Luke 10:23 is one of the verses we hear so often, see on memes, quote to friends and in talks and we are probably more familiar with it than many other verses:
“If you would be my disciple; take up your cross daily an follow me.”
It is not a consoling verse by any means. No, in fact, I think this verse brings to mind a picture of a lone cross, heavy and stark, rough, meant to tear us and break us, maybe on a lone hill placed there for you. Accepting means isolation and difficulty. All of this is true to life. One purpose of a cross is indeed to break you.
The latest cross my family is carrying has been all of those things and indeed this is the heaviest cross we have carried. I never thought it would be more difficult for me to watch the suffering of my wife than it has been to watch and feel the suffering of my children, but it has. It is even more isolating to watch not only a family member but my partner suffer and suffer so greatly.
To date I have received over 700 contacts from people all over the world, text messages emails, letters, calls, and even donations to help us cover medical expenses. Some are from close friends, some are people who have come to my talks over the years, some are total strangers who know our family story. It is truly an outpouring of Christian community that is overwhelming. There have been many different responses of sympathy but also a lot of questions either explicit or implied. Here are three I’d like to take a stab at addressing:
Finally, many have lamented the amount of tears our family has shed over the years and this is a response I can relate to. The last month my emotions have been nearly out of control when I am alone, and yes once again there have been many tears. I had a difficult time talking about this with my children who have already experienced plenty of heartbreak. They have experienced the empty, stark, crushing cross before.
Let me offer as a consolation the fact that we have shed tears on both sides of the Cross. When you see the cross you have to carry, sometimes you forget that if you approach from the other side you will see that it is not empty. There is a person on that Cross; without Him, this would all be meaningless. I thank God that my first approach to the mystery of the Cross was from the side He hangs on. There were no less tears; in fact, there may have been even more. Those tears came from the realization that Christ knows me, died for me and invited me. Let it be a consolation that the crosses we all carry have someone on the other side. That person is the only one who saves and his message of salvation comes from both sides of the Cross. You cannot accept one without the other. The buckets of tears on either side just cannot compare. Knowing that the cross Jesus died on is the same cross he invites us to carry, we will rush to it, grab it, and struggle to carry wherever he leads.
Another consolation is that we are not alone on either side. For this we need to give thanks. I am incredibly thankful to those who have shown us the very meaning of the communion of the Body of Christ. Four groups of people in particular I want to name:
As Amber continues her treatments we pray that they will be effective. We will not know any progress really for several weeks. Please continue to pray that God gives her a peace that passes all understanding.
Of course, I would not be able to name everyone who has loved us through all this but please be assured of our gratefulness and our prayers. The main reason I started writing this was to thank our community but also to remind people that while the Cross is crushing, it is also saving. While it is the sign of death, the person hanging on the other side rose again. We have shed many tears because of our crosses, but we know the joyful tears of redemption as well and that should be a consoling thought to us all.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
2nd Corinthians 4:6-15
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.