What does it mean to view Spiritual Warfare from a Catholic perspective? For the past fifty to one hundred years the concept of spiritual warfare has largely fallen from the vernacular of the Church. Fortunately, for many in need some of our Protestant Brothers and Sisters held on to the belief in the Devil and the understanding of spiritual warfare. Now very often the theology of spiritual warfare falls into two insufficient categories: The first is that it focuses on the extraordinary work of evil and the second is that it falls into a more protestant understanding of spiritual warfare. I am not saying there is anything wrong with a protestant understanding but we can learn a lot from reclaiming a thoroughly Catholic understanding of spiritual warfare.
Here are some marks of a distinctively Catholic view of spiritual warfare:
These are some marks of a distinctively Catholic theology of spiritual warfare. I’d love hear what I may have left out. If you can think of any please feel free to comment.
About eight years ago, I began speaking about a topic that I thought I would never have the time for. Eight years ago, a Priest friend of mine, who was the rector of a seminary up north, asked me to speak to some seminarians about the theology of the Church with regard to exorcism and of my experiences assisting Priests with their ministries of exorcism. Since that time, I have spoken about almost nothing else. At this point in time, I get the chance to travel all over the country and speak to Catholics about the reality of the devil and spiritual warfare. At almost every conference, talk or training I do, someone makes a comment as if to temper what I am doing and what I am speaking about. Someone might say, “Shouldn’t we just focus on the light?” Another person will say, “ You are a good speaker, but personally I’d just like to keep my mind on the victory.” Sometimes I hear, “You know the best thing we can do to respond to the devil is pay him no attention at all” Often other speakers at a conference will say, almost condescendingly, “I prefer to focus on Jesus.” If they waited long enough for a response, they’d no doubt hear me say emphatically, “Me too!”
Unfortunately, I no longer feel the luxury of not speaking about the Devil in a clear and balanced way. I have spoken with thousands of Catholics all around the country and most often the reaction is, “Why has no one ever talked to us about this before?” I have been giving talks since I was in high school and I am deeply concerned with real evangelization and I can tell you even from the perspective of evangelization that I have never gotten responses like I get when I give the talk on “The Catholic Truth About Angels, Demons, Ghosts, Exorcisms and Hauntings.” Priests tell me that they get more confession, more attendees at daily mass and more people for any Marian devotions the parish might have. Why? I have come to believe it is because when we do not talk about the devil and his plans then we are not preaching the fullness of the Gospel. Just like the message of God’s love can be novel and new and life changing, the message of Christ’s victory can be also.
So I would like to present just four simple reasons why I have decided to talk about the Devil and why I encourage Priests and others to do the same:
1. As mentioned previously, we are called to preach the fullness of the Gospel. A major part of the Good news of Jesus Christ is His definitive victory over sin, death, Satan and the kingdom of darkness. If we ignore the devil, then we ignore a major part of the story of Christ. Then of course we ignore much of the current action of Christ since He and his Bride, the Church still exact victory over the powers of darkness.
2. The last several Popes have called for a renewal of teaching in this area. Here are just three examples:
“Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naive, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.” Pope Francis
“‘Spiritual combat’ is [an] element of life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art, an Invisible struggle in which (we) engage every day…” Pope St. John Paul II
“What are the great needs of today? Do not let our answer surprise you as being over simple or even superstitious and unreal: of of the greatest needs is defense from that evil which is called the devil.” Pope Paul VI
3. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church taught about the Devil and Spiritual Warfare. St. Alphonsus Ligouri for example devoted a substantial amount of writing about the devil and spiritual warfare.
4. People are in angst at the fact they believe the Church is ignoring the Devil. Open a newspaper and the Devil has his hooks in every aspect of our culture. If you deny it or ignore it then our credibility is shot.
So with all this in mind how do we speak about the devil sensibly, avoiding all fear mongering and most of all avoiding any glorification of the demonic power. The old phrase is still great advice: “There are two errors one can make when speaking about the devil. The first is to ignore his work and existence, the second is to attribute all evils to him and to see his followers around every corner.” This quote obviously points out that we should have a reasoned, well balanced attitude about it. After several years of speaking to Catholics all over the country about the devil, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice.
Preach the fullness of the Gospel, including the drama of the battle between Christ and Satan. Without communicating the existence of the Devil we cannot fully communicate Christ’s victory.
When I see the devil has stopped ensnaring souls, I too will cease looking for new ways to save them from his wily deceits.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dave VanVickle is a Catholic speaker and writer focusing on the Universal Call to Holiness and Authentic Catholic Spirituality. He is currently employed as the Director of Evangelization for the parishes of the Catholic Community of Wexford, PA.