Category Archives: Spiritual Warfare

The Terror of Demons

When St. Pius X officially sanctioned the Litany of St. Joseph in 1909, he acknowledged him to be both the Patron of the Dying and the Protector of Holy Church.  It was Pope Pius IX who first invoked him under the title of Patron of the Universal Church and he did so because dedicated his life to safeguarding the two most important members of the Church, Our Lord and Our Lady.  Tradition also names him Patron of the Dying because he died the most blessed of all deaths in the presence of the same two whom he had so vigilantly protected during his earthly sojourn.  But it is the title that bridges St. Joseph’s dual patronage, Terror of Demons, which constitutes his most active roles in the lives of individual Christians.  There is a danger of seeing the litany as merely a catalogue of things that St. Joseph can do; the carpenter who is the jack of all trades.  These last three titles have an interconnectedness that stocks our personal arsenal in times of great trial.  In truth, they arm us for the greatest of trial each of us will face, death.

All of the spiritual masters of old suggest that we reflect upon death regularly, not just to know about it, but to remember it.  They do so not just because it helps keep things in their proper perspective, but because it is the moment when our souls are in the greatest peril of being lost.  During our lives, the great majority of us see the devil as the Cheshire Cat but for all of us he will reveal himself fully  as the prowling lion intent on the ruin of our soul (1 Pt 5:8).  When his time is short, his wrath is greatest (Rev 12:12).

Why the Battle is So Fierce

Why this time of trial is so severe may not be entirely clear so that by adding some clarity we can steel ourselves for those inevitable moments.  Through His death and resurrection, Christ destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14).  But He did not take away death, but instead freed us from “the fear of death” (Heb 2:15).  Death itself is the last enemy to be destroyed (c.f. 1Cor 15:26) and still remains the playground of the Devil.  Just as in the rest of life, the devil is given power because it provides matter for our growth in the theological virtues.  On the cusp of death our faith and hope are sorely tried and through their fervent exercise provide a growth in our desire for God, “having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, which is much better” (Phil 1:23).

By freeing us from the fear of death Our Lord not only gives us a share in His victory but empowers us to make the victory our own.  Thrust into spiritual combat with the devil, the faithful are enabled to defeat the “strong man.”  Our Lord’s victory on the Cross does not merely defeat the devil, but destroys him (c.f. Heb 2:14).  That is, He renders Satan’s power at the time of death ultimately ineffective.  To be defeated by the Word made flesh is one thing, but to be defeated by hairless bipeds is quite another.  Satan’s destruction comes about because he can no longer bind severely handicapped human creatures.  Through the mysterious action of grace each of us can truly say that the victory is mine.

Armed for the Final Battle

The Church was given the power to arm the faithful for this final battle through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  The Council of Trent says that among the effects of the Sacrament is the power to “resist more easily the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel” (Council of Trent, Session 14).  While the Sacrament bestows this power ex opere operato, the effect within the individual believer depends upon his subjective disposition to receive the grace.

By anticipating the fronts on which the attacks are likely to occur, we can be better prepared for the ensuing battle.  It is our faith and hope that are put to the test during this final battle and so we need to examine how these two virtues are tried—faith through doubt and credulity and hope through despair and presumption.  In his book, Spiritual Combat, the 16th Century author Dom Lorenzo Scupoli examines these four areas and gives some tips to make us battle ready.

In his attacks against faith he will attempt to stir up anxiety about what is to come by planting the seeds of doubt about the faith of the Church in our minds.  The battle is not however to have a ready defense so as to argue.  Our Lord’s temptation in the desert reveals the Devil to be a liar and a sophist and able to twist and distort even the most blatant of lies.  Instead we must have the interior habit of faith—a firm clinging to the truth of all that the Church teaches.  The more ingrained that habit is, the stronger will be our defense.  In any regard we are to offer no pearls to the demonic swine.  As Scupoli says, “if the subtle serpent demands of you what the Catholic Church believes, do not answer him, but seeing his device, and that he only wants to catch you in your words, make an inward act of more lively faith.  Or else, to make him burst with indignation, reply that the holy Catholic Church believes the truth; and if the evil one should ask in return, ‘What is truth?’ you reply, ‘That which she believes.’”

The devil will also tempt us towards credulity through false visions.  Knowing the likelihood of an attack on this front, we should turn away from any visions in humility by seeing ourselves as unworthy of visions.  Even if they turn out to be true, God ultimately is pleased with our humility and therefore will not hold it against us.  Instead acts of trust are to be made in the mercy of Jesus and the prayers of Our Lady and St. Joseph.


The second front by which the demonic sortie is likely to come is by attacking hope.  Our past sins will be thrown at us all with the goal of despairing for our salvation.  Humility and trust in the blood of Christ are the weapons of choice.  Remembrance of past sins is a grace when it is accompanied by sorrow for having offended God and humility.  But when these thoughts unsettle you, they come from the Wicked One.  True sorrow is a gift of the Sacrament of Confession and will bear great fruit in this time of trial.  Genuine humility, borne out in the crucible of the humiliations of life is a steady shield.  To the extent that we develop these virtues now, they will be ready at hand in the time of trial.

Scupoli says that presumption is the final battle arena. Confronted with despair there is always the temptation to begin to list all of our merits.  In the face of this, Scupoli says we should “abase yourself ever more and more in your own eyes, even to your last breath; and of every good deed done by you, which may come before you, recognize God Alone for its Author. Have recourse to Him for help, but do not expect it on account of your own merits, however many and great be the battles in which you have been victorious. Ever preserve a spirit of holy fear, acknowledging sincerely that all your precautions would be in vain, if God did not gather you under the shadow of His wings, in Whose protection alone you will confide.”

The logic of the Litany of St. Joseph now comes into view.  If he is to be the Patron of a Happy Death, he necessarily must be a Terror of Demons.  It is his prayers specifically during our battle that make him the Terror of Demons, chasing them from us by the power of his mere presence.  By captaining the final battle of the members of the Church Militant, he is there to usher them into the Church Triumphant making the Church truly universal.  By fostering our own personal devotion to St. Joseph, we too may come to share in his inheritance.

