To Win Spiritual Warfare, Redirect Your Focus

By Chris Sparks

Dramatic possession; levitating bodies; dark and sinister forces making themselves obvious in front of us. These images often come to mind when someone mentions the phrase “spiritual warfare.”

But this doesn’t get at the reality of most spiritual warfare at all. Oh, sure, there are times when the devil shows his hand dramatically, but that’s usually when he’s on the run.

Take a look at the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, and you’ll certainly find some dramatic instances where she confronts the forces of hell (see Diary, 320; 412; 418; 741; 1565; 1798). Such cinematic encounters have happened, and can happen again. But they’re not the usual warfare we all have to contend with.

The devil fundamentally doesn’t care how he damns your soul, but that he damns it. So you could fall to him through the occult, or through gluttony, or through greed, or through lust, or through pride, or … ultimately, it doesn’t matter. So don’t think that by avoiding the occult out of pride or self-regard — “only crazy people get involved in that stuff!” — you’ve successfully avoided the devil’s traps.

Indeed, it’s actually the harder path to avoid the wickedness and snares of the devil by focusing on the wickedness and snares of the devil, as JRR Tolkien depicted so dramatically in the characters of Saruman and Denethor in his epic The Lord of the Rings. Studying the works of the enemy is an immensely dangerous proposition, even for those called to do the work of deliverance or exorcism. The Christian path ought to be walked by fixing our gaze on Christ and following Him. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see Jn 14:6); He is the One who created the heavens and the earth; He is the one with perfect knowledge of everything. Trust Jesus. Do not trust the demons, or their own account of themselves; rather, trust Christ and those in communion with Him. Trust heavenly sources of information, and refuse to listen to hellish information, for the devil can lie by telling the truth. We will avoid more of the traps and snares of the devil through love of God and neighbor than we will through a careful attention to the works of hell.

So set aside any fascination with the dramatic forms of spiritual combat, and turn your attention to the life and writings of the Church, the Divine Revelation stewarded by her Magisterium, and the writings of popes, councils, doctors, and saints. The ordinary spiritual combat of the Christian is the sort depicted so well in C.S. Lewis’ classic work The Screwtape Letters. If you’ve never read them, please do! I highly recommend it. In the book, we are shown the fictional correspondence between Screwtape, an elder demon, and Wormwood, an inexperienced tempter. Through the letters, Lewis makes plain many of the tactics of the enemy, many of the ways in which hell suggests and insinuates all sorts of seemingly reasonable, seemingly defensible things to us, all of which are designed to draw us down to hell.

We see references to this more ordinary sort of spiritual combat in the writings of St. Faustina, as well (see Diary, 429; 633; 1052), and in the writings of many great saints, such as St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony and the writings of St. Francis de Sales on sanctity for laity.

Ordinary spiritual warfare is fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is choosing virtue over vice; discerning between the spirit of God, the spirit of hell, and the whisperings of our own hearts; loving as well as we can, as generously as we can, at every moment of every day. To live the Christian life well means fighting hell, and yet it takes more than that. God did not put us on this earth primarily for a war. No. The war only came because free creatures said no to their creator. As Dr. Ed Sri explains in Love Unveiled, the original purpose and meaning of life is love. We are put on this earth in order to love and be loved. This is the heart of the Christian life. Because God loves us, the devil hates us and makes war upon us. When we love God and serve Him faithfully, the side effect of that love is war on the devil. But the war is not the main point.

We can only live such faithful, generous love through grace. We are not by nature able to love like God, but through the Sacraments; through prayer; through the many graces and gifts God has given us through His Son, all things are possible.

So raise your gaze from the combat. Fix your eyes on Christ, and walk across the stormy waters of the present age toward Him. Love God and neighbor truly, faithfully, generously, supernaturally, and you will surely defeat the devil.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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