Recently my life has been pulled into two distinct and seemingly opposite realities. One is that we have begun perpetual Eucharistic Adoration at St. Bonaventure for Lent. I have three assigned hours per week, but I also fill in for hours when others can not make it. Even when I am not there, I live across the street and feel a great tug on my heart to be there all day.
The other direction tugging at me is the almost constant barrage of medical testing and appointments for my daughter Louisa and my son Max. This direction began as the exact opposite of the peaceful tugging of adoration, because it is filled with ups and downs and a doom of sadness, or at least a life full of questions without answers.
At first, one was serving the other. I recovered from the exposure to suffering by exposing myself to the one who suffered for me. But each time I entered His presence, I found myself weaker and more injured. It wasn't a sustainable balance I was striking--basically letting myself drown in doubt, worry and sadness, and then letting the Lord resucitate me. One morning in particular I left adoration at 4am and by the time I grabbed my door knob at home, a mere 20 seconds later, I was completely filled with worry and doubt. There had to be a better way. The very next day the Lord responded with a question: "Do you have the courage to let love consume all?" I knew exactly what he meant. One of the worst realities of suffering are the questions: Will my daughter be ok? Will she walk? Will my son ever run like his brothers? Why did this happen? Could we have done something? Will I ever be happy again? What will the next test show? Why? Why? Who? Much of suffering comes from over complicating life. We ask questions that we may very well deserve answers to, and we try desperately to relieve ourselves. While these are both reasonable and natural inclinations, are they totally necessary? What is absolutely necessary in any given situation? The answer: love. The only real necessity in life is that we love. We do not need answers, we do not need relief. Sometimes they come, of course, but we are talking about absolute necessity. The absolute necessity of any given situation is that we love Jesus Christ and those in front of us: that we fill each moment with love.
There are many responses to suffering, and I have tried almost all of them. I have tried to run from it. I have tried to pretend it is not true. I have tried to drink it away, eat it away, work it away. I have also tried healthy ways of dealing with it. With great faith I pray that my son and my daughter will be healed. I have used hope, thinking: "in heaven we will all be new and healed," hoping that will take the pain away. Some of this gave me relief, but I needed something more. The answer was to let love consume every single moment.
This is not a new idea. You can find versions of what I am saying in the thought of many saints. I have recently been convicted of this again by the writings of Jacques Phillipe. He says:
"But the Holy Spirit takes a hand, and then: "What is God asking of me in all this?" Or: "Where are the most faith, hope and love to be found?" These are questions that have answers--if not at least for today. And that is enough."
Finally in this solution I am finding peace and fulfillment. It is scary to wonder if my son will be healed. My response is to pour love into that moment. It is terrifying to wonder about my daughter's future: my response is not to wonder, but to love. It is oppressing to look at a day that will be consumed by appointments, when I want to be here at the parish evangelizing. My response is to spend that day loving. This is not ethereal, new age or an over simplification. It is simply responding to pain by suspending my demand for answers and relief and saying to the Lord: "How can I be faithful to you and love my best in this moment?" This is not sticking my head in the sand and not dealing with imminent realities. In fact, I would say I have received more real answers from this mode of life than trying to hash them out on my own. Letting love consume all has finally satisfied me. Those times I struggle now with the sadness and pain, I have trained myself to ask "Am I over-complicating this? Why can't I just be faithful in this situation and abandon myself fully to God's will without reserve?"
Recently, Amber and I were walking in to the boys' room to tuck them
in for bed. Before we entered we heard Max say to his brother Sam, "I wish I could stand and walk, Sam." As Max gets older, we've heard several of these comments, and they usually completely wreck me for days and days. This was not really different at first. It was like getting punched in the gut. I was heartbroken and speechless. I just sat there until about 2am asking for answers and begging God for mercy. I thought about Max not getting to play basketball or be a soldier or live out his dreams like every other little boy. It was then that I came to myself and remembered my "safety" question: "What is absolutely necessary?" and the answer came as it always does: Love. Love me and remain in my love. This finally is an eternal solution. One that will last forever. God is teaching me the true meaning of love. There is no situation where it is not applicable and no thirst it can not quench. A life completely consumed by love is available to all of us. Those who have the courage to let every moment, situation, hurt, joy inconvenience and breath be consumed by it will be eternally satisfied.