The Hidden Vice

Soren Kierkegaard once remarked that envy was hidden and unconscious for most men.  This might explain why we find the seeds of it scattered throughout our culture.  There is the advertising industry for example which is built entirely on the goal to stir envy for things that we don’t really want except for the fact that other people have them.  So deeply embedded is envy that it is even institutionalized in the pitting of the poor against the rich (or women against men or nearly every other class conflict) in a quasi-communistic class struggle that our liberal democracy has adopted.  Therefore, it is instructive to shine a light on the havoc this vicious habit can create in our lives.

Envy has long been considered to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins, or, more aptly named Seven Capital Sins.  These “sins” are called Capital sins not because they are sins per se, but because they act as motivating forces for the actual sins we commit.  In short, one does not commit envy, but instead commit a sin because you are envious.  Envy is like a tree that produces rotten fruit.  Until we expose the roots of the tree, we will never be rid of its fruit.  The tree of envy is known by its tendency to, as St. Thomas says, experience “sorrow in the face of another’s good.”

The Sorrow of Envy

While this definition is correct, it needs to be nuanced a bit so that we do not chop down the wrong tree.  There is a holy envy that St. Thomas calls zeal in which we experience sorrow not because another person has something, but because we don’t.  We look at some good that another person has that we know we do not have and our sorrow moves us to work zealously to obtain that good thing.  In other words we grieve not because the other person has the good, but because we don’t.

Envy, on the other hand, grieves simply because the other person has that good.  It has a competitive quality about it in that the other’s greatness seems to subtract from my own.  This is why envy follows on the heels of pride and is the “second sin.”  Lucifer committed the sin of pride and then begrudged mankind for the good that he had lost.  It is by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it” (Wisdom 2:24).  The first sin of man was pride, “to be like God.”  The second sin was “crouching at the door” (Gn 4:7) when sadness over God’s favor toward Abel, led Cain not to “do well” but to kill his brother.

It is ultimately envy that led directly to the death of Our Lord.  As Venerable Fulton Sheen articulates, “Annas was envious of His innocence; Caiaphas was envious of His popularity; Herod was envious of His moral superiority; the scribes and Pharisees were envious of His wisdom…And in order that He might no longer be person to be envied, they reputed Him with the wicked.”  Envy was the cause of the death of Peter and Paul and a cause of division in the early Church.  When the Corinthian community begins to form factions, Pope St. Clement sends them a letter reminding them just how deadly envy can be.

There are two reasons why envy is an especially strong temptation for us as 21st Century Americans.  The first is that we are a people that is obsessed with equality.  When everyone is equal in all ways, envy will seem justified and you will hardly recognize it for what it is.  If we are all equal, then we must do all that we can to level the playing field.

I alluded to the second reason earlier when I mentioned about the competitive nature of envy.  In a world that is mostly governed by a philosophical materialism, envy will seem like merely a recognition of the truth.  If life is a zero sum game then what you have actually takes away from what I have.  If I am poor it is because you are rich—you have taken more than your fair share and there is nothing left for me.  But most of life is not a zero sum game, especially when it comes to spiritual goods (which tend to be the things we envy most) related to personal character.

Because envy remains somewhat hidden to us, we may only recognize it by its effects.  When I see another person’s greatness somehow diminishing mine, there will always be the accompanying temptation to detract that person.  Somehow dragging another person down acts as a way of raising ourselves up.  If we step back and see truthfully however we will acknowledge that we can only envy those when we think better than ourselves in some way.  As Pope St. Gregory says, “We witness against ourselves that the other is better” (Moralia of Job, 84).  Knowing this, we should be very slow to make judgments about other people.  Envy causes us to find chinks in the armor of everyone we meet looking for ways in which we are superior to them.  It also explains why we often don’t like someone else, even though we cannot explain why.  “There is just something about them I don’t like” usually means “there is just something about them that makes me envious.”

This tendency to misjudge another person that accompanies envy is also a good reason why we should be very slow to believe things that we hear about other people (Fulton Sheen goes so far as to say we should not believe 99% of what we hear about other people).  Envy is the most common cause of gossiping and one of the reasons why we should avoid entangling ourselves in it.  It is also the reason why you can’t go wrong thinking the best of another person until you have hard evidence to the contrary.

The Antidote to Envy

While the Devil essentially says to mankind, “As I envied you, so now you must envy one another,” Our Lord offers the antidote to envy, “As I have loved you, so must you love one another.”  Vices can only be overcome by an opposing virtue so that envy is overwhelmed by charity.  When tempted to envy, we should perform some charitable act towards that person.  It can be as simple as saying a prayer for them or offering a kind word to or about them.  Fasting or making some other sacrifice for that person, especially that the gift we envy might flourish, can remove any traces of envy in our hearts.  Once we have skin in the game, that is invest in the person and their gifts by making a sacrifice, we cannot help but to root for them.

Dante, in the Purgatorio, offers us a second virtue to overcome envy.  As he meets the envious in the Second Terrace of Purgatory, he finds them scrambling about, deprived of the gift of sight by having their eyes sewn shut with iron wire.  They become like blind beggars depending upon each other to avoid falling off the Mountain.  In this way they learn to rejoice in other’s goods.  In being forced to depend upon each other they learn magnanimity.  The magnanimous person has a “large soul” in that they can rejoice in the good of another as if it were their own.  The magnanimous person is not offended by natural or even supernatural inequality, but simply rejoices in the good that is to be found.

In each of the terraces of the Mount of Purgatory, Dante also proposes a Marian example of the virtue.  For envy he offers Our Lady’s intercession at the Wedding of Cana as the example.  It is Our Lady’s magnanimity that causes her to see the threat to the joyful celebration and take the concern (“Woman how does your concern affect me?”) on as if it were her own.  This is why the 12th Century Saint Bernard of Clairvaux once counseled “If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary the star of the sea.”

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for us.

