Today’s Disbelief in the Existence of Personified Evil

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

In my vocation as a coach, I have regular contact with youth and young adults, and they often confide their troubles to me. I have met many who have struggled with temptation, fallen into sin, and become enslaved by sinful habits. Their feelings of guilt lead to discouragement, sadness, and depression. They often give up, blame themselves for being too weak to change course, and withdraw from the Church in the belief that there is no hope for them and that God cannot love them. Because they have never been taught about the devil, they do not understand that they are the targets of his attacks and victims of his evil schemes. They have heard about the seductions of the “world” and of the “flesh,” but not about the devil. They really have no idea that they have an Enemy who is bent on separating them from Christ and from the Church and bringing them to eternal ruin. In my experience, making souls aware of the Enemy can play a key role in bringing them back to the practice of their faith.

I have found time and time again that when I tell them about the Enemy, I quickly gain their attention. In trying to counsel them, I find it is more effective to take the Enemy as a starting point than to invite them to trust in the love and mercy of Jesus. When I attempt to introduce them to Jesus alone, so to speak, they remain dejected and unconvinced, but once they understand that a fallen angel is watching them day and night and seeking to win their souls for all eternity, they begin to see Jesus as their Savior and the Church as a place of refuge and source of strength. Once they learn that the Enemy is trying to influence them to follow him to eternal damnation, they begin to understand the value of their souls. They understand that they are in danger and want to learn about spiritual combat. Where they once assumed full responsibility for their weaknesses and sins, and were ready to give up, they now recognize the role of the Enemy and gladly look to Jesus for help.

I want to share this experience in order to recommend it to others. It’s based partly on what I myself have read or learned through prayer, but mostly through my own experience with the Enemy. I am encouraged by the attention Pope Francis gives to spiritual combat, vigilance, and discernment. He understands that the Catholic faithful need to know about the Enemy. In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, he writes:

The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and proclaim the Gospel. . . . We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy, or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil. (nos. 158–59)

The tragedy is that so few are aware that this battle is raging, or even of the Enemy’s existence. Without this knowledge, we can easily become despondent and lose hope. This is how I try to reveal the Enemy to others.

Who Is the Enemy?

The Enemy is real. He is a very evil fallen angel. He was created by God with many gifts but he rebelled against God in disobedience and his fall gave rise to hell. The Enemy has many with him and he now focuses on influencing as many souls as possible to follow him. He keeps us unaware of his tactics. He is very intelligent, watches us constantly to study our weaknesses, and seeks opportunities to deter us, gradually, from following God’s law. The enemy’s main weapon is to work in secret. He does not want to be revealed, of course, until it is too late and we have died without God’s grace. The Enemy cannot make us follow him, just as God cannot, against our free will, but he has many ways to influence each of us on a very personal level. If we do not understand how this enemy of souls works, we are surely at a serious disadvantage in understanding the spiritual life. The enemy knows us very, very well. With Jesus, however, things change fast and we can find safety for our souls.

What Does the Enemy Do?

What are the consequences of the Enemy’s actions? For those whom I counsel, this gets to the heart of the matter. As a result of the Enemy’s influence, the soul will gradually find itself in a state of misery. It will suffer from feelings of sadness, guilt, emptiness, and loss of inner confidence or peace. It will feel unworthy of being loved or valued, and endure guilt on account of unforgiven sins; it will lose hope. When the soul is burdened with these inner feeling or states, characterized by St. Ignatius as desolation, the Enemy tries to take it, gradually, from discouragement to depression and finally to despair. The lethal consequences of the Enemy’s influence cannot be underestimated. The soul begins to see the evil in the world, without seeing who is behind this evil. We are living in a time of disbelief in the devil.

Once the soul realizes that it is not solely responsible for its miserable state, it feels profoundly liberated. Helping souls become aware of the Enemy’s control in their lives is akin to bringing them out of a dark tunnel into a place of light. The Enemy draws the sheep nearer and nearer to ruin, but Jesus goes out to find the lost sheep who is wandering in the dark forest, unable to find his way back. For Jesus, even one lost sheep is too many.