Faith will end in seeing. Hope will end in receiving but love never ends.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity has become one of my very favorite Saints. She has been known as the “Prophet of the Presence” or the “Prophet of the Divine Indwelling”. She is a really important saint for our times. Her writings are filled with lessons that are incredibly pertinent to the maladies of modern day catholics. Here are six quotes that I think we can draw so much wisdom from. I’ll add some thoughts below each quote.
“Of what importance is feeling? Perhaps you are all the closer when I feel you less.” Unfortunately emotivism is so prevalent as a rule of faith now. We base so much of our faith on feelings. In my limited experience of the spiritual life feelings are a terrible gauge for our closeness to God or the health of our soul.
“May my life be a continual prayer, a long act of love.” Echoing “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence, Elizabeth practiced a continual recognition on the indwelling Trinity. She constantly reverenced the presence of God within her soul.
“During painful times, when you feel a terrible void, think how the capacity of your soul is being enlarged so that it can receive God- becoming as it were, infinite as God is infinite.” Modern man has a tendency to avoid suffering at all costs and in every way. I have learned in my own life that the greatest moments of grace come after God has tilled the soil of our hearts with suffering. I almost desire it now because I know that suffering has become one of the greatest graces of my life. I do not yet suffer well but I definitely recognize that each inconvenience and suffering has meaning.
“You will never be commonplace if you are vigilant in love.” The current obsession with being unique is a hopeless pursuit when it is driven by our own efforts. On the other hand, God creates a beautifully unique tapestry out of our souls when we turn our lives over to His love. Have you ever wondered how there can be so many unique saints? Love is always new and alway exciting.
“I go to him as a baby goes to his mother so that he can fill me and invade all and take me in his arms.” I just love the part of this phrase that says, “invade all”. It is a common plea of my heart for God to conquer me. At times I feel this is the only viable option. To invade me like an army and take captive those things out of line with a life of discipleship.
“O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, come upon me, and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole mystery.” So much here. Her great desire is that she would be wholly given over to Christ. That she would be a living mystery of the gospel message renewing the world as Christ did.
“Forget self, give up self, ignore self, look at the Master, look only at Him, accept as coming directly from His love both joy and suffering.” Boom! Accepting joys from God’s love and attributing suffering to no cause at all is so easy. But to look at both joy and suffering as a gift of love from God is where “the rubber meets the road”. No matter what life has brought you look at it as a gift coming directly from the love of God.
Elizabeth of the Trinity: Pray for us!
Here are four prayers I use regularly for Spiritual Warfare and in Deliverance ministry. You could use them for any situation where the action of evil is detected. I will add some thoughts after each prayer. Prayers are italicized. My comments are bolded.
BREASTPLATE OF ST. PATRICK
I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
I arise today Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism, Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension, Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today Through the strength of the love of cherubim, In the obedience of angels, In the service of archangels, In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, In the prayers of patriarchs, In the predictions of prophets, In the preaching of apostles, In the faith of confessors, In the innocence of holy virgins, In the deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through The strength of heaven, The light of the sun, The radiance of the moon, The splendor of fire, The speed of lightning, The swiftness of wind, The depth of the sea, The stability of the earth, The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me, God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's shield to protect me, God's host to save me From snares of devils, From temptation of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, Against incantations of false prophets, Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics, Against craft of idolatry, Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul; Christ to shield me today, Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. Amen.
This is a wonderful prayer of protection and it is very thorough. One particular line from this prayer that I like is the phrase: “Against black laws of pagandom”. It is a troubling thought that most would believe this was an unreality or would feel it was inappropriate to mention, but there are individuals who are not only living immorally but who have also adopted a new law of darkness. These people give themselves over to evil and target Christians with spells, sacrifices, curses, etc. There is a kingdom of darkness and this line should remind us of that.
The Original Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel
Taken from the Raccolta
O Glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, be our defense in the terrible warfare, which we carry on against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, and spirits of evil. Come to the aid of man, whom God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil. Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist Thee, nor was there place for them any longer in heaven. That cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan, who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of His Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men; his depraved mind, corrupt heart, his spirit of lying, impiety, blasphemy, his pestilential breath of impurity and of every vice and iniquity. These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the Spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered. Arise then, O invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and give them the victory. They venerate Thee as their protector and patron; in Thee Holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious power of hell; to Thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, do Thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.
