Believers know that the devil is a liar since John teaches, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Exorcists and their teams have witnessed that when the power of the Roman Rite inflicts torment to a demon so that he must flee, the Lord, or His Mother, or a saint or angel may force him to offer some information that is true. Truth is contrary to his nature but the Spirit of Truth can force the lying spirit to offer a true statement that sometimes helps the exorcist.
Having trained at annual healing and deliverance conferences at Mundelein Seminary since 2007, I network with priests, exorcists and health professionals in the ministry of exorcism. As part of a team of laity and priests I’ve witnessed many formal Rites of Exorcism. We have heard statements offered by a tormented devil such as “Stop those b-e-a-d-s!” when a rosary of intercession is being prayed for the victim; or “That water burns me!” when holy water is sprinkled on the victim; or “Oh no, that woman is here!” when Mary is invoked. Last Lenten season we heard from a demon, “I hate the season of Lent! People do what they should always do and I hate it!”
Why is the season of Lent such a threat to the demonic realm? What is obvious during the ministry of exorcism is that demons are extremely legalistic and keenly aware of authentic authority, obedience and the power of God’s love. They are most threatened by God’s authority working through the Catholic Church, especially through her ordained ministers, the priests. They are threatened by the obedience of faith that protects the exorcist priest and team since they function in obedience to their bishop. Most striking is how threatened the demons are by the charity of the priest and the faith of his team for the liberation of the victim.
Lent threatens the demonic realm for reasons mentioned above and more:
- The Church’s teaching authority that instructs us to turn away from sin and live the Gospel threatens Satan.
- Satan’s kingdom is threatened by our obedience of faith manifested publicly by the receipt of ashes reminding us of the last four things: death, judgment, hell, and heaven.
- Satan’s plan is thwarted when we return to sacramental confession thereby restoring us to communion with God and the Church.
- Lenten fasting empowers us to resist temptations by sharpening discernment of spirits.
- Lenten devotions: Stations of the Cross, parish missions and frequent Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament threaten Satan by the increase of faith, hope and love among us.
- Lenten almsgiving and sacrificial works help to reclaim the Kingdom of God in the poor and needy, threatening the pride of Satan.
During Lent, the Church is invited to walk together on a pilgrimage of repentance, reparation, and conversion of heart. Grace comes during and after experiencing temptations in the desert of Lent.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we hear the Gospel on the temptation of Christ in the desert. In his homily Pope Francis has given us a succinct teaching on how to imitate Christ’s victory over Satan:
Jesus decisively rejects all of these temptations and reaffirms his unwavering will to follow the path set by the Father, without any compromise with sin or the world’s logic. Note well how Jesus replies. He does not dialogue with Satan, as Eve did in the earthly paradise. Jesus knows well that you cannot dialogue with Satan. Satan is quite astute. For this reason Jesus, instead of dialoguing with Satan like Eve did, chooses to take refuge in the Word of God and answers with the force of this Word. Let us remember this: in the moment of temptation, in our temptations, we should not argue with Satan, but always defend ourselves with the Word of God! And this will save us (Zenit.org: firstname.lastname@example.org: Sunday, March 9, 2014).
We are called to engage in the “good fight” of which Saint Paul teaches. Lent is a time when our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6) should be strengthened so that we can more fully rejoice in the victory of the cross that is realized on Easter Sunday. Like Christ, we must be tried and tested for the sake of the joy of authentic Christian freedom.
In his spiritual classic, “Transformation in Christ”, Dietrich Von Hildebrand articulates true freedom as Christ intends:
- True freedom is a consequence of our transformation in Christ
- Egotism hinders attainment of true freedom
- Feelings of inferiority diminish freedom
- Concern for human respect diminishes freedom
- True freedom judges by the standard of Christ
- A spectator view of ourselves limits our freedom
- Compulsive intellectual or spiritual independence diminishes freedom
- True freedom clearly distinguishes between human statutes and divine commandments
- Rancor diminishes true freedom
- Self-indulgence is a form of un-freedom
- Spiritual relaxation also inhibits true freedom (Sophia Institute Press, pg. 252)
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). On our Lenten journey of faith when we are tempted in the desert, as Christ was, let us hold fast to the word of God, “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans: 8:37).
Satan is defeated by the infinite power of divine love manifested on the cross. The weapons of the exorcist include: the blessed crucifix (icon of obedient love), the bible, holy water, the prayers and authority of the Church articulated in the Roman Rite, and the infinite love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
In the desert of Lent, every Catholic can take up weapons of discipleship that thwart evil:
- Pray before a crucifix, hold a crucifix, venerate His Holy Wounds
- Meditate on the bible: re-read the Gospels
- Receive the love of the Sacred Heart through frequent Holy Communion and Adoration
- Call on the Holy Name of Jesus throughout the day
- Accompany Mary in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
- Pray the Stations of the Cross, especially when tempted to sin
- Sacrificially give of time, talent and treasure, especially to those in great spiritual and material need.
- Renounce evil and repent of vice—anything not of God
- Strive for virtue, self control and simplicity of life
We exercise the gift of faith, hope and love by Lenten prayer, penance and almsgiving. Our transformation in Christ is strengthened by our Lenten observances and this is why Lent is a threat to the kingdom of darkness.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.