The Media and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

“If it bleeds, it leads.”  If there is a single maxim that guides the main stream media in their reporting, then it is this.  The principle itself is based on a simple calculation: the more carnage, death and human depravity in a story, the higher it appears in the reporting hierarchy.  We, of course, are all quick to condemn the media for this.  But not so quick that we don’t watch it first.  The main stream media is a business, a big business at that, and guided by the law of supply of demand.  It is all based on ratings and with so many ways to monitor what we are watching, they know exactly how much is consumed.  In other words, they lead with the blood because we watch it.  The more we watch, the more we get.  Inundated by it, we feel powerless to keep from watching.  We watch while covering one eye.  But like all things we feel powerless to avoid, it is illuminating to ask why we do it.

Rather than strictly psychological, the answer is more theological in nature.  Its genesis is found, well, in Genesis.  Returning to “the beginning” of mankind, we find man and woman in Eden made in the image and likeness of God.  In His likeness, Adam and Eve are practically unlimited, able to eat from every tree in the Garden except one.  Unlike God, they have a single limitation; they cannot eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Their test then will be whether they are willing to accept this limitation or not.  The Serpent, the inventor of “if it bleeds, it leads,” leads with “You shall not die” and tells the story of how Adam and Eve can be like God if they will simply take from the tree and eat.

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

Even if the tree itself is symbolic, the limitation itself is real.  In order to understand our bloodlust we must first understand exactly what the tree represents.  Adam and Eve attempted to know evil without experiencing it.  That is, they tried to know it from the outside without participating in it from the inside.  This capacity of knowing evil while not experiencing it is something that only God can do.  Only God is all holy and can be unstained by it.  As Blessed John Henry Newman puts it,

“You see it is said, ‘man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil,’ because God does know evil as well as good. This is His wonderful incommunicable attribute; and man sought to share in what God was, but he could not without ceasing to be what God was also, holy and perfect. It is the incommunicable attribute of God to know evil without experiencing it. But man, when he would be as God, could only attain the shadow of a likeness which as yet he had not, by losing the substance which he had already. He shared in God’s knowledge by losing His image. God knows evil and is pure from it—man plunged into evil and so knew it.” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, Ignorance of Evil).

This is also the sin of Lot’s wife when she is turned to a pillar of salt.  Overcome by the curiosity to know the evil of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah without being touched by it, she quickly finds out that to know it, is to share in it.  But Scripture is most clear on this when we examine the accounts of Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden.  It is the God-Man and only He Who can know evil without actually participating in it.  So great is the protest of His human nature that He sweats blood.

One might rightly ask at this point how it is that merely watching “bad news” has anything to do with the knowledge of good and evil.  It is in seeing this particular aspect of it that we can begin to separate ourselves from it.  Why is simply hearing about “bad news” not enough and why do we crave the details?  Why are we unsatisfied with a report such as“13 people were killed in an attack today” but have to know how it happened (video even if it contains the “graphic material” is especially wanted), who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, etc.?  It is because what we learned theologically is proven empirically (or else it wouldn’t be the main part of the consumer news cycle).  In short, it shows we cannot just know about evil, we want to know it like Adam knows Eve, that is experience it fully.

What the Tree Offers Us

This doesn’t mean we want to pull the trigger but just don’t have the courage.  For most of us its meaning is more subtle than that. It means we want to experience the pleasure attached to the evil even if we do not actually commit the act.  It is what the Church calls the glamor of evil, the primal curiosity that brings pleasure from evil acts.  We can call it virtual reality evil—all of the thrills with none of the bills.  It is what keeps us from looking away at bad car accidents, watching Youtube videos of accidents, going to the movies to see the latest “psychological thriller” and the reason why serial killers gain celebrity.  The Devil really is in the details.

The illicit pleasure is not the only effect or really even the worst.  This habit of dwelling on depravity is soul deadening.  It causes us to view evil through a carnage calculator that relativizes it against the last one or against the greatest acts of reported slaughter.  We slowly become immune to evil and see it solely for its entertainment value.  I once saw a lady drive into a storefront and no one went to help her even though there were 20-30 bystanders each with his phone in hand recording the accident.  Not only does it make us slow to love, but also suspicious and fearful of our neighbor.  When bad news gets significantly more play time than good news, we become masters of suspicion and avoid other people, assuming the worst of them.

Returning to man’s Retake in the Garden of Gethsemane we find the strength to overcome the ubiquity of bad news.  Our Lord was the one who “resisted sin to the point of shedding His blood” (c.f. Hebrews 12:4) not just to show us His divine power put to win for us the grace to remain pure of heart amidst so much evil.  We should become cautious and discerning viewers of the news, even sites and channels we would consider reputable.  Avoid getting drug into the details and focus only on headlines.  All too often there is nothing we can do personally to combat a particular evil and so knowing the details is simply curiosity rearing its ugly head.  Get in the habit of asking yourself why you need to know anything more and you will quickly realize that you don’t.

When St. Paul wrote the Christians in Philippi he knew they too were living in a culture where evil had been glamorized he had what is the most practical of advice, “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Phil 4:8).  We would do well to focus on these things as well, turning away from the bad news so that we can more fully embrace the Good News.

Donald Trump and the Witches

At Midnight on February 24th, a group of witches cast on spell upon President Donald Trump.  The ritual must be repeated at Midnight on the date of every waning crescent moon during his presidency.  Witchcraft is nothing new; they have been casting spells on men and women for many centuries.  What makes this mass spell unique is that it has taken on a “viral” quality with the rite being posted online with an attempt to take it to a wider community.  For most of us, the thought of witches in black hats around a bubbling cauldron with broomsticks in hand casting a spell on Donald Trump is somewhat ridiculous.  But for those who are actively engaged in spiritual warfare they know how serious this can be.  In openly declaring their intent to cast a spell, battle lines have been drawn and Catholics must step into the breach to engage in this spiritual battle.