V. Behold the Cross of the Lord; be scattered, hostile powers.
R. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered, the root of David.
V. Let Thy mercies be upon us, O Lord
R. As we have hoped in Thee.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee
LET US PRAYGod, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we call upon Thy holy name, and we humbly implore Thy clemency, that by the intercession of Mary, ever Virgin Immaculate and our Mother, and of the glorious Archangel St. Michael, Thou wouldst deign to help us against Satan and all other unclean spirits, who wander about the world for the injury of the human race and the ruin of souls. Amen.
Many of us are familiar with the shorter version of the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. This longer version was written by Pope Leo XIII after a vision of Satan. I have memorized this prayer and use it often in deliverance ministry. This prayer is contained within the Raccolta and is licit for lay people to pray. It is important, however, to distinguish between this and the Leonine Exorcism, which is very similar. The Leonine exorcism should not be prayed by lay people.
August Queen of Heaven
August Queen of Heaven, sovereign queen of Angels, you who at the beginning received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we beseech you humbly, send your holy legions so that,
on your orders and by your power, they will track down demons, fight them everywhere, curb their audacity and plunge them into the abyss.
Who can be compared to God? Oh good and tender Mother, you will always be our love and our hope. Oh divine Mother,
send the Holy Angels and Archangels to defend me and to keep the cruel enemy far from me. Holy Angels and Archangels defend us,
protect us. Amen.
I cannot think of a situation where this prayer would not be efficacious. I use it most often as a diagnostic tool or prayer to help with discernment of the presence or action of evil. It was given by Mary to Blessed Fr. Louis Cestac in 1864. It is the very first prayer I turn to when someone requests prayer because of some evil in their life or the life of a loved one.
A Prayer for St. Josephs Protection
Most watchful Guardian of the Holy Family, protect the chosen people of Jesus Christ. Keep far from us, most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Mercifully assist us from Heaven, most mighty defender, in this our conflict with the powers of darkness; and even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the supreme peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Keep us one and all under thy continual protection, that, supported by thine example and thine assistance, we may be enabled to live a holy life, die a happy death, and come at last to the possession of everlasting blessedness in Heaven.
One of St. Joseph’s titles is “Scourge of Demons”. This is because he was given the job of protecting the Blessed Mother and the child Jesus at their most vulnerable. He was up to the challenge then and is still up to the challenge of protecting us from the plans of evil. I do not know the origin of this prayer, but I know it is an ancient prayer. I often ask for St. Joseph to hide those liberated from evil the way he hid his family in Egypt. St. Joseph is one of the key characters in the drama of spiritual warfare.
When I am alone, I usually say these prayers out loud but when I am praying for another person in a possible deliverance situation I usually pray them in my heart. They have brought great grace to my life and I pray they will to yours as well.
Please say a prayer that Mary would crush the serpent in my life and I will do the same for all of you.
For the past four years one of the main ways I have supported my family is by giving a talk entitled: “The Catholic Truth about Angels, Demons, Exorcism, Ghosts and Hauntings.” I draw from my experience assisting priests with exorcisms and deliverances to bring light to a subject that is widely misunderstood, yet at the same time obsessed over, by most of the culture that we live in.
I do not particularly enjoy speaking about the devil and the battle with evil. For years I chose not to, but what changed my mind is that the culture we live in is carrying on the conversation about this topic already, and the Catholic Church has the only comprehensive and safe teachings on it. Furthermore, this teaching is not expressed in an exhaustive or credible way anywhere that is accessible to most lay people. I do not think there is a single topic where there is so much bad or misleading information; and even the good sources cannot go deep enough to do it justice. So, I began giving this talk in the hope of trying to accomplish a few goals for the people that hear it. Over the years I have given it enough to refine it and refine it again. I have gotten every different kind of feedback on this talk, from negative to positive, and from far too negative to far too positive. I’d like to try and express some perspectives I have gained from speaking about the devil across the country.
1. Belief in the devil or demons cannot be assumed, but it must be insisted upon. There is always one person who is constantly rolling their eyes in disgust while I speak. They usually voice their concern afterwards like this: “ You don’t actually expect me to believe that demons are real and try to influence us.” My response is this: “Actually, I do expect it, and so does Church teaching. The Devil’s existence has been affirmed by Church councils and can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So when you roll your eyes thinking I am a weirdo, you should realize that I am just relaying the teaching of the Church.
