devil, demon, satan, evil

Engaging the Enemy in Spiritual Warfare

Lately it seems that the evil one has ramped up his attack on the faithful and on the Church. Consider the current revelations on sexual abuse by the clergy, and cover-ups of the same by high-ranking clergy. Then there’s the perception held by many Catholics that the Church hierarchy’s response to these issues is woefully inadequate. A rock star who favors abortion gets an audience with the pope. Abuse victims claim they can’t get the pope to respond to them. The Papal Nuncio tells us the malaise of the faithful is due to their wishing they had Pope Benedict XVI back. He clearly misses the whole point. Meanwhile more related stories pop up every day in the media. There seems to be no end to it. The whole world is a battlefield. Each of us is a participant in this spiritual warfare whether we like it or not.

Spiritual Warfare is a Fact of Life

But it goes beyond these high profile, Church-wide manifestations as well. In our everyday lives, the enemy is working to destroy any good works that the grace of God provides through us. This really is nothing new—it always has been the case. However, in these times, we each ought to be prepared for more frequent and more severe onslaughts from the evil one. He doesn’t want God’s merciful love to shine as the light in the darkness. The more potential good you and your ministry or apostolate can bring about, the more push-back you’ll receive from the forces of darkness. The enemy will bring the battle to you. It’s good, then, to be prepared for this spiritual warfare.

Harassment and Interdiction

When I was in the artillery, we frequently practiced “H&I” fire missions. “H&I” stands for harassment and interdiction. H&I missions target suspected routes and positions of the enemy with rounds fired at random intervals. The purpose, as the name indicates, is to harass the enemy and destroy their morale while denying them freedom of movement. If we reflect on the way things occur in spiritual combat, we can see clear evidence in our everyday lives of H&I missions from our spiritual enemy. At times—at random intervals—do we not feel the harassment and attack of the evil one in our daily lives? In this spiritual warfare, if we’re not close to Jesus and Mary, we risk demoralization by such tactics of the enemy.

Some of the Enemy’s Tactics

The evil one’s H&I attacks can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s the unwarranted, and even vicious, attack on our person, our reputation, or our approach by another person. At other times, the attack is a series of events that become obstacles to carrying out our mission. As well, we on our own can let him under our skin and act out inappropriately, saying and doing things in the heat of the moment that we regret afterwards. In any of these cases, the purpose of the enemy is to stop the forward momentum of the good we’re doing and demoralize us in the process. He doesn’t want us to bring Christ’s healing love and peace to others. His mission is to keep us from bringing wounded souls to the Church, the spiritual field hospital, in the battle of good and evil.

Random, Vicious Attacks

Why do some people engage in the vicious, un-Christian attacks on us that they do? For one thing, we are all—each of us—broken, and we all need healing. Who knows what’s going on in their life at the time that the evil one gets under their skin? It could be that we provoked the attack, even inadvertently, by something we said or did. That doesn’t make the attack right, nor does it account for the disproportionality that we often see in such attacks, where the attacker is over the top in their behavior. Nevertheless, it creates havoc. It can disorient us, no differently than a wartime artillery round exploding nearby, causing confusion, panic and fear.

How do we avoid these attacks? I’m not sure there is a way to avoid them totally. We might try being more observant of others’ behaviors when we interact with them. This could alert us earlier to a possible problem before it becomes an all-out skirmish. It might allow us to prayerfully address issues with them and nip any problems in the bud.  And then again, if they are sufficiently worked up, being agitated by the enemy without the ability to recognize it, there may be no easy solution available.

Obstacles Placed in Our Way

Sometimes, as we attempt to complete a project or kick off an event for the apostolate, we encounter random obstacles. They just seem to pop up out of nowhere. Perhaps it’s that call or the last-minute e-mail we get that creates a sense of urgency. It may seem urgent, but is it important to deal with at this moment? Maybe it’s some problem with technology that just happens in the moment. Or the car refuses to start—and on it goes. We all probably can recall something like this, with potential barriers to ministerial or pastoral success. This, too, is part of the spiritual warfare that the enemy is waging on us.

We need to keep our mission in front of us. If we’ve prayerfully determined that what we’re doing is God’s will, then we need to find a way around obstacles. We can pray to Jesus, with the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and go-to patron saints, for help when the evil one starts placing these obstacles in our path. Solutions normally will appear if we are open to them.

Hand-to-Hand Combat with the Enemy

At attack strategy of the enemy that probably is more common than either of the two preceding tactics involves a direct assault on our personal, interior peace. The enemy brings the spiritual warfare up close and personal. It could happen at any time, over any issue, even insignificant matters. We might even be in prayer when the agitation starts, or just finishing our prayer when it takes hold of us. Before you know it, we’re swept away with the agitation and all the negative emotions it entails. Of course, it’s not bad enough that we’re agitated—we need to make sure we agitate someone else. At the end of it all, we have another barrier to our mission in the battle. We’ve let the agitation caused by the enemy derail our behavior. That, in turn, can derail our apostolate activities and can be demoralizing to us and to others.

A key issue here is becoming more sensitive to, and discerning about, the movements in our hearts. We need to be more emotionally intelligent in secular speak, but with a real focus on what’s happening in our hearts. What movements are we feeling? If we are trying to live for God, avoiding intentional sin, attending Mass, receiving Communion, going to Confession, etc., agitation normally will be coming from the enemy, not from God. Once we’re aware of the agitation beginning, we can address it immediately, snuff it out and move on about our work for God. Spiritual direction can be a big assist in learning to identify these movements of the heart and then reacting appropriately to them.

Be Properly Armed and Prepared for Spiritual Warfare

As the cliché states, the best defense is a good offense. Our strength and preparedness for spiritual warfare depends on the habits we’ve created. Regular, daily mental prayer (lectio divina), routine Mass, Communion and Confession, with a daily Rosary are minimal requirements to be battle ready. “The Rosary is the weapon for these times,” St. Padre Pio told us. The Rosary is needed now more than ever. All spiritual warriors should be praying the Rosary daily—the enemy fears Our Lady.

Beyond these basic requirements, there is far more we can do:

Get close, and stay close, to Jesus and Mary through your daily prayer regimen. Pray for St. Michael’s assistance. They are here to help us fight and win the battle, but they need us to do our part.

Maria, Auxilium Christianorum, Virgo Potens, Ora Pro Nobis!