Regardless of whether one is a card-carrying member of the Donald Trump Fan Club, as Christians we have an obligation to pray for him as the leader of our country (1Tim 2:2).  In other words, we should bless him rather than, as the witches propose, curse him.  These prayers of blessing protect him both from harm and from doing harm.  Despite protestations to the contrary that the witches merely wish to “bind him”, the intent of any spell or curse is to do evil to the person.

Curses and Divine Providence

Whether the curse is effective or not is left up to Divine Providence.  God may allow it to happen or He may actively oppose it.  Not recognizing this can often be an obstacle in understanding how someone becomes “infected” by the demonic.  Most of us understand that by dabbling in the occult we can open ourselves up to falling victim to demonic activity.  It does not happen in 100% of the cases, but the likelihood increases as the frequency of contact increases, especially for a person who has fallen out of a state of grace.

What is often not understood however is that it is possible, through no fault of the person, that they come under the control of the devil and his minions.  We can become spiritually sick in much the same way that we can become physically sick.  It may be that we do things that jeopardize our physical health (like drug abuse, overeating, etc.), but this is no guarantee that one becomes sick.  Likewise, many people become sick with some disease through no fault of their own.  Certainly, suffering in the innocent, especially at the hands of the demonic, stretches our capacity to understand, but it is still possible for it to occur.

Satan: The Great Ape

One of the most common ways in which this can happens is through the invocation of a curse.  Satan is the great ape, constantly trying to mimic God’s power.  Think of the curse as an “anti-grace.”  Grace seeks to aid a person through divine intervention, while a curse, according to the recently deceased Chief Exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, is defined generally as “harming others through demonic intervention.”  Satan apes God’s power that He exercises through the Sacraments by creating curses.

Like the Sacraments, curses usually require a minister.  This is where witches and wizards enter the picture.  They act as ministers once they are commissioned and perform a ritual on a given material object that is somehow connected to the victim.  In this case, there are several objects including an image of the President.

Not all people who practice or commission witchcraft are consciously worshipping Satan.  What they are consciously doing is invoking a supernatural power.  There is no denying this.  The source of that power does not require them to acknowledge him and may in fact prefer that they don’t.  Still, they are acting as his ministers and, in borrowing from his power, will end up falling under his power.  Access to that power comes with a price.  This is why the viral nature of the spell placed upon the President is so dangerous.  It may never touch the President personally, but most assuredly it will do harm to those who dabble in it.  This is a win-win situation for the evil one.  He is sure to gain power over someone because of this.

What to Do

The Church as the custodian of the Real Thing—the Thing that blesses and never curses—has an obligation to act in this case.  The problem is, as Fr. Amorth pointed out, priests do not take curses and witchcraft seriously.  They are not alone as most of the Faithful also see witchcraft as some antiquated superstition rather than a real threat to souls.  If they did, then both clergy and laity would be offering Mass for the protection of the President and for those who act out of ignorance in performing the rite.  They would have recourse to the Rosary and its inherent power to crush the head of the serpent.  They would go to the Sacrament of Sacraments, that is the Precious Blood of Jesus, and seek protection there.  The Litany of Precious Blood is perhaps one of the most effective prayers against curses and demonic activity in general as most Exorcists will attest.

Spiritual and Religious

“I am spiritual, but not religious.” It has become the fastest growing religious affiliation.  So popular is it, that it now has its own acronym—SBNR.  Its appeal is that it supposedly frees its adherents from the trappings of organized religion so that they may become more “spiritual.”  What it means to be more “spiritual” remains a mystery because any formal dogma or Creed would signal its death knell.  Usually it is about “connecting to God within.”  Although the popularity of SBNR has grown, it is not something new.  In fact one could say it is the second oldest religion in the world, beginning when Lucifer decided that he too would spend eternity as spiritual but not religious.

Ultimately the fall of Lucifer and his minions was a permanent refusal to have any obligations towards God.  The eternal cry of the demons is “non serviam”—“I will not serve.”  They desire to be like God, but shun religion.  Although their fall was instantaneous, many of the adherents to SBNR slide in the same direction—many not realizing what they are agreeing to when they recite the SBNR mantra.

What is Religion?

Without a doubt, some of the issue has to do with vagaries surrounding the word religious.  The English word religion is derived from the Latin religare, to tie, fasten, bind, or relegere, to gather up or treat.  First and foremost, religion is the moral virtue that consists in giving to God the worship and service He deserves.  It is part of the virtue of justice which consists in rendering to each his due.  Because He is the Creator of all things and has supreme dominion, God in a singular way has a special service due to Him.  This service is worship.

Herein lies a source of confusion, namely why God creates us and then commands that we worship Him.  This is worth investigating because it is often an obstacle for the SBNR congregants.  We offer worship to God, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, not for His sake but for ours.  We cannot give to God anything He doesn’t already have.  Instead He creates us as rational creatures not just because we manifest His goodness or glory, but because we, among all visible creation, have the capacity to appreciate it.  In other words, we worship to both show our appreciation and to grow in the pleasure that His goodness brings to us.

The SBNRer may willingly concede that they do owe something to God in terms of worship, but they prefer to connect to God privately “in their souls.”  This ultimately stems from a denial of what we are as human beings.  As body/spirit composites, we are capable of both internal and external acts of religion.  In a certain sense the internal take precedence, but these internal acts can never be wholly free from the external and must be guided by them.

As human beings, our bodies and our spirits act in unison with each other.  That which is in the mind, must first have been in the senses.  You cannot perform a wholly interior act without also affecting the exterior.  Just the very thought of God or Jesus, invokes an image in our material imaginations.  We worship both from the inside-out and the outside in.  Our external acts of devotion effect our internal acts of devotion.  One is more likely to have increased devotion in their heart to God kneeling (an external sign of supplication) in front of a Crucifix than if they are staring at a blank wall sitting on a bed.

The implications of this are obvious.  There are some external acts that are better than others at increasing devotion.  This is certainly true in the subjective sense—we all have our favorite environments in which to pray—but it is also true in the objective sense.  God is equally present in the bathroom as He is in the chapel, but it is the chapel that has been consecrated (i.e. set aside) as a place of prayer that is objectively better than the bathroom.  This is why praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament is called Adoration.  You can adore God anywhere in spirit, but in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament that Adoration occurs in “spirit and truth.”