2. Knowing that evil spirits exist does not mean we know everything about them. “So if the Devil and demons are real why can’t you answer everything about them and know definitively when their action is present or not?” This obsession with understanding everything does not always get satisfied. There are plenty of mysteries in the world we live in that we might think we understand, but we don’t. This is one of them. The Catechism affirms: “It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity…” (CCC 395)
3. The existence of evil spirits does not mean we should assume their involvement in every temptation or behind every tragedy. (Often, temptations occur simply because concupiscence is at work in our human nature.) I stress this constantly during my talks but no matter how I say it, someone always assumes that I believe the opposite.
4. Evil spirits do, however, involve themselves in trying to thwart our work. This means that there will be times, if we are working to build the kingdom, when the demons may cause inconveniences and trouble and these can be something small or something major.
5. Talking about diabolical activity can be dangerous outside of the context of God’s great story. People like to be scared. I am convinced that we control so much in our life that some people just want to know of the existence of things like possession and ghosts as a form of entertainment. I give this talk because I believe this topic is a great segue into sharing God’s story of salvation. Talking about the devil outside of this context leads to superstition, legalism and fear.
6. The soul in right relationship with God and the Church should not fear the devil. Period. I am not going to budge on this. In fact, the opposite is true--Satan is afraid of a soul aflame with the love of God. Most of the people who speak on this topic take the opposite stance but I know from years of experience the devil wants us to be afraid of him.
7. The Soul who is not in right relationship with God and the Church should fear the devil very much. Did I just negate point number five? No! If you aren’t living a life of grace then you absolutely should be afraid of the devil. You essentially lower the hedge of grace that protects us. Satan is constantly looking for someone outside the bounds of grace to destroy.
8. One of the most important points to get across is that the most harm a demon can do to you is in the form of temptation. Obsession, possession, vexation and infestation are horribly graphic ways the devil attacks people and this is what we see in the movies and usually hear about; but it would be a mistake to worry more about those things than temptation. The demons’ job is to get you estranged from God and dead as soon as possible. The soul in mortal sin is in much worse danger than the possessed person who has repented of sin.
9. The sacraments are the way to victory over evil. But this does not mean that there is not a place for spiritual warfare prayers, minor and major exorcisms, and the like. Oftentimes the path to victory is that these sacramentals help us to gain greater freedom to enter into the sacraments and when the Lord frees us, we will be free indeed.
It certainly is not easy to walk the line between these distinctions in an hour and fifteen-minute talk, but they are important distinctions to make. The most important point of all is that Christ has conquered and the more we let the redemption of Christ take hold of our hearts, the more we will gain victory.
“Take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33
I spent so much of my life thinking that I needed to make myself perfect in order to have God work in my life. Each year at this time I celebrate the day it finally sunk in that God works in the mess... The Nativity makes perfect sense to me because the God of the universe came into the mess of my life and His presence changes me to this day.
When deep in sin I would avoid confession until I had some distance from those sins. For some reason in my mind it sounded better to say, "I was willfully getting drunk for several months but I've got a handle on it and I havent done it for a few weeks." I felt this way about any number of sins and addictions. When I found myself deep in sin I would often stop praying. The thinking was, "how hypocritical for me to sit here and talk to God like I didn't just reject Him an hour ago." I thought I needed to make myself perfect in order for God to work in my life. Can you imagine the pride in thinking that? That somehow someway I could make myself fit for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? I will never be fit for the King on my own. Nor could I prepare a place on earth that would be fit enough for Him to be born in.
It was only until I began going to confession to a priest in Buffalo named Fr. Marty that I truly understood that God was all too willing to come into the mess of my life. Fr. Marty knew well that you cannot wait for perfection before letting the Lord work in your life. After I would convict myself Fr. Marty always started with the phrase, "Well the good news is that you qualify!" Often followed up with, "The Lord came to heal sinners...". After about six months of going to him regularly my whole life switched. My imperfection became reason to run to the Lord.