In my experience, when souls are told of the Enemy’s existence and how he affects their personal lives by subjecting them to persistent sadness, depression, or guilt, their first response seems to be a “new way of thinking.” Most people I speak to have never even heard that the Enemy exists, let alone that he plays a role in their feelings. To put it bluntly, this is totally new to them. Curious, they want to know more. I believe that a desire to seek and know truth lies in each person’s heart. What they learn about the Enemy “rings true” to youth and young adults. Now their situation makes more sense: there is a God who is love and an Enemy who is evil. Prior to this, due to the weakness of their faith or lack of catechetical formation, they see only God and themselves. Awareness of the Enemy seems to round out the picture, spiritually.

We each have free will, and we can choose to let God lead us or not. By failing to choose God, we can, by default, open the door to the influence of the Enemy. Not choosing God’s way, however, is still a choice. Following our own will is also a choice, and this again opens doors to the Enemy’s influence. It is only in choosing to let God lead us that we place ourselves us under the protection of his grace. “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me,” Jesus says. But there are three voices: God’s voice, our voice, and the Enemy’s voice. I ask those I counsel, “Whose voice are you listening to?” When souls are made aware of their real situation, they then begin to see that they are not solely responsible for all that befalls them. The Enemy plays a role in their lives. But this means God plays a role in their lives as well. God loves them and wishes to protect them and help them follow his ways. Now they see that choosing to rely on God’s help makes more sense. Again, becoming aware of the Enemy’s role in their lives, souls more readily seek God who alone is able to protect and guide them. Awareness of the Enemy leads to a clearer awareness of God.

According to the Gospels, Jesus spoke of the Enemy many times. This places the idea of spiritual combat in proper perspective. This is the question: Would Jesus want us to help souls come to an awareness and understanding of the Enemy’s role in our spiritual journey? I would say yes. What can we do about this for struggling souls? Once souls are made aware of the Enemy and his effect in their lives, what comes next? We must ask where the Enemy is found, that is, where are the weakest links in our spiritual lives? Where does the Enemy target us to lead us gradually away from God and into the sphere of his dark influence?

Where Does the Enemy Attack?

As I try to explain to those I counsel, we all have weaknesses, and the Enemy, who watches and studies our actions, knows well what they are. Our weaknesses are due to Original Sin and the concupiscence that remains after Baptism. We are all prone to personal sin. The Enemy, by watching us, discovers ways to influence our moral lives. By way of ordinary temptations, he gradually lures us away from God. Addictions of various sorts, over-sensitivity, the seven deadly sins, and many other tendencies are the means the Enemy has at his disposal to weaken our resolve to follow God’s ways. So, if the enemy knows us so well but we are totally unaware of his existence — or, worse, that we are being watched in order to influence us — would that knowledge affect our desire to seek out God’s help? My experience tells me yes. When souls are made aware that they are targets of the Enemy, they also realize that they must have recourse to Jesus, their Savior. Again, they recognize the spiritual battle between good and evil.

Knowledge of the Enemy leads one to seek out a better knowledge of God. Knowledge leads to appreciation, which leads to love. Awareness of the Enemy is key to reaching out to God’s protection, mercy, and love. As we begin to realize how the Enemy works in our lives, we also begin to see the need for having a prayer life. From our quiet time with God, we, as Catholics, will then begin to see the need for the sacraments, the Mass, devotion to Mary, and so on.

We can almost say that the Enemy plays a positive role in our spiritual life. The saints and many mystics testify to this. So, with regard to the question “where,” we can see why the Enemy attacks us where we are weakest. But this knowledge can also help us understand our real need for God, and the means that are available to keep the Enemy at bay. Hence, the need for coming back to the Church, the source of grace. My experience has shown me that bringing souls back to the Church is greatly facilitated by making them aware of the Enemy. Why? Because then we realize that only in the Church are the means, the sacraments, available to help us in our spiritual combat. Since this spiritual combat will last until we are called home, we realize that we must stay close to the Church until the end. We also realize how important it is to establish a prayer life. Prayer becomes essential in our life, and in our prayer we grow in intimacy with Jesus.

When Does the Enemy Attack?