SBNR and Organized Religion

As you probe more deeply into the motives of the typical SBNRer, you will find that really what SBNR means is that “I am spiritual, but I loathe organized religion.”  They view religion as something wholly personal and subjective.  But if it is really true that we owe God worship and that certain forms of worship are better than others, then a loving Father would teach us what those forms are.  The history of mankind outside of, first Judaism and then Christianity, has been man groping for these forms.  Some of the forms were innocuous like offering incense to the local god, while others commanded human sacrifice.  God commands definitive forms of worship to keep us from falling into two equally dangers traps—one of defect and one of excess.

There is the trap that once we realize that worship is really for us, we will worship in a way most pleasing to ourselves.  This has not only led to the Non-denominational denomination with their mega-churches and “praise and worship services” worthy of a pep-rally, but also the pop music masquerading as liturgical music in Catholic churches.  The second trap is that of excess.   The truth is that no form of worship will ever feel adequate because no merely human form of worship is.  So we keep upping the ante so to speak leading to some of the religious atrocities we still see in certain cults and Middle Eastern religions.  We need God to tell us what is acceptable and what is not.

God does not merely tell us, but He comes and shows us.  Through the sacrifice of His Son, He shows us the most pleasing form of worship—the one act that is enough.  He gives us the power to make that sacrifice our own—both through Faith (subjective) and through the perpetuation of that same Sacrifice in the Sacrifice of the Mass (objective).  The One True Religion is the one that offers that Sacrifice because it is not just any organized religion but the Religion organized by the Holy Spirit Himself.

The Catholic Response to SBNR

SBNR is really a protest movement against religious tolerance. Properly understood, religious tolerance assumes that there is a true religion and that we are willing to tolerate some people who hold only part of that truth. Tolerance respects human freedom to discover the truth. But religious tolerance has come to mean that all religions are equal. If all religions really are the same, then why should I have anything to do with any of them? But, if one of them is different because it is true, then it does matter. As the One True Religion is only the Catholic religion that can lead the SBNR away from sliding down the Luciferian slope.

This claim to be the One True Faith may seem arrogant, but it is no more arrogant than the claim that 2+2=4.  It is a statement of truth and it is a truth that has been handed down to us.  I am not the inventor of my religion, but its grateful recipient.

The Inventor died to give this religion to me.  Before dying He deeded it to its caretakers.  As proof, notice the first time that Jesus mentions His suffering on the Cross—it is only after setting up the Church upon Peter the Rock that He tells of His redemptive death (c.f. Mt 16:18-21).  Those same caretakers wore martyrs’ crowns rather so that the Faith was passed on to me.  Thousands upon thousands of martyrs and confessors boldly preached that religion so that I would have it.  Now it is my turn and your turn to pass it on to the next generation.  We cannot hide our light under a bushel.  We should not apologize for being Catholic, but we should apologize for not being Catholic enough.  Only we can show SBNR what it means to truthfully and joyfully be spiritual AND religious.

Psychological or Demonic?

As followers of Christ, true God and true man, it is hard to avoid the truth that we inhabit two worlds—the seen and the unseen.  This is so basic a tenet of Christianity that we easily forget it and gravitate towards one or the other, the natural or the supernatural.  We have all met people who supernaturalize everything, referring all that happens in our world to the angelic and demonic.  On the other hand there are also those who tend to only accept natural explanations for what happens.  Our Lord however taught us to keep one foot in each of those worlds.  There were the sick whom He healed and those whom He exorcised.  There is perhaps no arena where this dichotomy is more obvious than mental illness.

On the one hand there are those who think that the remedy is simply to pray the problem away.   Prayer must always be part of anyone’s therapy (more on this in a moment) so this is a difficult point to contend.  But for most people prayer isn’t enough.  Or, more accurately, the answer to their prayer is found through the help of therapists.  God rarely acts in a vacuum.  He always uses secondary causes when they are available to carry out works of His Providence.  We may pray and pray for healing, but only receive it when we go to the doctor.  Does this mean that God did not deliver?  Of course not.  He simply wanted to share His power of healing with one of His creatures.

Removing the Stigma

Within Christian circles, mental illness is stigmatized.  Mental health problems are not just problems because someone’s faith or trust in God is not strong enough.  That can always be the case, but it need not be the direct cause.  There are people of incredible faith that nobly carry the cross of mental illness.  If anything, those who think this way are the ones who do not understand the Faith.

An authentic Catholic understanding of the human person, as both body and soul, leads to the recognition that because of our fallen nature, defects in our bodies can spill over into the way we see reality.  Think about the person who is drunk—their judgment is impaired.  Did the alcohol somehow drip into the seat of judgment, the intellect?  No, but when our senses are impaired we cannot judge correctly.  That which is in the intellect, was first in the senses as the Scholastics were fond of saying.

So too with the person with mental illness.  They may have a bodily defect which causes them to judge reality incorrectly.  Or, their early experience or exposure to a trauma may have hindered their ability to judge reality properly.  Perhaps they need a medication to restore the body back to its proper function so that it can send clean data to the intellect.  They may additionally need counseling on how to judge reality correctly.

As an aside, many Catholics fear receiving counseling because the counselor may not be Catholic.  This is a reasonable fear, but just because they are Catholic doesn’t make them good therapists.  What one should look for is someone who has a correct definition of mental health.  Mental health consists in the ability to judge reality correctly.  This means they have an understanding of man as a body/soul composite with a purpose outside of himself.  Only once this is established would you assess their clinical capabilities.  In this regard, it is no different than choosing any other kind of health care provider.  If a cardiologist thinks that a healthy heart is one in which only one ventricle is functioning, you would not choose him, even if he was the most clinically gifted doctor in the world.  Simply asking the therapist what his or her definition of mental health is, can often protect you from wasted time and doing more harm.