Another surgery looming for my new daughter has got me reflecting on some spiritual wisdom from one of Fr. Jacques Phillipes writings. I can not remember which one but it is amazing how much his writings have prepared me for what we are going through now. He talked about how in times of darkness and suffering we can receive great grace from shifting our focus from the question, "Why is this happening?" to "What are we called to do in this moment?" My personal opinion is that there is not anything wrong with asking God why but there is an abundance of grace in the willingness to forsake the why for the what.
You could drive yourself crazy asking God why things happen in life. For much of my life I did. I asked why this happened or why something else did not happen. At times I felt the question was answered but more often than not I felt a deep silence on God's end that left me confused and isolated. It takes a great deal of courage to forsake the "Why?" of lifes suffering and disappointments but on the other side lies a treasure trove of grace.
Please let me know of anyone you would like me to prayer for over the next several days here in the hospital.
P.S. While I was writing this the Neuro Surgeon came in and told us that Louisa would not need another surgery like previously expected! God is so so good. Thank you for your prayers.
Many of you have heard. On Tuesday morning our baby was born. Louisa Claire VanVickle. She has spina bifida and the doctors say it is unlikely that she will ever gain any function or movement in her legs. There are all kinds of concerns still to worry about, but for now we are thankful for the miracle of life and miracle of safety. We were praying for another miracle: Healing. We are still waiting on that one.
I have no idea what God's mind is in all of this, in fact I could drive myself crazy wondering. That's what I did when my son Max was born. For four years I drove myself crazy wondering why and not letting myself think about the possible permanence of his cerebral palsy. I made a strange deal with God: "You can do whatever you want to my son so long as he is healed before he can understand his limitations." In my mind I was sure I could not survive watching my son wonder why he cannot do what his brothers can do. So I made this imaginary deal to get myself through the day. Then it came crumbling down when it happened--Max began to get frustrated and he became cognizant of his inability to keep up with his brothers and to do those things that a normal four-year-old child can do. I began to break down. I held everything in to be strong for my family but I knew I was headed for dark places. Finally, one day my son Max asked me to teach him to run. His brothers were running back and fourth around him and he just wanted to participate. I left the room. I cried. I pulled myself together and then I did my best to put on a strong face for my family. Old temptations were creeping up. I was desperate for something to change. I was angry because God was not honoring this "deal" I had placed before Him, and assumed he had agreed to. This was all complicated by the fact that my job, working for a parish, hinged on proclaiming the love of God. I was not feeling it. I felt like I was on a train that could not stop and was headed for something bad.
Two conversations made all the difference...
My best friend Kenny had been telling me for about two years that I needed to connect with a friend of his by the name of Joe. We had spoken once or twice but not for very long or about anything all that deep. Joe is a counselor and one night without asking me he just started counseling me over the phone. The first talk brought huge relief, but it was one thing that he said that changed my life and I believe prepared me to face our current cross. He said that I needed to ask myself, "what if Max is not healed?" I hated him for it at first but I began to realize this was what was slowly eroding my relationship with God. I was holding my relationship with God hostage over Max's cerebral palsy. "I love you God, so long as a healing is in the future." I began to think about what would happen if Max was not healed. At first I would wait until everyone went to bed. I would go into the bathroom and sob for hours thinking about it. Then I would sneak into Max's room in the middle of the night and pray with him and contemplate this question. I slowly began to think about it more and more.
Then I met with Fr. Dave Pivonka and told him about this imaginary deal I had made with God. This "deal" did not just have emotional ramifications, but major spiritual ramifications as well. Fr. Dave told me I had to take it a step further than just thinking about it: I had to accept it. I had to accept that God's will was better than mine. He never said I had to stop praying for a miracle, but that I had to give in to God's will. Over time thinking about Joe's questions and explicitly accepting God's will turned into trust. Before long I was not just accepting God's will but I was claiming it.
When we received the news about our youngest daughter having spina bifida we mourned, and we were desperately sad, but I was a different person than six years ago when Max was born. I did not make imaginary deals with God. I did not hold my relationship with Him hostage. I WOULD STILL PRAY FOR A MIRACLE, BUT I WOULD ONLY WANT IT IF ITS GOD'S WILL. God's will is where I want to be and it is where I want my children to be. I am not giving in to Max's cerebral palsy or Louisa's spina bifida. I will pray for a miracle for the rest of my life because I know miracles happen and that in the blink of an eye God could make them physically whole again. But this family is God's and we surrender totally to Him. His timing is not mine.
"My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
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 at