The Battle Plan of the Devil: Knowing the Devil’s Tactics & How to Defend Oneself: A Lenten Reflection

This was a Lenten Reflection Adapted from Spiritual Theology By Jordan Auman O.P.

     As we walk the path of Calvary through praying the devotion of the Stations of the Cross, I cannot help but stop and remind myself that it was not only the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden that sentenced our Lord to death, but also the sins of my life. When confronted with the cross I have no other option than to humbly admit that I am a sinner. Yet it is not enough to admit my sin, seek reconciliation and claim to be justified. No I must cooperate with God’s grace and actively work to avoid sin.

     As we continue through this Lent and continue to turn from sin and strive to amend our lives and turn back to the Lord, sin should be properly in the forefront of our minds. Certainly our fasting and mortifications are a great aid in helping us turn from sin but to truly flee from sin we need a deeper understanding of how the Devil is able to lead us to sin.

     All of us are sinners and some would say it is enough to stop simply at that admission, but I think the late Dominican spiritual theologian Fr. Jordan Auman’s distinction of four classes of sinners is helpful for us going forward. The first class of sinners, sadly many of the Catholics in our Country are the under formed. These sinners, while wanting to live a good life, sin because they are ignorant, don’t know better. For these sinners it is important that they complete their faith formation and are encouraged to live a moral life. Most of us, however, probably fit into the second class, the class of the weak. I would venture to say most of us here, know our faith, and desire to live according to the Truth but fall into sin out of human weakness. For those of us in this state the sacrament of Penance, following through with disciplined penances and actively fighting against temptation are essential for turning from sin. I hope and pray no one falls into the third category of sinner, the biggest category in our society, those who are indifferent. These sinners don’t necessarily hate the Truth, but would rather simply enjoy the pleasures of this life and not worry about their faith or the life to come. If you fall into this category, I pray you make a spiritual exercise such as a retreat, or continue with this series of Good Friday devotions and reflections to jar you from your complacency and assist you on your journey to sanctity. I pray and can’t imagine anyone here falls into the fourth category, those who are hardened sinners. While I pray no one here is a hardened sinner we must not forget to pray for these souls, for while they may not turn from their ways, the only recourse for these sinners is our fasting and prayer, especially recourse to the Blessed Virgin.

     As sinners of the weak class, desiring to flee from sin, yet failing due to our weakness, this Lenten season, with its prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is extremely important. It is one thing to make a resolution to avoid sin, but it is all together another thing to enter into reality where simply living a fairy tale only leads to failure. We must enter into the battle and fight to avoid sin. We must heed the words of Pope John Paul II “Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling not to give in and always getting up after every fall.”[1] Like any battle we must first resolve never to give up the fight. Next, to gain the upper hand, we must figure out what the enemy is doing. Only after seeing the enemy’s tactics are we able to set up defenses and go on the offense.

     The devil’s tactics are no secret. A close reading of the account of the sin of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis shows us exactly how the devil works. It is my prayer that by meditating on the tactics of the devil as seen in the fall of Adam and Eve we can come to see how the Evil One works in our own lives and begin to set up our defenses and go on the offense driving the devil from our life.

     In the third chapter of Genesis we see the fall of Adam and Eve. The evil one begins his temptation with a general idea. He begins by saying to Eve “Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” (Gen 3:1) Notice that the devil has not yet tempted Eve but has simply put a thought into her mind. The devil begins by leading our mind to explore a sin; he gets us to ask ourselves if this sin is really a sin, to question why it’s bad etc. The proper response is to flee, to recognize the temptation of the devil and turn away as fast as is possible. The easiest way to flee is to occupy our minds with holy thoughts, such as a quick prayer, or a recollection of the cross or a quick reflection on the horrors of sin. Our minds have no business entering into idle chatter; it will only lead to defeat.

     Eve makers her first mistake, she enters into a dialogue with the devil when she said “Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest we die.” (Gen 3:2-3) Notice in the response of Eve we see that the soul does not want to disobey God, and the soul even recognizes that the devil’s temptation is wrong, yet the soul is wasting its time trying to reason with evil. Brothers and sisters, evil is a privation of the good, it is a privation of everything that is true and thus it is impossible to reason with evil, we shouldn’t even try. While Eve should be commended for desiring to stand for the good she is just wasting her time and leading herself closer to sin by dialoguing with evil. Just as it would be futile to debate with a person who is not interested in truth, so too it is futile to enter into a debate with the devil who is the master of lies.

     In entering into a dialogue with the devil the soul has already ceded ground and then the Devil capitalizes on this by making the sin appear desirable. The devil said to Eve “No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day so ever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as God’s knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) The devil plays to our desire for pleasure and will even appeal to God’s mercy, making the sin seem very appealing. The tempter may remind us of past pleasures or even try to convince us that the sin will not offend God that much, or worse that God would want us to commit the sin. Again at this point the best defense is to flee. If someone you knew to be evil was standing next to you, telling you repeatedly to commit a grave sin, or trying to convince you something was not a sin that you knew was a sin, wouldn’t you eventually just walk away? Why should it be any different with the devil? At this point there is still time to get away, but if we remain in this dialogue the soul will continue to vacillate and the sin will become more appealing. The sin will seem like the better option and the longer we remain in dialogue the harder it will be not to fall.

     If the soul does not flee and is not strong enough it will eventually fall as Eve did “and the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit therof, and did eat, and gave to her husband, who did eat.” (Gen 3:6) By this point the soul has succumbed to the temptation and sinned. Worse than sinning by oneself, often because of scandal and the participation of others, the soul will lead others into sin as Eve did with Adam. If we do not flee, the devil will wear us down and turn us to freely commit a sin that only a short time earlier we were disgusted by. Having had multiple options to flee and get away from the Devil, our persistence to engage him in dialogue will lead us into sin.

     As soon as one who was previously in a state of grace has committed the sin they will realize the error they have made. “And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves aprons.” (Gen 3:7) The soul realizes that it has lost everything and stands bitter and naked before the devil who declares victory.

     Having realized it has lost everything, the soul hears the cry of the Father “And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise.” (Gen 3:8) At this point the only option for the soul is to immediately frequent the sacrament of Penance and repent of the wrong he has committed and use the sad experience as a lesson to keep from falling prey to the tempter in the future.

     It is clear by witnessing the fall of Adam and Eve that we must constantly be vigilant against the temptations of the devil. If at any point we find ourselves in a battle with the devil, we must immediately flee by calling to mind holy thoughts, uttering a quick prayer, reminding ourselves of the cross or the horrors of sin. Beyond vigilance, we must frequently pray for the grace to overcome temptation.

     Yet simply because we defeat the devil once does not mean that he will not return again. In fact as we continue in this wayfaring state we can be sure the devil will constantly try to tempt us. In the face of repeat temptations we must keep vigilant and continue to resist but also remain confident that the frequent temptations come only because the devil has been previously defeated. As one defeats the devil, the soul gets stronger and continues to have the strength needed to fight the devil until he eventually realizes that he cannot be victorious and leaves the soul alone.

     As we continue this Lenten Season, let us continue our resolve to turn away from sin. Let us continue in our practices of fasting and mortification and continue to be vigilant for the temptations of the evil one, always being prepared to recognize and flee from his temptations.

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. The Meaning of Vocation. (New York: Scepter Publishers), 1997. 10.

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