How the Saints Overcame Evil

Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., Postulator for the cause of Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “Her beatification challenges us to take a closer look at the question of holiness and its relevance in contemporary society.”

The saints not only teach us volumes about the spiritual life; their stories enkindle the heart with a desire to do what they did. That is, to make a radical gift of self to God. Do I really, truly desire holiness of life? If so, how am I putting my desire into action and cooperating with God’s grace?

I am presently working on my next book that will be a retreat with 16 saints. As I research their stories, I realize how they each endured spiritual warfare in various degrees. From these holy teachers, we can learn how to respond to diabolical vexations. A scriptural example of diabolical vexation is the book of Job.

We often think about our vocation to holiness in terms of planning or fulfilling it tomorrow, not now. Today God is calling His Church to live and spread holiness. We are called to release the odor of sanctity to overcome the stench of evil. The Church’s canonized men and women were not born saints, they were refined in the fire of spiritual love—and combat.

St. Teresa of Avila: A Glimpse of the Underworld

Some may be slightly envious of St. Teresa’s spiritual life with heavenly visions, locutions and ecstasies of divine love. She also suffered very much physically and spiritually. In this case the Lord revealed the terror of hell.

One day, while I was in prayer, I suddenly found myself plunged into hell. I realized that the Lord wanted me to catch a glimpse of where a life of sin leads. …The entrance to hell looked like a long, narrow alley or a low, dark furnace. The floor was covered with filthy mud that emitted a noxious stench. It was swarming with disgusting vermin. There was a small hole, like a cupboard, scooped out of the wall at the end of the alley. I found myself stuffed into it. I was strangled and suffocating. The agonizing despair was so intense that it’s impossible to find words strong enough to describe it. It would be inadequate to say that it’s as if the soul were being unrelentingly torn from the body. The truth is, the soul herself is tearing her self into pieces. I simply do not know how to convey the fury of that inward fire and hopeless misery. Looking back, 6 years later, I cannot think of a single trial I have experienced in this lifetime that can measure up that fleeting taste of the netherworld. We have no reason to complain about mundane problems! The Lord did me a big favor when he plunged me into hell. It helped put the tribulation and contradictions of this life into perspective for me. It gave me strength to suffer things. It also renewed by my gratitude toward God, who liberated me from everlasting torment. Everything else seems easy now. (Teresa of Avila, The Book of My Life, New Seeds Books, Boston & London, 2007, pg. 253).

Saint Gemma Galgani

God often allows St. Gemma to help exorcist priests during the Rite of Exorcism. Gemma had the advantage of having as her chief director in the spiritual life a saintly Passionist Father, Padre Germano di S. Stanislao, who was able to attend her canonization in Rome in 1908. He gives a glorious account of the saint’s life. Suffering diabolical temptations and oppression was a part of her purification.

God, in order to purify his elect and render them victims of expiation, makes use even of the devils, who because of their hatred of souls and large intelligence become more efficacious than others to the attainment of His ends. He said to His servant Gemma: “Be prepared, My child, the devil will give the last touch to the work that I will accomplish in thee.”

Fr. Germanus, C.P. writes:

I wish to point out here that this war was general, in that it was waged against all the virtues and holy operations by which this child of grace studied to advance in perfection. They were all hateful to Satan, and he attacked them all with unmitigated rage. Gemma had early learned that the best way to securely reach God’s end is prayer. So with all the ardor of her soul she practiced it and derived the most marked advantages from it. What then did not the enemy do to prevent it? He upset her temperament in order to excite within her, at least, weariness and disinclination, for he found it impossible to make her lose sight of God. He caused her violent headaches so that she might be obligated to go to bed rather than remain in prayer, and strove otherwise to turn her from the holy exercise.

She said to me: What torment this gives me, not to be able to pray! What fatigue it costs me! How many efforts does not that wretch make to render it impossible for me to pray! Yesterday evening he tried to kill me, and would have succeeded if Jesus had not come quickly to my aid. I was terrified and kept the image of Jesus in my mind, but I could not pronounce His name.

(Venerable Fr. Germanus, C.P., The Life of St. Gemma Galgani, Tan Publishers, 2000, Illinois, pg. 183-184.)

The story of her life continues with many more accounts of diabolical vexation or oppression. Every tactic of the devil failed because Gemma persevered in prayer and relied on the counsel of her priest spiritual director. She simply would not give into the unrelenting attacks. Whenever the devil assailed Gemma with demonic visions she repeated the words Viva Gesù! Blessed be Jesus and Mary! And the good spirits always repeated her words, Viva Gesù!

St. John Vianney

The Curé of Ars chose to call Satan by the name of “grappin”, meaning a little rake or grating fork. In the book, The Cure of Ars Today, we read:

In the extraordinary events in Ars, which began in 1824 and lasted until a year before the Saint’s death in 1859, the terror and wonder of the confrontation between good and evil were palpable. Abbe Sandreau, an authority on exorcism, wrote in his treatise The Mystical State: “The devil acts on all men by tempting them; no on can escape those attacks; these are his ordinary operations. In other very much rarer cases, the devils reveal their presence by troublesome vexations, which are more terrifying than painful; they cause a great noise, they move, transport, knock over and at times smash certain objects; this is called infestation, by which the individual is affected physically, and possession, by which the devils act in and through the individual’s consciousness. …He paid the price of holiness, evoking the agony of the spirit of evil who has been vanquished by the Holy One, enduring a procession of explosive confrontations between enormous evil and greater good over a period of years almost identical to the life of Christ on earth.

St. John Vianney said, “The “grappin” is very stupid. He himself tells me of the arrival of big sinners.” Fr. Rutler commented that, “Vianney rolled the name “grappin” over his tongue as though he were nicknaming a naughty pet.”

