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, L.H.S. is the President and Co-founder of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests (, an international apostolate of prayer and catechesis for the holiness of priests. Kathleen has served the Church for twenty-five years as a Catholic evangelist, author, Ignatian certified retreat director and spiritual director, radio host, and writer. In her diocese she serves as the lay coordinator of exorcism and deliverance ministry having completed courses on liberation from evil at Mundelein Seminary and in Rome. She sits on the advisory board of Magnificat, A Ministry to Catholic Women, and the Pope Leo XIII Institute. Often featured on Catholic media — EWTN Radio and TV, Radio Maria, and the Catholic Channel—she enthusiastically proclaims the joy of the gospel. Sophia Institute Press published her books: Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls; God’s Healing Mercy: Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace and Joy; and When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer.

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