The Catholic Catechism quotes Origen: “There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed us (#2847, Origin, De orat.29).”
We learn valuable lessons through the interior battles that disciples of Christ endure to gain necessary knowledge of self and God. The wound of original sin requires us to be active and vigilant against the works of the devil that operate in and through sin. If we worship anything other than the Most Holy Trinity (a sin against the first commandment) we become vulnerable to increased demonic influence. The truth is that many of us have erected idols in our lives that include persons, places or things. These become more important than our worship and love of God. How we spend our time, talent or treasure reveals what or whom we cherish most in our lives. It is necessary and practical to fall in love with Christ who has loved us first.
That we may become Christ-like, God not only allows His disciples to be tried and tested, He ordains it. The book of Job is a perfect example:
“…The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for naught? Hast thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord (Job 1:8-12)”
At annual conferences where priests and their teams are trained in the Church’s ministry of healing and deliverance, an experienced exorcist from Rome explained categories of demonic influence:
- Temptation and sin. This is the ordinary spiritual battle that purifies the soul. Though temptation itself is not sinful, when we give into temptations we become slaves of sin (John 8:34).
- Oppression/Vexation. These trials are meant to strengthen faith and increase humility and dependence upon God.
- Obsession. This is a spiritual disorder that requires prayer ministry and re-orientation to God through the practice of the sacramental life.
- Possession. This spiritual disorder is rare and requires the Church’s formal Rite of Exorcism for liberation followed by a disciplined spiritual life. It can be considered a school of holiness.
The exorcist described various diabolical vexations noting that these are verifiable in the life of great saints and in the Tradition of the Church. For example, we know that the lives of Saint Padre Pio, Saint John Vianney, Saint Gemma Galgani and many others included diabolical vexations. The saints proved their love and fidelity to God through patient endurance and offering of suffering.
Characteristics of diabolical vexation may include:
- Sudden disgraces at work and in relationships with others
- Physical and personal disgraces that isolate a person
- Economic and moral sufferings
- Unexplainable persecutions where good people turn against good people through misunderstanding.
- Strife and destruction acting in families, marriages, large groups of people, movements in the Church, religious communities, parishes.
- Unexplained and un-diagnosable physical infirmities
- Scriptural examples: Book of Job, 2 Cor. 12:7 (Saint Paul’s thorn)
Many of us have endured the anguish of some diabolical vexation. How we respond to these tests of faith will lift us up or make us fall. If we can remain faithful and trustful of God, grace will carry us through the trial. If we rebel against God and run from Him our condition worsens. What is necessary? Steadfast faith, expectant hope and persevering love carry us through. Strengthening our spiritual armor is necessary for growth in virtue. A trusting heart remains docile to the hand of the Divine Potter who is molding us into a vessel of sanctity through the refiner’s fire. God dispenses the medicine of spiritual trials that can taste bitter. His divine prescriptions help remedy seven deadly sins (pride, anger, greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, and lust). Grace is always sufficient to help us endure the necessary tests of His holy ones and to be victorious over demonic vexation.
The Catechism teaches us aids to avoiding evil:
- Prudence. The virtue of prudence disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. It is considered the charioteer of virtues (1806). Cultivate the virtue of prudence.
- Grace: Without the grace of God, men would not know how to discern (1889). Pray for grace and the charism of discernment of spirits.
- Divine wisdom. The moral law is the work of divine wisdom. Its biblical meaning can be defined as fatherly instruction (God’s pedagogy). It prescribes for man the ways, the rules of conduct that lead to the promised beatitude; it prescribes the ways of evil, which turn him away from God and his love (1950). Pray for gift of wisdom.
- The Gospel. The Good News of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and evil that flows from the ever-present attraction of sin. It takes the spiritual qualities of every person and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches it causes them to blossom, as it were, from within, it forties, completes, and restores them in Christ (2527). Take to heart the Word of God.
No servant is greater than his master. Jesus, our Master was tempted in the desert and crucified on Calvary. Our trials and diabolical vexations cannot compare to His. Jesus expired on a cross for love of us. When He lifts us onto the cross we can respond like the good or bad thief on Calvary. We must choose: paradise or perdition? Divine Mercy is extravagant as evidenced in Christ’s words to Calvary’s Good Thief, “This day you shall be with Me in paradise.” Paradise opened for a guilty criminal who said, “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” When we have an opportunity to keep company with Christ on the Cross, we have an occasion to die to self, defeat evil, and grow in love.
Saint Paul teaches that temporary trials are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us (cf. Romans 8:18). Remember that grace has carried us through many trials already and these tests of love have brought us closer to God.
Even diabolical vexations become graced occasions if, like Job, we bless the Lord, if like Paul we persevere and if like the Good Thief we honor God and profess His kingdom.
image: St. Martin heals a man vexed by devils / Wikimedia Commons