The saint calmed his visiting sister when she heard the diabolical noises by saying, “It is the grappin. He cannot hurt you; as for me he torments me about the room. It is because I convert souls to the good God.” (Fr. George William Rutler, Cure d’Ars, Ignatius Press, 1988, pg. 173.

Saint (Padre) Pio

Like countless Catholics, I have a strong devotion to Padre Pio and have visited his tomb three times in the past twenty years to pray and thank him for helping me to understand the gift of co-redemptive suffering. While I visited San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia, Italy, I purchased the book of his letters to his spiritual directors from 1910-1922. His life is a revelation of the glorious drama of sanctification.

His spiritual director writes, “The intervention of the wretch, i.e., the devil, in Padre Pio’s spiritual journey is something which disconcerts at first sight. It is a question of a deadly duel in which there is no respite, no sparing of blows between the soul and its relentless enemy. Manifold are the snares, continual attacks, atrocious the temptations. We list here, the long series of epithets used by Padre Pio with facetious irony and not without a touch of humor in addressing or describing his opponents.”

Here are the epithets found in his correspondence between January 1911 and September 1915, after which they cease and never reappear:

big whiskers, whiskers, the ogre, scoundrel, wretch, evil spirit, filthy wretch, foul Beast, woeful wretch, hideous faces, impure spirits, those scoundrels, wicked spirit, horrible beast, accursed spirits, infamous apostate, impure apostates, gallows-bird, howling beasts, malignant deceiver, prince of darkness.

Padre Pio writes to his spiritual director:

I do not know what will happen to me; I only know one thing for certain, that the Lord will never fall short of his promises. Jesus tells me continuously, “I want your soul to be purified and tried by a daily hidden martyrdom; do not be frightened if I allow the devil to torment you, the world to disgust you and your nearest and dearest to afflict you, for nothing will prevail against those who groan beneath the Cross for love of me and whom I have taken care to protect.”

(Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, Volume 1 Correspondence with His Spiritual Directors, 1910-1920, Edition II, Our Lady of Grace Capuchin Friary, Foggia, Italy, 1983, pg. 149)

Closing Prayer: Radiating Christ

Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through us, and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our souls. Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus! Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine as You shine; so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You, none of it will be ours; it will be You shining on others through us. Let us thus praise You in the way You love best: by shining on others, through us. Let us preach You without preaching, not by words but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You. Amen.

Cardinal John Henry Newman authored this prayer. The Missionaries of Charity pray this prayer every day after Mass, as did Mother Teresa.

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Kathleen Beckman


Kathleen Beckman, has served the Church for 25 years as a Catholic evangelist, best-selling author, radio host, and Ignatian certified retreat director. She is the President of Foundation of Prayer for Priests (, an international apostolate of prayer and catechesis for the sanctity of clergy and vocations, promoting spiritual motherhood and fatherhood. Sophia Institute Press published her last three books: When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer (2017), God's Healing Mercy: Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace and Joy (2015) and Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization (2014). Often featured on Catholic TV and radio such as EWTN, Catholic Channel, Shalom and Focus TV, she is a writer for She serves on the advisory board of Magnificat and the Pope Leo XIII Institute. Having completed formation at Mundelein Seminary Conferences and in Rome, she assists clergy in the ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism. Her schedule and resources are available at

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  • Kathy

    Thank you , I love reading your articles, it reminds me what is or can be happening to us faithful. Temptation IS the first trick of the evil one. We must know and recognize the enemy in order to guard and fight him, with the help of Jesus. Keep on making us aware, and informed, and strong- we have to fight for ourselves and help our loved ones and our priests and religious. Keep on writing and help us know how to deal with these trials.

  • noelfitz

    This is an interesting and challenging article, noting the spiritual warfare saints had, but it is
    important to remember that grace and sanctity are gifts freely given by God, and not rewards for our efforts.

    The saints described here differ very much from ordinary people, not one of them was married. At present the church apparently emphasizes the importance of marriage, but seems to denigrate it , even to the extent of forbidding the marriage of permanent deacons.

  • 4christianforces7

    humility is the only thing that defeats the devil


    How is forbidding the marriage of permanent deacons a denigration? If anything, barring the married from taking religious orders puts an emphasis on the high calling of marriage – that is marriage lived according to the teachings of Mother Church is taxing and sanctifying in its own way. And it is.

    This increased sense of competition of who is holier mimics, in my view, the false competition established between men and women wherein women are convinced, erroneously, that they must be/have everything of a man or else they are somehow not of value.

    We all have our distinct roles to play.

  • carlzilla

    + praying from the heart


    I’m no expert, but I believe it has something to do with the idea of one being consecrated to a higher spiritual order (in the case of one married being raised to the level of deacon) as compared to that which is already of a higher spiritual order – exclusively consecrated – seeking bonds of a lower spiritual order (in the case of a deacon who would be seeking marriage)

    That is not a belittling of marriage, per se, but rather an acknowledgement of spiritual hierarchy. You may want to run that question past someone like Fr. Zuhlsdorf:

    Either way, I do not perceive it as a denigration, but rather an acknowledgement of proper order.

  • Macarons & Sakura Tea

    Thanks for this article. I hope the Little Flower is included in the retreat with sixteen saints [I have a strong feeling, she is]. Her Way of Holiness offers so much inspiration.

    ”…holiness does not consist in this or that practise; but it is a certain disposition of the heart which makes us humble and small as we rest in God’s arms, which makes us realise our weakness but, at the same time, gives us confidence to the point of audacity in the goodness of God as our Father.”