Temptation is the devil’s ordinary mode of action (see 1 John 3:8– 10). Satan is the tempter (1 Thess. 3:5), and just as he incited the Fall, he still directly influences us to reject grace and commit sin. Temptation is common to all.
Not all temptations arise from diabolical influence. From original sin arises the weakness of our faculties. We can develop sinful habits without the devil’s influence. The flesh and the world provide an abundance of temptations. Exorcists teach that evil spirits cannot read our thoughts, but, by observing our behavior, they can read our weaknesses.
The devil tempts us to sin by several means: deception, accusation, doubt, seduction, and provocation. These are ways of disquieting us and of arranging circumstances that will likely stir us to commit deadly sins of pride, greed, anger, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
In his excellent book The Devil You Don’t Know, Fr. Louis Cameli articulates four ordinary, common means of diabolical temptation: deception, division, diversion, and discouragement. In my experience, we could add distance, destruction, disobedience, and duplicity. Below, I’ll demonstrate these and other ordinary demonic.
The goal of temptation is to entice us to commit sin. If we sin, the responsibility is ours, not the devil’s, because grace is always sufficient to avoid sin. By resisting and rebuking the following tactics of temptation, we will avoid sin.
The devil is the accuser of Christians (see Rev. 12:10). He bullies us, saying: “You’re a loser, no good, and will amount to nothing. Look what you have done — you ruined your marriage (or your family or career). You’re a failure.”
In marriages where one of the spouses had an extramarital affair, the devil may accuse the faithful spouse — “You drove your spouse to have the affair.” Or, if a child turns to crime, the temptation may be “You failed as a parent.”
This is why St. Ignatius instructs us to bring temptations to the light of prayer, Confession, or spiritual direction.
In the book of Job, we have an example of how, through adversity, the devil tempted Job to give up — to despair completely. In this case, Job’s wife is the mouthpiece of the evil one: “Curse God and die” (2:9).
In the family, we can provoke one another subtly or blatantly. A child can undermine parental trust by trying to provoke his siblings to go against parental rules. One family member may entice another to use an illicit drug, or to view pornography, or to steal or lie. Television is often used to provoke rebellion against family and God.
‘A murderer from the beginning, . . . a liar and the father of lies,’ Satan is ‘the deceiver of the whole world.’ Through him sin and death entered the world and by his definitive defeat all creation will be ‘freed from the corruption of sin and death.’CCC 2852
Demons deceive people with false promises: “You will be like God” (see Gen. 3:5). A diabolical tactic is the distortion of reality: good is made to look bad, and bad is made to look good. True and false are inverted.
In Scripture, St. Peter differentiates not so much between good and evil, as between truth and falsehood. Peter emphasizes that Christ’s disciples need to be “established” in truth (see 2 Pet. 1:12) to be protected from the devil, father of all lies.
Temptations to unbelief can include subtle-to-intense doubts about oneself, God, the Church, and so forth. Faith, as we learn in Scripture, moves God’s Heart and provides a hedge of protection.
Unbelief is a dangerous spiritual state that should be taken to prayer for healing. Sometimes, the root of unbelief is a demonic lie. “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matt. 12:25). Demons persistently try to divide spouses, children, extended families, colleagues, and the Church. Seeds of discord are sown across our lives. Discern the source of the division. In the family, reward unity, not division.
Beware of preferring relationships with people who move you away from your family or away from God and the Church. I remain close to family members who are opposite thinkers on politics, business, and religion. They understand that I love Christ and the Church. We are connected through desire for one another’s good, by family ties, and in times of joys and sorrows that knit us together. Love unifies.
Demons initiate or exacerbate divisions in families. Clear the air. Demons are spirits of the air: they hear what we speak. Custody of the tongue pays big dividends in families. Purity of heart protects us from rash, harsh judgments.
“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). In some cases, we’ve noted how evil spirits have undermined the good of marriage and family by seduction into worldly pursuits (workaholism), or addictions (pornography, alcohol, and so on) that interrupt a person’s duty to the family.
The evil ones try to thwart God’s call, timing, or plan for families. Knowing that good people won’t be tempted to obvious evil, evil spirits often tempt us to choose a lesser good or immediate gratification. Diabolical diversions may prevent us from fulfilling our mission, to the detriment of loved ones.
Temptations arise to distance you from God, family, friends, and communities. This includes temptations to the orphan-spirit (which says, “I’m unlovable, rejected, alone”). The difference between the temptations to distance and division is that you may be well disposed toward a person (not divided), but you are nonetheless tempted to isolate yourself, disengage, put on a mask, hide your real state of being, and shun community.
By distancing yourself from loving relationships, you may create a void that demons try to fill.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Demonic seduction aims to destroy families, marriages, godly friendships, good works, and holy intentions. In some cases, religious men and women who lived their vocations for a while were demonically attacked to the point of leaving.
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1–2).
That demons tempt us to disobedience is an understatement. Disobedience and pride are like two sides of the same coin.
Beware when you are tempted to disobey lawful, authentic authority such as God’s commandments and the Church’s moral teaching. Disobedience has led many souls away from the Church into the occult or the demonic.
“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One” (Matt. 5:37). To be duplicitous is to be double-minded, two-faced, irresolute. We all know politicians who claim to be Catholic while legislating for anti-Catholic causes. In some family cases, the demonic hook originates from the duplicity of one spouse who leads a double life (by having an extramarital relationship, for example).
The devil observes Christians who pray piously in church in the morning and then go home or to work, where they act the complete opposite of a Christian.
Our word acedia comes from a Greek word meaning, essentially, “I don’t care.” Lethargy about God and the spiritual life due to weariness, overwhelm, or disappointment is a common temptation. The Desert Fathers referred to it as the “noonday devil.” Discouragement dampens faith, hope, love, joy, generosity, and judgment.
The Fathers taught that discouragement is the most dangerous of all temptations because it thwarts progress toward the goal of being with God and attaining eternal life. Many deliverance cases begin with deep-seated, paralyzing discouragement.
Discouragement has no place in the home. Each loved one benefits from encouragement. The devil delivers enough discouragement to lead people to a place of darkness. Let’s resist discouraging words and actions in the domestic church.
The above is a partial list of some ordinary action of demons. Next time, we will move on to the extraordinary ways in which the devil attacks us.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Kathleen Beckman’s new book, A Family Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Strategies for Deliverance and Healing. It is available from your local bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
We also recommend Kathleen Beckman’s previous articles, “Spiritual Warfare Lessons from St. Padre Pio” and “Spiritual Combat is Not of Equals.”