[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (Jn 8:44)
What else do we know about the devil?
The devil and other demons are fallen angels who chose to reject God upon their creation. They are spiritual, non-corporeal and personal beings of powerful intellect and exceedingly strong will.
The Catechism teaches:
Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” (391)
Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies.” (392)
The necessity of vigilance
The First Letter of St. Peter admonishes us to “discipline yourselves and keep alert” (5:8). Why? Because it’s a truth of the faith that the devil is on the prowl. His intent is to destroy humankind, one or more souls at a time, by leading people through temptation to voluntarily reject God and thus suffer eternal damnation. The fact is, every person is involved in some way in the present war between evil and good. The devil or Satan (the word Satan means: adversary) is the central figure fighting on the side of evil, vice and corruption. Consequently, it is imperative that we subject ourselves to God’s sovereign rule in this struggle and reject the wiles of the devil:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11)
The devil’s and other demons’ activities can be placed in two main categories: 1) ordinary activity and 2) extraordinary activity. Extraordinary refers to demonic possession, oppression, obsession and local infestations, all of which are uncommon, hence the term “extraordinary.” These latter demonic activities are often initiated by dabbling in occult practices such as horoscope watching, Ouija boards, palm reading, tea leaves, crystals, involvement in the New Age movement, satanic rituals, witchcraft, curses, etc. People are well advised to avoid completely any of these occult practices that serve as doorways allowing the devil into one’s life.
The devil’s ordinary activity refers to the way in which he tempts people to voluntarily reject God. Temptation, then, is the most common way in which the devil exerts his nefarious influences. Through temptation, he serves up sin on an inviting, golden platter, making it seem as if it is something “good” to do, as he tempted Eve in paradise (see Genesis 3). In doing so, the devil takes part only indirectly in a person’s choice to sin. He does not, nor cannot overpower a person’s ability to choose the good, for God does not give him that great a latitude. In this way, the devil merely suggests the sin as a choice to make. It is one among others. Although a particular temptation may be powerful and resisted only with difficulty, people retain the ability to reject it. Therefore, the person who assents to temptation chooses it intentionally and freely, which means he remains culpable before God for his sinful choices. If a person dies in unrepentant mortal sin, his soul is lost in hell forever because he passed from this life, which is the time for repentance and mercy, into the next in a state of definitive self-exclusion from the kingdom of Christ.
One of the main tactics the devil employs is to suggest that mortal sin is no big deal—note that mortal sin by definition is grave sin committed with knowledge and full consent. This is most often the case with sins which relate to human sexuality. Examples are fornication, pornography, masturbation, adultery, cohabitation, use of artificial birth control, voluntary sterilization, a contraceptive mentality, an anti-life (pro-choice) mentality, homosexual activism, and approval of same-sex “marriage.”
Of course, there are other ways in which the devil deceives people in order to destroy their souls in hell. But temptation is the most common method he employs. This should not be taken to suggest that every evil thought finds its origin in Satan, for our Lord Jesus taught that “out of the heart [of man] come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt 15:19). We must recall that, due to original sin, we suffer the effects of a disfigured or wounded human nature and thus tend to sin, something called “concupiscence.”
The devil is an expert liar and is always deceitful. All his diabolical efforts are ordered toward either keeping people isolated from God (through intentionally rejecting him) or moving people to reject God. For example, St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches that the devil convinces people of unconverted heart (those who are living in mortal sin or who are uninterested in God) to remain in sin by communicating these kinds of thoughts to them: “My sin is no big deal. God is merciful. He loves me just the way I am. I have no need of repentance.” Whereas God does the opposite, he pricks a person’s conscience and instills guilt for sin in order to move him to repentance and toward salvation in Jesus Christ.
Additionally, the devil encourages pride. An example is inciting a tendency in Catholics to voluntarily dissent from the moral teaching of the Church. Again, this is most often the case today in regard to sins related to human sexuality. The devil works to instill in people a kind of “free-thinking, high-mindedness” in which they deem their personal opinion as trumping the perennial and irreformable teaching of the Church on moral matters.
How can we defeat the devil?
1 John explains the mission of Christ: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (4:8). A personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is essential to defeating sin, evil and the influences of the devil in your life. Recall how in the gospels Christ drives out demons on his own authority (for example, see Mk 1:21-27).
Clearly, Christ and his saving grace are crucial to winning the war between evil and good. With that in mind, the following are essential elements to put into practice in your life:
- Regular, frequent daily prayer to Christ;
- Total self-entrustment to Christ and a determination to follow his commandments;
- Seek the intercession of the saints, especially the Virgin Mary.
- Dedication to the life and worship of the living community of the Church;
- Frequent reception of the sacrament of Confession;
- Defeat all mortal sin;
- Full, conscious and active participation in the Sunday liturgy and on all other holy days of obligation as a Catholic in full communion with the Church;
- Frequent and worthy reception of the Eucharist, the divine sacrament that confers the strength of Christ;
- Living an ascetic life of holiness in conformity with gospel values;
- The development of an ardent love for truth.
The greatest weapon we have against sin, evil and the devil is Christ, whose saving death on the cross redeemed humankind and opened the way to salvation. Christ has defeated the devil. By virtue of his resurrection, we are raised to new life in him. Nevertheless, we have our own part to play in the battle. Christ calls us to join with him; in doing so we will share in his certain and definitive victory over Satan, the father of lies.
Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.