When does the enemy involve himself in our lives? Since the Dark One knows well the weak links in our personal lives, and since he is very intelligent, clever, and subtle, he moves more like a silent fox than a clumsy and loud and bucking bull. That’s why the Enemy goes unnoticed in this world. He is deathly quiet. For Satan, silence is truly golden. First, why is the Dark One so quiet? Because he does not wish to take credit for his influence over souls. In that way you could say that the Enemy is not proud. He works behind the scenes, quietly doing his thing. He does not come out of his work room saying, “Hey, look what I did!” He is fully capable of moving silently throughout the entire life of a human soul without being noticed. That’s why “when” I bring him out into the open and reveal him to souls, those who learn of this for the first time are truly astonished! It’s a great realization. It’s like removing a great cross from their backs. Simply, it’s a great grace from God when souls become aware of the enemy for the first time in their lives. This may sound strange, but the spiritual life is full of contradictions and paradoxes. This is one of them. If the pastors of the Church were to realize this hidden secret, they would have to build larger churches to embrace those seeking the awesome and mighty loving and merciful Jesus, our protector. “If we only knew the gift of God!” So is it any wonder the enemy is so silent when he works? He knows better than we what would happen if the Church truly made a concerted effort to reveal his identity and influence. Again, that is what the Enemy hates most: to be revealed for who and what he is, the destroyer of souls. This is a time of great opportunity for the Church, a time to reach out to the lost, many of whom are unaware of this enemy of souls. In this time when trust in our pastors is at a low point, there is also a great opportunity to reconcile many of the faithful who have left the fold. If we can help them in this area, I think this “one truth” could have major implications for the New Evangelization. Satan knows this truth very well. But do we?

So, going back to “when.” The enemy plans his silent attacks prudently. He senses opportunities when we are vulnerable: times of work stress, times of doubt in our lives, times of loneliness, times of rejection, times of failure. This list could go on and on. I say “times” because that is when the enemy attacks. Again, he is like a fox. He uses the element of time very effectively to strike. His design is to hit hard and fast, or silently, depending on his method of attack. His wishes to disturb the soul’s peace. Without interior peace we are much more prone to stress and confusion. We find it harder to pray and reach out to God. Satan knows this, so he strikes to disturb our inner peace. From here, with the little boat of our souls shaking, he can strike in the area of our weakness to carry us down. If Satan can get us to stop praying or panic, he has us at a clear disadvantage. This time is critical. He knows it. It’s at this time that we must turn to Jesus, our Savior. But what if we are not aware of the Enemy, or are too weak, or cannot discern his presence? That’s when the Enemy is at his most powerful — when we are unaware of him. I have seen this play out in many young souls. In many cases, the Enemy wins the battles. But it does not have to be this way. We can change this and help many. Jesus and his Church are key.

So time is used by the Enemy to exert his influence on souls. This is where basic principles of discernment are valuable, if not essential. After we become aware of the Enemy’s existence and hence potential influence in our lives, as well as of our own personal areas of weakness and or vulnerability, we are in a position to defend ourselves against Satan’s attacks. Prayer, the sacraments, the powerful Word of God in Sacred Scripture, or wise counsel from someone with discernment skills can all be helpful tools in assisting souls. Without spiritual guidance of some sort, people today are easy prey to the Enemy’s snares. Who would go swimming in an ocean, knowing there were sharks nearby? Many are swimming, but they are unaware, spiritually. Is it any wonder so many are in trouble? Who has the skills to intercede? The Church. Jesus will come to our aid and his Blessed Mother will intercede for us if we are sufficiently aware to call out for assistance.

Once the Enemy has, over time, gained an influence over our lives, it gets harder and harder to drive him off. Discouragement, depression, and despair increase as the Enemy takes us further down his dark and desolate pathways. Without spiritual guidance of some sort, we are helpless. We cannot even help ourselves. This is why the lost cannot trace their way back into the fold of the Church. The Church’s pastors may believe that the lost do not want to come back, but in actuality, in many cases, many are too weak or are prevented from coming back. The Enemy does not easily give up what he possesses. It is important for the Church’s pastors to know this truth. Many who would love to be set free are unable to free themselves. They are not lost but rather chained to the Enemy’s post. The simple existence of a church building down the street means nothing to the Enemy. The Enemy’s power over a soul can only be broken by spiritual means. We must always remember that. Only divine power can overcome Satan’s grip over a soul. We as humans can do nothing in this area without divine assistance. Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing.” It is vitally important to understand this. Prayer, sacraments, and other divine means are needed to overcome a spiritual Enemy. Human or secular means or devices are of little or no use without Jesus and his Church. The lost cannot come back by themselves. Everything is grace.