Psychology and Catholicism have been in conflict since the advent of modern methods, but this need not be the case.  Anyone who reads St. Thomas’ Summa on human nature and the virtues realizes he would have made an excellent psychologist.  This is because of his correct anthropology.  There has been a rediscovery of sorts of St. Thomas’ works and many schools are teaching them to those training in psychology.

It used to be that anyone who was mentally ill was thought to be possessed.  In this regard the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme where everyone assumes that the problem is clinical.  However, just because there were cases in the past where a supernatural explanation was sought when there was a natural one, doesn’t mean that they weren’t right some of the time.  Supernatural explanations still remain valid.  While not everyone who is mentally ill is demonically tormented, this does not mean nobody is.  In short, sometimes when someone claims to be hearing voices, they actually are.

A Third Way?

This opens up a third possibility—one in which we acknowledge that we are standing in two different worlds.  This is the one that most people overlook because they fall into an either/or mentality, when in many cases it is both/and.   The person can be suffering from some natural mental illness which is only exacerbated by the presence of the demonic.  The devil is a bully and loves to kick people when they are down, especially when he can hide within some natural illness.

One of my boys suffers from Autism and this has made him a target of the diabolical bully.  It was his condition that attracted the evil one and made it easy for him to hide while he tormented my son.  The demonic oppression got so severe that we had to seek the prayers of an Exorcist.  Through the prayers of Exorcism, he was freed from the oppression.  But, and this is a very important but, he was not healed of his Autism.  His symptoms were greatly reduced and his response to therapy since then has been overwhelmingly positive.  But the clinical condition remained—for that God is using natural means.  For the supernatural problem, He used the supernatural solution of the Rites and Authority of the Church (as a side not, for those of you interested in hearing about my son’s story, I did an interview with my friend Pete for his podcast in which this among other topics related to Spiritual Warfare).

The point is that there are many cases where the problem is really both natural and supernatural.  For the good of the person we need to recognize this as real and likely option.  In the majority of cases it will not be necessary to seek out an Exorcist, but still spiritual remedies will need to be applied.

This is where the “just pray and it will go away” folks have a point.  There is almost always a mixture of the natural and supernatural causes involved and it is always good advice to apply spiritual medicine to all mental health problems.  Prayer alone may not be sufficient, but it is always necessary.  Psychotherapy should always be accompanied by an intense prayer life and an active Sacramental life, including regular Confession and Communion, along with a healthy dose of Eucharistic Adoration.  When someone has been in therapy for a long time, making minimal progress adds these practices to their regular therapy they usually begin running towards mental health.

Our Happy Fault

In his classic book, Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton quipped that Christianity begins with the doctrine of Original Sin, which, he says, “is the only part of Christian theology that can be proved.”  His point is that all men must agree on the doctrine of the Fall regardless of whether they profess it or not.  Each of us experiences tugs in different directions that reveal a war going on in our members.  As we near the close of Advent and prepare to celebrate Christianity’s beginnings, meditating on this most important doctrine can bear much fruit.

Any discussion on Original Sin has to begin by recognizing the platypus-like quality of man whose nature is a spirit/matter composite.  He is formed out of the “dust of the ground” that is animated by the breath (or pneuma, from which we get the word spirit) of God.   This leaves man with in a state of being tugged in two directions.  Like all matter, his material being always tends towards decay and death.  His spirit, because it is not composed of parts cannot be subject to decay, is immortal.  As a material creature, man will strive to preserve his material being.  As spiritual creature, man will always feed on truth and goodness.  Despite these incompatibilities there is also a mutual dependence of the various faculties in man.  The material depends upon the spiritual in order to have life and fuller sensation while the spiritual depends on the material in order to know and love.

It would seem based on this description that man, by nature, is at war within himself.  But the spirit/material composite of man is not merely some haphazard mixture.  The spirit has a certain precedence over the material and the material is in the service of intellectual knowing and loving.  This integration in man’s faculties means that the will perfectly follows the intellect while the material faculties such as the passions enable the will to act with a certain intensity that spills into the body.

Even with this integration in man’s faculties, there is still the problem of death.  Because the body is material and subject to decay, the spirit will no longer be able to act through it when that decay reaches a certain level.  This leads to a monstrosity of a soul separated from its body.  To alleviate what appears to be a fundamental “flaw” in human nature, God bestowed Adam and Eve with the preternatural gift of immortality; the whole person, body and soul.  This gift however was conditional.  It was conditioned on the fact that Adam always oriented his faculties toward God and His will.  This immortality was also a result of a share in God’s eternal life which is called sanctifying grace.

Summarizing we can say that, prior to the Fall, man was gifted with sanctifying grace at his creation and bodily immortality.  It is important to remember as well that the perfect integration of his faculties was a natural endowment rather than a supernatural gift.


While we do not know what the actual sin was that Adam committed, we can say what it was not.  It was not a sexual sin like lust as is often suggested.  To suggest that is more telling of us as fallen men rather than Adam as unfallen.  Because he enjoyed the perfect integration of body and soul, it had to be a spiritual sin.  That is why most theologians think that it was the greatest of spiritual sins, pride.  What we do know is that when Adam sinned he lost the gift of sanctifying grace.  In trying to “be like God” in knowing good and evil, he forfeited the way in which he was actually like God (sanctifying grace).  For being like God was not something to be grasped (Phil. 2:6) but instead something to be received as a free gift.  This loss of sanctifying grace is called Original Sin.  In God’s plan, Adam and all his offspring were to be gifted with sanctifying grace at their conception.  When Adam sinned as the head of mankind, he lost that gift for all his offspring.  He also lost the gift of immunity from death so that he and his offspring were made subject to their material limitation (“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return”—Gn 3:19).

Because of the supernatural height, from which he fell, Adam also did damage to his nature.  This damage is what we call concupiscence.  No longer did he have the perfect integration of his faculties.  The intellect became darkened so that the truth became blurry, the will was weakened so that the good became less desirable and the passions ran amok, inclining man towards unreasonable pleasure.  In other words, man was left worse off for having lost Sanctifying grace than if he had not been gifted with it to begin with.

