The humble Italian priest St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was famous for his work with young people, and also for his many prophetic or symbolic dreams. On one occasion he dreamt a heavenly guide was showing him the road that led to eternal damnation. When the holy priest asked why so many youth were caught by the devil, his guide told him to look at the snares on the road. St. John Bosco wrote:
“I picked up one of the traps and tugged. I immediately felt some resistance. I pulled harder, only to feel that, instead of drawing the thread closer, I was being pulled down myself. I did not resist and soon found myself at the mouth of a frightful cave. I halted, unwilling to venture into that deep cavern, and again started pulling the thread towards me. It gave a little, but only through great effort on my part. I kept tugging, and after a long while a huge, hideous monster emerged, clutching a rope, to which all the traps were tied together. He was the one who instantly dragged down anyone who got caught in them. . . . Then I went back to my guide. ‘Now you know who he is,’ he said to me. I responded, ‘That’s the devil himself.’”
In examining the traps, St. John Bosco found them labeled such things as Pride, Disobedience, Envy, the Sixth Commandment, Theft, Gluttony, Sloth, and Anger. However, he also noticed that knives were located along the side of the road, which boys could use to cut themselves free from the traps; these were labeled Meditation, the Blessed Sacrament, Frequent Communion, Devotion to Our Lady, and Devotion to St. Joseph. There was also a hammer representing Confession—to be used in smashing one’s addiction to sin.
The Bible on Spiritual Warfare
The Old Testament clearly recognizes Satan as the Accuser (Jb. 1:9-11) and Adversary of humanity. However, Scripture consistently affirms God’s ability and desire to deliver from evil those who place their trust in Him (Dt. 3:22; Dt. 28:7; Ps. 18:39). One of the Psalms speaks of the Lord as a refuge and fortress, and promises, “He will rescue you from the snare of the fowler” (Ps. 91:3)—an analogy for the Evil One, who seeks to deceive and ensnare his victims.
The New Testament proclaims how “the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8), and Jesus gave His disciples authority over all the forces of evil (Lk. 10:18-19; Mk. 16:17). St. Peter speaks of a dangerous war between Christians and Satan, saying, “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith. . .” (1 Pt. 5:8-9).
St. James advises us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7), and St. Paul urges us to “put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (Eph. 6:11), using faith as a shield, righteousness as a breastplate, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit—that is, the word of God (Eph. 6:14).
Echoing Christ’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, St. Paul assures us that “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Moreover, according to St. Peter, “for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 1:6-7).
By faithfully resisting the devil’s temptations and attacks, we are indeed promised a share in the Lord’s glorious and eternal victory over sin and death.
The Necessity of Spiritual Warfare
In the bold and deliberately counter-cultural words of the great English author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), “this life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce. This world can be made beautiful again by beholding it as a battlefield. When we have defined and isolated the evil thing, the colors come back into everything else. . . There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil.”
Recognizing that we are in a battle for our very souls is not only essential for achieving eternal happiness; it can also give a greater purpose to our earthly lives, an awareness that we are involved in a greater cause than ourselves and our everyday concerns. If Jesus was tempted by the devil, we will surely not be exempt, and as He warned, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated Me first” (Jn. 15:18).
Tactics of the Devil
In the words of the lay apostle “Anne” (an American-born wife, mother, and visionary), “A fellow apostle once said, ‘It’s no problem once you know it’s the devil. But usually someone has to tell you that.’
“How true. Who would fail to pick up a sword if someone approached them and began to duel? The enemy is more clever than that, though. The enemy comes in the form of a hurtful comment from a friend, an overdrawn bank account, a misunderstanding where our words are twisted and thrown back at us in mockery.
“The enemy can come dressed in perfect logic, with a superior attitude and a patronizing smile offering some ‘good advice.’”
As the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44), the devil is always trying to deceive us, while slyly remaining in the background. Some of his many tactics against us include:
Discouragement—in which he tries to make us feel we’re unfairly treated and unappreciated by others, or that we’re spiritual failures, and that it’s useless to try to grow in holiness, so we may as well give up;
Distraction—in which the pleasures, concerns, and attractions of life monopolize our time and keep us from thinking about God and our relationship with Him;
Fear—in which the devil tries to make us afraid of what others will think, or what will happen to us, if we live out our faith;
Noise—in which we never have any quiet time in today’s busy world, leading to the point where it becomes uncomfortable and unnatural for us to spend time with the Lord in prayer;
Sensuality—with a focus on the needs and pleasures of our bodies, while ignoring the greater spiritual needs of our souls;
Resentment of Others—in which we harbor grudges, refuse to forgive, and act out of jealousy, anger, or pride; and
Disobedience—in which our spirit rebels against God and His commandments, and against the teachings of the Church (leading ultimately to the prideful assertion that “no one is going to tell me what to do”).
In addition to these general categories, the devil tailors his particular temptations to our own weaknesses, inclinations, and bad habits—whether in the area of a judgmental spirit, laziness, prejudice, an excessive desire for control, gossip, disdain for others, a lack of humility, or anything else. Above all, Satan wants us to become complacent about our ongoing need for repentance and spiritual growth—for the more we consider ourselves “fine as we are,” the easier it is for him to deceive and ensnare us.
Spiritual Weapons and Defenses
A frequent examination of conscience, and regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), will guard us against the devil’s deceptions and traps, and the worthy reception of Holy Communion is an unfailing help to spiritual growth.
Other valuable practices include: reading the Bible and other worthwhile spiritual books; praying each day; seeking God’s guidance in all our decisions; learning more about our Catholic faith; submitting to the Church’s teaching authority on moral and religious issues; praying for the conversion of sinners and the souls in purgatory; and cultivating a devotion to Our Lady, our guardian angels, and our favorite saints.
It’s also very helpful to carry or use various sacramentals, including holy water, blessed salt, the Sign of the Cross, religious pictures or icons, and blessed medals, scapulars, and crucifixes—all of which the devil fears.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.