We need to help others discern the presence of the Enemy and when he is more likely to attack, and under what conditions or situations. Satan works in patterns. If he knows a certain pattern is working to influence a soul, he will continue to use that pattern until he knows that way no longer works. He is very predictable in this matter. Furthermore, if we do not realize this pattern, he will use this very means to take us further and further down his destructive path. I see this ever so clearly in addicts of all sorts. Drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling, bad reading, even food are all among the many ways that the Enemy uses to lure us and take us down his dark path.

One saint gave this explanation of the Enemy’s way. First he plants an attractive thought, the delight of sin. Then he tries to get us to consent to the thought by action. Then the Enemy pulls us further in until we form the habit of committing a particular sin. From there, the Enemy moves us further into need and finally addiction. We are then chained to the Enemy’s influence by way of his power over us. How can we then extricate ourselves without help from Jesus and his Church? We simply are unable. We have the means to help ourselves and others, but we cannot do so without the primary help of Jesus and his grace.

Why?

Why does Satan do what he does? What is his motive? Simply put, Satan’s gain is our loss. Since he is condemned for all eternity to a place surely unfit for once so noble a creature, he now wishes the same fate for each one of us. From Lucifer, an angel of great light blessed with many spiritual gifts, he is now an angel of darkness, an outcast from God’s great kingdom. Full of jealousy, Satan wants us with him. He cannot stand to know that we can enjoy God’s everlasting beatitude while he suffers eternal damnation. Satan will do whatever it takes to take us down with him. Both Jesus and the Dark One have one thing in common. They both want our souls forever: Jesus out of love, Satan out of hatred. Our free will or choice will decide where we go or who gets us. Our soul is the pearl of great price, you might say. Jesus and the Enemy want the diamond, our soul. Our wills decide. Both Jesus and the Enemy try to influence us to win our souls. Jesus wants us to know him; however, but the Enemy does not. Jesus wants us to know his love for us. The Enemy does not even want us to know he exists, let alone his hatred for us.

When I try to help souls understand the common denominator between Jesus and the Enemy, they are greatly surprised. Yes, our souls are that valuable, that both Jesus and the Enemy pursue us for our whole lives to gain our souls. We are the diamond to both Jesus and Satan. That’s why all the angels rejoice when one soul repents, or why the Good Shepherd goes out to find the one lost sheep, or how the father rejoices when his son returns home. Our souls are so valuable. That is the essence of spiritual combat.

The motives of the Enemy, however, are not only related to eternity. He begins his work on earth. He prepares the way by gradually getting us to think as he does — to think as he does, speak as he does, and act as he does. He makes us his slaves to do his dark will so we can then influence others to follow him. When more and more under the Enemy’s influence, the soul unknowingly acts according to his desire to move others as well against God. Just as one saint leads many to heaven, so one soul under Satan’s command leads many astray. We can be witnesses to Christ but also witnesses to the Dark One. If only souls knew the malice of the Enemy! If only they were more aware! Jesus commands us to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety to the nations. This is why Jesus was so emphatic on this point. By leaving out his teaching on the Enemy in the spiritual life, we have left out a very important piece of the story of salvation. We must work to change this. The Enemy plays for big stakes, our souls. Can we afford to ignore him? I daresay not!

So, the motive is simple. Our soul is desired by both Jesus and the Enemy. The Church was established as the means to assist souls in their salvation. The Church has the tools specifically designed by divine providence to help us keep our souls in a state of grace, to keep us safe from the Enemy’s influence. St. Augustine says God created us without our cooperation but God cannot save us without our cooperation. The Church’s pastors and all Catholics need to know the nature of spiritual combat for their protection and salvation. Only then will they come to appreciate what is at stake and be able to help others return to the Church. Once those who are trapped understand, they will come back. We just have to tell them, tell them the truth in its entirety. They will return!

How?

How are we to explain this spiritual combat which holds no less than our immortal souls in the balance? First, we must teach each person the true value of his or her soul. Did not Jesus once say, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world only to lose his soul?” This is a critical point. We only care about something that has value to us. An artist values a painting by Picasso. A car enthusiast values his classic Chevy, or a businessman values his business. So it seems we must first look to build an awareness of value of the human soul. As we teach this most important truth to people, the value of their souls, we then can explain how it is then necessary to safeguard and nurture what God has given to us, our immortal souls. Value leads to appreciation, which leads to action.

