“The Church’s Greatest Need”
On November 15, 1972, Pope Paul VI, in his general audience said, “What are the Church’s greatest needs at the present time? Don’t be surprised at our answer and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil.” This quote is situated at the start of chapter eight in God’s Healing Mercy book wherein we consider how rays of divine mercy help people with diabolical suffering.
More recently Pope Francis preached, ““We are all tempted because the law of our Christian life is a struggle. That’s because the Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here… even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan” (Pope Francis homily in Santa Marta residence, 2014-04-11).
Christ underwent the devil’s temptations in the desert to teach us how to resist demonic seductions. It is necessary to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). We are not dealing with magic, phantasm, or abstract negative energy when we speak about demons, the devil, Satan or Lucifer. The Catechism (2851) teaches, “Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the evil one, the angel who opposes God’s plan and his work of salvation.” The ministry of the Chief Exorcist continues for us.
In the mystery of God’s infinite wisdom, Satan is allowed to operate in the world within the boundaries set by the sovereign Holy Trinity. Christians are put to the test and called to be soldiers for Christ, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:3). The devil tempts so that he may ruin; God tests so that He may crown, to paraphrase St. Ambrose of Milan.
Divine Mercy: “Restored to Value”
In the encyclical Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II, wrote, “Mercy—as Christ presented it in the parable of the prodigal son—has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value.’ The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been ‘found again’ and that he has ‘returned to life’ (no.6). This articulates divine mercy operative in the Church’s healing, deliverance and exorcism ministry. Divine Mercy heals at the deep level of human dignity.
When Christ allows us to be tried like His servant Job, He gives the grace to defeat our foe—in and through Him. I heard a lecture by a prominent priest exorcist who said, “Even diabolical possession can be a school of holiness.” While demonic possession is extremely rare, many suffer diabolical oppression and obsession and everyone suffers diabolical temptations. Here we will consider common temptation.
Lesson: St. Faustina Battles Satan
Why does the God of mercy ordain a spiritual battle for His people on earth? Christ’s words to St. Faustina lend understanding: “But, child, you are not yet in your homeland; so go, fortified by My grace, and fight for My kingdom in human souls; fights as a king’s child would; and remember the days of your exile will pass quickly, and with them the possibility of earning merit for heaven. I expect from you, My child, a great number of souls who will glorify My mercy from all eternity” (no. 1489).
Christ taught St. Faustina a powerful principle. A great number of souls will eternally glorify divine mercy because they experience mercy as David did in the defeat of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17). David could only defeat Goliath because God was with him. We will come to understand: “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The prince of the world is Satan. Thus, we have the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) and entrust ourselves to the mercy of our victorious Savior. Divine mercy provides us (Church militant) with solicitous angels and intercessor saints. At our disposal is the Church’s arsenal of sacramental weapons and there is nothing novel here—only proven tools of spiritual warfare.
The Enemy’s ordinary activity is to ruin souls through persistent temptations. Demons strategize for the soul’s eternal damnation but they cannot violate our free will; they seduce but cannot force. The decision and responsibility is ours. St. Faustina’s spiritual diary illustrates this:
When I went, in my thoughts, to the chapel, my spirit was plunged into even greater darkness. Total discouragement came over me. Then I heard Satan’s voice: “See how contradictory everything is that Jesus gives to you: He tells you to found a convent, and then He gives you sickness; He tells you to set about establishing this Feast of Mercy while the whole world does not at all want such a feast. Why do you pray for this feast? It is so inopportune.” My soul remained silent and, by an act of the will, continued to pray without entering into conversation with the Spirit of Darkness. Nonetheless, such an extraordinary disgust with life came over that I had to make a great act of the will to consent to go on living. (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1497)
The devil exerts darkness, discouragement, lies, doubt and disgust of life. He (lies) tempts St. Faustina to go against God’s will. He tries to thwart her mission. He sows seeds of doubt to undermine the truth of what she’s hearing from the Lord. What does she do? “I make a great act of the will.” This is required—we choose against the temptation. St. Faustina endures the terrible trial valiantly by the grace of God.
St. Faustina’s diary entry continues:
The tempter went on: “Why should you bother about other souls? You ought to be praying only for yourself. As for sinners, they will be converted without your prayers. I see that you are suffering very much at this moment. I’m going to give you a piece of advice on which your happiness will depend: Never speak about God’s mercy and, in particular, do not encourage sinners to trust in God’s mercy, because they deserve a just punishment. …You see, to live as good nun, it is sufficient to live like all the others. Why expose yourself to so many difficulties?” (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1497)
Satan continues to tempt St. Faustina from praying for others. He wants her to focus on herself—a common demonic strategy. He tempts her to cease speaking about divine mercy because he is threatened by God’s mercy since he is legalistic. He mentions “just punishment” since, left only to justice, more souls will go to hell—that’s his goal.
Satan wants her “to live like all the others”—another common demonic strategy—compare yourself to others and go along with the more common flow. He suggests do not “expose yourself to so many difficulties” since he wants her to choose the way of least resistance.
Here we learn how St. Faustina reacted to the diabolical oppression:
I remained silent, and by an act of the will I dwelt in God, although a moan escaped from my heart. Finally, the tempter went away and I, exhausted, fell asleep immediately. In the morning, right after receiving Holy Communion, I went immediately to my cell and falling on my knees, I renewed my act of submission in all things to the will of God, “Jesus, I ask You, give me the strength for battle. Let it be done to me according to your most holy will. (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1498)
St. Faustina teaches: “I renewed my act of submission in all things to the will of God.” When the devil sees that his efforts cause us to turn to Christ with trust, surrender and dependence, he flees. Trust is a spiritual weapon—the twin to the shield of faith mentioned in the armor of God (cf. Ephs. 6:16).
In the next Diary entry, St. Faustina saw Jesus who said, “…Satan gained nothing by tempting you, because you did not enter into conversation with him. Continue to act in this way. You gave me great glory today by fighting so faithfully. Let it be confirmed and engraved on your heart that I am always with you even if you don’t feel My presence at the time of battle” (no. 1499). By resisting the devil and trusting God, St. Faustina won victory over evil. We can do the same.
St. John Chrysostom’s Deliverance Prayer
O Eternal God, You who have redeemed the race of men from the captivity of the Devil, deliver me, Your servant, from all the workings of unclean spirits. Command the evil and impure spirits and demons to depart from the soul and body of Your servant and not to remain nor hide in me. Let them be banished from me, the creation of Your hands, in Your own holy name, and that of Your only-begotten Son, and of Your life-creating Spirit, so that, after being cleaned from all demonic influence, I may live godly, justly, and righteously and may be counted worthy to receive the Holy Mysteries of Your only-begotten Son and our God, with whom You are blessed and glorified, together with the all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.