When Catholics think of spiritual warfare, they tend to think of this battle as up in heaven or somewhere external; rarely do they identify the battle within. This article helps you heighten your awareness of spiritual warfare in the everyday struggles of life as well as equip yourself for attuned prayer for protection. I frequently prayer before our copy of the icon, Ladder of Divine Ascent, featured above. The reality of our journey to Christ in heaven is that scores of demons seek to pluck us from our ascent. But God oversees the journey, so we we have nothing to fear as long as we remain mindful and prayerful of the reality of spiritual warfare.
Today’s Gospel reading features a series of parables, with the first focused on an enemy who sows weeds in the midst of a farmers wheat seeds. He tells his workers that they cannot pull out the weeds because that will harm his crop; instead, they need to let them grow together and separate them at harvest:
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13: 24-43)
Theology of Spiritual Warfare
At the beginning of creation, Lucifer and a number of angels (estimates are one-third) rebelled against God and separated themselves from communion with Him. This introduced division into the world. We know that the devil, in the form of a dragon-like serpent, tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to disobey God, indulge her senses in sweet fruit, and aspire to be equal to God in knowledge and power.
The results of this are known as The Fall of Man. Adam and Eve, who had walked with God in the garden “in the cool of the evening,” were now separated from his presence and unable to return. They were to labor for their survival, and women were to suffer in childbirth. They were subject to sickness and death — a life outside of God’s communion and vulnerable to physical hardship and spiritual warfare.
In Dante’s Inferno, he is lead through the circles of hell to hell’s epicenter, where he encounters a giant devil upside down. This images the fact that the angel fell from heaven, and Dante portrays him as having fallen head first. Dante has to climb over Lucifer to escape hell. In this imagery, Dante pinpoints a reality about spiritual warfare: Not only can one NOT avoid spiritual warfare, but one must climb through this to advance in the spiritual journey and to enhance in communion with the Trinity.
The Reality of Spiritual Warfare
The Catechism establishes the full expanse of spiritual warfare by clarifying that as Christ comes to save us for full communion with God, so Satan seeks to disrupt our full communion with God in hopes to draw others to himself.
[E]vil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ. (CCC 2851)
In order to remain in communion with God, we need to stay on the path to heaven and remain in full communion with the Church. This requires Sunday Mass attendance and frequenting of the Eucharist. This also requires Confession for mortal sin; and, for venial sins, either general confession at Mass, private confession with blessed holy water, or sacramental Confession to help us get to the root of those bad habits that lead to the minor infractions that trip us up daily. In addition, we must work hard to live a life of virtue and to purge our soul and habits of vice. We must also be generous in our service to others within the reaches of our station in life.
A life of prayer is essential to growing in Grace. Spiritual reading and reading the Bible enriches our prayer life and knowledge to help us grow more fully as children of God. Performing acts of mercy — spiritual and corporal — are also vital. Supporting parish life, financially and with our time and talents, is also vital.
The Personal, Familial, and Local Character of Spiritual Warfare
While Satan’s domain began with a battle in heaven, his demons torment us in the particular. Satan uses our weaknesses — mental health challenges, physical suffering, self-doubt, vices and graver sins to divide us from God.
Remember in the Gospels when Jesus healed the man possessed of demons and transferred the insanity to the pigs that ran off the cliff (Luke 8:26-39)? Note that the young man’s father could not help him. Note that his village lived in fear. The battle was local, and the pain specific to a particular family and one fearful village.
Remember Jesus’ own temptations in the desert, where Satan tried to seduce him with bread during his 40-day fast, total power over the kingdoms of the Earth, and asked him to test God’s protection (Matthew 4:1-11)? Satan tried to tempt him through physical need, faith and pride.
Cultivating a Vigorous Prayer Life and Trust in God to Combat Spiritual Warfare
Pray is our principal defense against the devil. We should pray the Prayer to St. Michael daily and before all hardship:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen
This website offers a variety of specific prayers for specific spiritual challenges.
The Catechism specifies two challenges in prayer that need our vigilance: lack of faith and acedia. Acedia is a more pervasive danger, as the Catechism specifies:
The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (CCC 2733)
Ultimately, we must trust in God through all challenges and live a posture of gratitude for all the blessings God provides. Most importantly, note in the following Gospel passage the juxtaposition of faith in God’s providence with the essential role of the Church in ensuring our spiritual protection:
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:18)
Awareness of spiritual warfare should lead us to fear separating ourselves from full communion with Holy Mother Church and should keep us mindful that underlying many of the challenges of life lies a spiritual battle. Yet, remain fully trusting in God’s providential care, and know the devil can’t stand a chance in your life because God is your protector.
St. Paul gave us a roadmap for spiritual warfare:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness….(Ephesians 6:11-15)