Once the value of the soul is established, we can turn to the question of sanctification and salvation. Now they will understand why we need Christ and his Church. We need the sacraments, including Confession and the Most Holy Eucharist. We need to develop a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer, and devotion to Mary and her most holy Rosary. Awareness of the true value of our souls leads to an awareness of the true value of Christ’s Church. Many have left the Church, or are leaving, because they have not been given a true appreciation of their innermost being, their souls. They say “why do I need to go to Mass?” or “what do I need Confession for?” or “why do I need to pray?” All these objections point to one thing. They do not know what is most valuable. They are not aware of the value of their own souls.

John Boyle About John Boyle

John L. Boyle was employed in corporate life and founded a sports teaching and coaching business, John Boyle Tennis Schools (JBTS). He currently writes and counsels under JBTS Ministries and broadcasts his own weekly radio show in Philadelphia, PA. John can be contacted at jbtsministries@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Avatar Karen Plummer says:

    So beautifully said,that article should be published and sent to every person in this world. God bless you John,Keep writing,the world needs to hear your words of wisdom more than ever.

  2. Avatar Neil Kane says:

    Phenomenal article! Neil Kane

  3. But Bishop Barron thinks we might all be saved,and the POPE loves him.

  4. Your article is spot on John Boyle. I can tell you as a seventy two year old that when I was in my late teens, I wondered what all the fuss was about with practising as a Catholic when most of the people around me did not bother going to Church or trying to do things God’s way.
    i decided to buy a book then banned called the devil rides out by Denis Wheatley. I heard the author had researched how occult practitioners operate when he was preparing to write his book, and I thought he must use some of his findings in writing this book.
    As a result of reading that banned book, I came to the exact conclusion you state in your article, there is indeed a need for God and His Church to combat whatever or whoever the devil is. By the grace of God, I am still on the trail in the hope of reaching Heaven at some point when my life ends here on earth. Well done on your conclusions. I think they are bang on target. God bless you.

    • Avatar John Francis says:

      Thank you Julia.
      Try to get a copy of “Hauntings, Possessions and Exorcisms” by Adam Blai, a Church “expert.”
      Excellent.

  5. I can’t express how profoundly taken aback I am after reading this article. I wish I could make it knownto my young adult children but, unfortunately they will not like it when I tell them this truth. I wish you you could go to churches preaching about the denial of this intrinsic evil of Satan and his minions so that our youth can turn away from the evils of society and call upon the Holy name of Jesus and Our blessed Mother Mary and saints to intercede for us. Thank you John Boyle

  6. Avatar Stephen G. Davis Sr. says:

    John,

    Thank you for this article, you are spot on with your approach.

    My fear is that the everyday person really does not have any concept of evil and the devil.
    I pray that I can become more educated and helpful in showing the World that God is the only path to eternal happiness.

    Steve

  7. Avatar Renee Moniz says:

    Thank you so much for this inspired article!! There are so many people who are depressed and fearful right now! Your paragraph titled, “What does the enemy do” is a confirmation for the little prayer group I belong to. God bless you!!

  8. Thank you, John, for a much needed and well constructed article. Your first person account brings awareness that anyone and everyone are targets of personified evil. No soul is exempt from the Enemy. Individuals shouldn’t believe THEY can’t be attacked by the Enemy, that he only attacks OTHER people. But knowing Satan is real and among us, as Jesus is, needs to be conveyed by all Christian leaders, not just Catholics. In competition, opponents can be defeated when we learn their strategy. Satan is our opponent and the Church needs to bring him out into the open, expose his strategy and make him widely known.

  9. Avatar Glory Ann G. Culanag says:

    Thank you very much John for this affirming and consoling article. I believe that the best way to combat an enemy effectively is to get to know him. And this is what your article did, you exposed and made known the enemy, who he is, what he does, and how he does his thing to win more souls to perdition. I agree with your point that revealing who the enemy is, his real existence is a matter that should be taken seriously especially among our youth. Thank you very much for sharing your experience in dealing with this very vital concern in our world today and for sharing your wisdom. Please continue writing and sharing them with us. More power and God bless you.

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