Why would God leave man worse off?  In short it is because man has a supernatural end.  He was made to be with God.  Because friendship can only occur between equals, man cannot reach this end on his own. Therefore God must raise man up by giving him a share in His nature.

If man was left with his natural faculties intact, he would tend only towards his natural end, which is virtue.  By leaving his nature wounded, God knew that man cannot even reach his natural end.  This experience of frustration leaves man to seek outside help so that when God reveals the path out, man knowingly will follow (this is why the Bad News always must precede the Good News).  God offers this help to mankind through Baptism where the spirit is given the gift of sanctifying grace.  This is why it is said to “forgive” Original Sin.  But the effects or stains remain.  He may endow the soul with actual graces in overcoming these defects, but he leaves it to us to heal from the effects.  It is like when medicine is given for a disease—it is not the medicine that heals, but the body itself.  The medicine simply aids the natural healing process of the body.  This is why the distinction between Original Sin and its effects is important.  We are given an initial “shot” of sanctity, but we must then struggle to grow the divine life within us.  The full effects of the Fall will only be healed at the resurrection of the body.

Viewed through our post-Fall lenses, it seems somehow unfair that we all lost the preternatural gifts because of the act of one man.  To that I would reply that it is just as unfair that the actions of one man should redeem us.  Looked at from a deeper level, we see that we have everything upside down.

This deeper level has to always be from the standpoint of Christ and His act of restoration.  His intention is to restore us as a single people, so closely united that we are referred to as His Mystical Body.  From the economy of salvation God does not look at us as a collection of individuals but as a single body.  This is the doctrine of the Communion of Saints—there can be no good done by an individual member of the Church that does not redound to the welfare of all.   Among the members of the Mystical Body there is a spiritual commonwealth of riches which includes all the wealth of graces acquired by Christ and all the good works performed with the grace of Christ.  We have difficulty seeing this because there exists so much division even within the Church, but it does not take away from the truth that God’s intention for mankind was for us to be one.  Therefore it ought to be very clear that God would deal with us as one.  Otherwise Jesus taking on a human nature to redeem all mankind would not make sense.  Through the Hypostatic Union humanity is now by nature united to God and we, in response, must now become a mixture of Christ nature (both human and divine).

In truth, the question of fairness should really enter into the discussion.  The nature that has been transmitted to us as offspring of Adam may be damaged, but it is still a gift that we have no right to.  If we have no right to our nature, then we certainly have no right to the super-nature that Adam had.  In the end, it makes little difference because maintaining the divine nature requires a period of trial for all of us.  Now God simply grades on a curve by giving us a share in Christ’s virtues.  That is something Adam never had and certainly more than levels the playing field.


Hidden in Plain Sight

There is always a great temptation that in growing familiar with a thing we may begin to ponder its meaning to little.  This is most certainly the case with the Lord’s Prayer.  When it comes to this prototypical prayer that Our Lord gave to us, we should marvel at its depth.  As a testament to its inherent depth, we find saints and doctors of the Church, when reflecting on the meaning of each of the seven petitions, coming up with different conclusions.  This ought to awaken an awareness in us that this prayer is meant to be contemplated rather than merely recited.  Praying without contemplation of its meaning is mere saying.  In order to combat this tendency, I would like to offer reflection on the last two petitions, namely “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil.”

Any reflection on these two petitions must first start with two fundamental assumptions.  The first regards temptations.  On a superficial level, it appears that Our Lord was implying that it was God who leads us into temptation.  But St. James in his epistle tells us: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).  This means that it is not God Himself that tempts us, but ultimately all temptation comes from the devil.  This of course fits with Our Lord’s experience of temptation in the wilderness when the devil shows himself lord of the other two enemies of mankind (the flesh and the world) by tempting Him to turn the stones into bread and to receive all the kingdoms of the world.

This brings us to the second assumption and that is the fact that Evil is not some impersonal force, but has as its source a person (or persons).  The spirit of the world is one that is marked by materialism and scientism.  It views the world as a closed system in which given enough time we can explain everything through science.  God is then squeezed out of the picture as a superfluous hypothesis.  Even if He does exist, He is most certainly remote.  But there is a hidden effect of this spirit that we also often overlook.  If the world contains only what can be seen and measured, then there is also no room for the devil either.  Everything that happens has a material explanation (usually psychological) and the devil too is superfluous.  This “humility” of the devil allows him freer rein to orchestrate his plans.  He remains hidden in plain sight.  We demonize “the culture” or capitalism or socialism and miss the personal responsibility that ought to be assigned to the one who uses these things as means to carry out his diabolical plan—“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).  Properly understood then the last petition is always our pleading with God to protect us from the machinations of the Evil One; “deliver us from the Evil One.”

Although these are viewed as two distinct petitions, they are intimately related because of this link between temptations and the one who tempts.  It is instructive then to look at temptations in general and how it is that Satan tempts us.

Why does God allow us to be tempted?  In turning to the Book of Job, we find that the first two chapters offer us a great deal upon which to meditate.

The first thing that you should take note of is the fact that there is a great battle going on between God’s elect and the forces of the Enemy.  God is not actually a participant in the battle however.  No one can truly fight God because He is all-powerful.  He merely indulges Satan so that ultimately His power is shown through His creatures.  And this is one of the reasons why God allows us to be tempted.  It is for His glory.  Lucifer is the highest of God’s creatures in the natural order.  He is of the first hierarchy of angels, the Seraphim.  He and his minions are so far above humanity in power that it is as if a colony of ants (us) were fighting mankind (the devil and his minions).  Even God’s mightiest angelic soldier, St. Michael is from the lowly eighth hierarchy, the Archangels.  Yet, once the order of grace is introduced, these lowly creatures are made so powerful that they are able to engage these great powers in battle.  A lowly handmaiden is given Lucifer’s place in heaven and now puts on combat boots and squashes his head.  All of this shows forth the power of God’s grace.  To Him be the glory.

