[A little update here on the reality of spiritual warfare, and that Halloween is a time of increased satanic activity. We have some little wayside shrines along the mountain path on our property, and today we noticed that the crosses have been broken off and thrown on the ground, or driven upside-down into the ground. There are definitely people around here who hate us because we serve and worship the true God and his Son Jesus Christ!]
It is perhaps appropriate that on this day on which occur satanic sacrifices and other occult events we have a Gospel recounting Jesus casting out a whole legion of demons (Lk. 8:26-39). It is as if to say to the satanists: “Do what you will, but know that there is another Power far greater than yours that will utterly vanquish every last trace of evil in the world, and if you do not repent, you will also be vanquished along with your infernal masters.”
Jesus met only one man, but at the same time He met a multitude of demons. When Jesus asked the man his name, he replied, “Legion,” for, as St Luke explains, many demons had entered him. At that time, a Roman legion consisted of 6000 soldiers, so that is an awful lot of demons possessing a single soul! Since spiritual beings don’t take up space, there’s no limit to the number of them that can inhabit a human being. And they are very eager to do so, since it is evident from the Gospel that they receive something of a respite from the fires of Hell if they can enter a human soul (or even the body of an animal). We know this because the demons begged Jesus not to send them back to the abyss, but rather into the swine. Evidently, the conditions inside the body of a pig are preferable to Hell, which ought to tell us something about the accommodations there.
Speaking of the abyss, I remember a rather unpleasant encounter with this mystery when, quite a few years ago, I was attempting a deliverance prayer over a woman who had come a long way to receive this prayer. The combination of my inexperience and her psychological attachment to the dark powers rendered my efforts largely fruitless. There is one mistake I made, which the demon seemed to capitalize upon. When you send the demon out of someone, I later learned, you always have to send it to the foot of the Cross, so that it has to deal with Jesus and his will. Only Jesus can send it directly back to the abyss. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but in some way I did try to send it to the abyss. The demon wasn’t amused. It replied through the woman, “I am the Abyss!” Right then I knew I was up against something which I didn’t have the experience to deal with. Then it said, “I will not retreat; you will retreat,” and in effect this was true, since the woman eventually left here with the evil spirits intact. She had been somewhat fascinated by the mystery of the evil spirits, and so her will was not totally against them and with God. This is always a major obstacle to deliverance. Plus, the evil spirits had entered her when she had tried to contact her dead boyfriend, and she was still attached to him and was not willing to abandon her pursuit of him. I rather clearly discerned after this whole experience that I was not called to be an exorcist!
When we read of Jesus’ various exorcisms in the Gospel, however, we should not think that this means we also have to perform actual exorcisms, because this is a specific and relatively rare vocation, which requires particular spiritual gifts as well as specialized training. But that doesn’t leave us off the hook for the requirement of taking authority over evil spirits insofar as we encounter them in the various struggles and temptations of our spiritual life. St Paul makes it clear that we are at war with them and that we need to protect ourselves with the armor of God and then arm ourselves with the “sword of the Spirit.”
In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Ephesians (2:4-10), St Paul speaks of our deliverance from spiritual death through the mercy of God, but we have to go back a few verses to get the context of this deliverance. There we hear that, insofar as we commit sin we are “following the prince of the power of the air [i.e., the devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” All we have to do to follow that evil demon is to live according to our “desires of body and mind,” which makes us “children of wrath” instead of children of the love of God.
We have to be aware that even though we are in constant warfare with the evil spirits, they cannot come into us if our wills are secured in God. It is when we waver, or seek to do our own will instead of God’s (which makes us, in Paul’s terms, “sons of disobedience”) that the devils have a way of access to us. There are a couple other ways they can get in, and we’ll see that in a minute. But the primary line of defense, aside from the power of God’s grace, which is really the foundation of our strength, is our own free will. We can actually render God’s grace ineffective on our behalf if our will is not completely surrendered to God.
