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