Each time we are tempted and overcome that temptation it ultimately serves as a reminder of God’s power.  It is as if it is our own heel that crushes the head of the serpent and pushes him back to the depths of hell.  We grow stronger by the infusion of the divine life in us and the Evil One receives a mortal wound.  We also grow in faith that God always does provide grace in the manner and time that we need it.

Secondly, we are tempted because this is a time of trial and purification for mankind.   Through temptations we are brought low and grow in humility.  This is the experience of St. Paul when he speaks of a “thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated” (2Cor 12:7).  They can also serve as a wake-up call when we fall that we are not quite what we were made to be.  Recall the Pharisee who recounts all his own works to God and imagines himself to be self-sufficient.  He needs a healthy dose of temptation to keep from forming too high of an opinion of himself.


By instructing us to pray “lead us not into temptation” Our Lord was first of all reminding us that ultimately we are powerless in the face of temptation.  It is an act of humility to utter the words.  But because we live in a season of testing, we ask God to remember our weakness when He does give the devil room to work.  We ask Him to limit the amount of power Satan exercises upon us and to give us the grace to overcome them so that they cease to be actual temptations.  We see this as God limits the space that Satan has in working against Job.  The first set of evils he visits upon Job are not allowed to “touch his person” (Job 1:12) and the second he must “spare his life” (Job 2:6).

The petition to be delivered from Evil is not merely a request that we be blindly protected from the ploys of the Evil One but that we are able to recognize them for what they are.  Many people fail to recognize the “ordinary” ways in which the devil is active in their lives.  They may believe in extraordinary demonic manifestations like possession, obsession and oppression, but do not realize that there is an ordinary form of demonic activity to which we are all subject.  We can make tremendous strides in our spiritual journey when we begin to see his ploys more clearly.  To that end, I find that there are four main categories into which they fall.

First there is discouragement.  Psalm 91:6 speaks of “the arrow that flies by day, for the matter that walks in darkness, nor for the ruin and the devil that is in the noonday.”  The great spiritual fathers have identified this “noonday devil” as discouragement leading to sloth.  The fact that it comes at noonday implies that one is already set out on the day’s work and that this devil comes during the heat of the day (i.e. when one is beginning to wear down) to convince the worker to give up the work altogether.

In our lives what this often looks like is that it starts with some idea or expectation of where we should be on our spiritual journey or how much fruit our apostolate should have borne at this point.  This is the “arrow that flies by day.”  Next comes the feeling of discouragement.  We find that it was really too hard to begin with or that we have been doing it wrong all along.  The temptation usually is not to give up altogether but to change something or to put our energies into something else that is “better.”  He can exploit our desire for growth by equating spiritual progress with change.  But discouragement never comes from God.  To arm us against the Accuser, the Advocate gives us the gift of courage to overcome the great stumbling block that discouragement can put in our path.

Second, the Evil One uses Division.  The Greek name for the devil, Diabolos, means “one who tears asunder.”  He does this by fostering division with those we are close to.  It usually starts with an accusation that we latch onto.  Once we are hooked on it, he then supplies us with reasons why they do it.  For example, a man is driving in the car and his wife is telling him to pass the car in front of him.  The devil is quickly there to point out to the man “she always does that when I am driving.”  Notice the absoluteness (always) of the statement so that there is an implication that she has a serious problem.  Once the man agrees with this, the devil then gives him reasons such as “she is so controlling.”  Now the man gets angry that his wife doesn’t trust him and she is left to fill in the blanks (again with the help of the Evil One) why he makes such a big deal out of such a small thing.

The antidote to this weapon of division is what I like to call “compassion in small things.”  It is an attempt to see things from other people’s perspective.  Returning to our example, the man might simply say “No she doesn’t always do that.  In fact she usually only does it when she is worried about being late.  She must be worried.  Let me reassure her.”

Third, there is distraction.  The primary goal of the evil one’s distractions is to have us lose focus and our sense of direction.  This happens in four main ways.  The first is to generate fear about the future.  This is a major theme in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.  The senior tempter, Screwtape invites his nephew to exploit fear of the future because all vices are future directed.  He says, “[G]ratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”

The second form of distraction is to remind us of slights and offenses we have suffered at the hands of others.  For most people this temptation arises most often in prayer.  This is because prayer is a time of great vulnerability where we open ourselves to God and therefore can be a time when we are reminded of other times of vulnerability and when we were wounded.  The antidote is to remember that God is the ultimate vindicator of wrongs against us and to place our trust in His mercy.  This is closely related to the third form which is to play the comparison game with the situations of others.

If these fail, then there is always the pleasures available at the present moment.  A chief way this is done is temptation through curiosity and I believe the main weapon is the internet.  I think we would all be surprised at the amount of time we spend online each day if we were to log the number of times we stop to look at email, texts or Facebook.

Our Lord Himself called Satan, “the father of lies and a liar from the beginning.”  Obviously then the last form of temptation and the root of all temptations is deception.  As the father of lies, he will always tempt us to deception as well.  Usually this comes in two forms.  First is by equating information about someone with the truth about the person.  This is where we are tempted to label someone as liberal, conservative, gay, straight, etc. and assume that tells us all we need to know about the person.  We even do this with ourselves by assuming a label tells everyone else all they need to know about us.  We can label ourselves as “orthodox Catholics” without even considering those places where we are like the Pharisees.

Second is by tempting us to lie to conceal or avoid some pain.  This is almost always at the heart of every falsehood we tell as a thorough examination of conscience will reveal as our motive for lying.  It could be an attempt to shield us from the pain of being embarrassed about our past, the pain of disappointing someone or of getting caught in something we should not be doing.  Ultimately what we fear is the truth and the lies end up trapping us.  But only the “Truth will set us free.”

St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises says the devil is like a lover who tries to seduce a young girl or another’s wife; once his machinations are revealed the evil one is vexed and he flees.  Let us bring to light the trappings of the evil one by earnestly praying “Deliver us from Evil.”