I read something to this effect, only a single sentence, but it spoke volumes. It was in a letter written by Jacques Fesch, a convicted murderer in France who had a profound conversion in prison, so much so that the Archbishop of Paris eventually petitioned for his beatification. In writing of his inner struggles with temptation, the converted prisoner said: “When my will no longer tended toward God, my imagination was violently assailed, and my fall was imminent.” There is sometimes a fine line in our souls that our wills may cross in the heat of temptation. If they lean toward the temptation, the battle is lost. But if our wills are unwaveringly with God and against whatever the devil is trying to ensnare us with, we will be safe. As soon as our wills are not fixed on God, however, the devil will see his opening, and thus we are violently assailed and our fall is imminent. So the first and perhaps most important lesson in our spiritual warfare is: Will what God wills, keep your will tending toward Him, fixed on Him; hate sin and all that is proposed as something good by the father of lies.
There are a couple of other things that create openings in our souls to the devil. Pride is the main one, and the devil exploits this easily. St Silouan of Athos once said: “The proud always suffer from devils.” St Faustina writes that the Lord said this to her: “Know, my daughter, that I do not grant My graces to proud souls, and I even take away from them the graces I have granted” (Diary #1170). It stands to reason that if graces are not granted to, and are even removed from, proud souls, such souls are easy meat for the devil.
The devil is always vanquished by humility. Once one of the Desert Fathers forced the devil to speak, once he had overcome him, and the saint asked the devil how it was that he was beaten. The devil growled: “Well, it wasn’t by your fasting, since I never eat, and it wasn’t by your vigils, since I never sleep—but your humility, there is nothing I can do against that!”
Another easy access for the devil, according to St Faustina, is laziness and idleness. If we are not conscientious and diligent in our work, and not fervent in our prayer, the devil will find us easy prey. St Faustina cornered the devil once and commanded him in the Name of God to tell her to which souls in religious life he has the easiest access, he said, “To lazy and idle souls.”
These are things that I have recently read or remembered, but in a sense these and all other possible openings to the work of the evil spirits are based on the first point: when we begin to do what pleases ourselves instead of what pleases God, we lose the armor of God, our spiritual swords fall from our weakened hands, and thus we have no more defense against the wiles and works of the demons.
So we have to turn to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has power to cast out legions of demons with a single word, but we have to align our will firmly with his. Otherwise, we will not be set free, like that poor woman who wouldn’t surrender completely to God even though she had wanted, at least to some extent, to be delivered. With God it is all or nothing, just as in the final judgment the verdict will be either Heaven or Hell. There’s no sitting on the fence, no part-time faithfulness to God. Whoever is not with Him is against Him. The devil knows, perhaps better than we do, what the stakes are in this perilous adventure called human life. So he is relentless in his pursuit of our souls, for he knows that God is merciful and he hates that, so his main efforts are aimed at turning our wills away from God—not only so that we will fall into sin, but that we will eventually despair, having become disconnected to God’s grace by repeatedly withdrawing our will from Him through sin.
On the other hand, one way to keep our wills focused on God is through gratitude, as we also learn from the Gospel. Jesus said to the newly-liberated man: “Declare how much God has done for you.” When we reflect with gratitude upon all the graces and mercies God has granted us throughout our lives and even up to the present time, and when we also reflect upon all that He has promised to those who are faithful to Him through the struggles of life, it will be less likely that we will incline our wills toward anything that is not of God, and more likely that we will keep our hearts fixed on Him.
Jesus too knows better than we do the high stakes of this life, so He grants us everything we need to overcome the spiritual enemies and to remain in God’s grace. But let us avoid pride and laziness at all costs, because then God’s grace will be rendered ineffective in us and will be taken away and given to someone else, whom God sees will be obedient and diligent in his service.
So even if the devil-worshippers unleash more evil spirits tonight through opening their wills to them, we shall be strong in the Holy Spirit and will not grant access to our souls to anything that is not of God. On the contrary, through our prayer and sacrifice and fidelity to God, we will release a greater Power into the world. The devil may be the “strong man,” as Jesus said, but the Lord is the “stronger man,” and in union with Jesus we will always have the victory, and we will rejoice forever with all the spiritual warriors at the Lord’s victory feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.