In the aftermath of the recent election, our country and our parishes are divided. Some people are hurt and angry while others are jubilant and hopeful. But although we often square off in opposing corners and stare fearfully at each other, we should remember our common enemy, the Devil. There’s a saying that warring brothers reconcile when there’s a maniac at the door; and the Devil is surely a maniacal and cunning opponent.
One of the key elements in any battle is understanding the strategy and tactics of your opponent. In the spiritual battle of life, we need to develop some sophistication in recognizing, naming, and understanding the strategies and common tactics of the Devil.
A 2011 book by Fr. Louis J. Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, can be of great assistance in this matter. In the book, Fr. Cameli breaks the Devil’s tactics down into four broad categories. I highly recommend reading the book, where Fr. Cameli expounds on the topic much more fully than I can do here.
While the categorization comes from Fr. Cameli, the reflections that follow are largely my own, although surely rooted in his excellent work.
I. Deception – Jesus says, The Devil was a murderer from the beginning he does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
The Devil attempts to deceive us with many false and empty promises. Most of these center around the lie that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we sin or deny aspects of the truth. Whatever passing pleasures come with sin, they are just that—passing. Great, accumulated suffering eventually comes with almost all sinful activity. Yet, despite this experience, we human beings remain very gullible; we seem to love empty promises and put all sorts of false hopes in them.
The Devil also tries to deceives us by suggesting that we introduce all sorts of complexities into our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and to conceal the fundamental truth about our action from us. Our minds are very wily; we love to indulge complexity as a way of avoiding the truth and/or making excuses. Conniving with the Devil, we entertain endless complications in our minds by asking “But what if this?” or “What about that?” Along with the Devil, we project all sorts of possible difficulties, exceptions, or potential sob stories, in order to avoid insisting that we (and/or others) behave well and live according to the truth.
The Devil also seeks to deceive us with “wordsmithing.” The dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Engaging in sodomy is called being “gay” (a word which used to mean happy). Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom is called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage as it has been known for some 5000 years, is labeled “marriage equality.” And thus through exaggerations and outright false labeling, the Devil deceives us. We too easily connive by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.
Finally, the Devil deceives us through the sheer volume of information and with selective use of it. Information is not the same is truth, and data can be assembled very craftily in order to make deceptive points. Further, certain facts and figures can be emphasized while other balancing truths are omitted. And thus even information that is true in itself can become a means of deception. The news media and other sources sometimes exercise their greatest influence in what they choose not to report.
We do well to assess very carefully the many ways Satan seeks to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. While we ought not to be cynical, we should be sober, seeking to verify what we see and hear and square it with God’s revealed truth.
II. Division – One of Jesus’ final prayers for us was that we would be one (cf John 17:22). He prayed this at the Last Supper, just before He went out to suffer and die for us. This highlights that a chief aspect of His work on the cross was to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some argue that the Greek root of the word “diabolical” (diabolein) means to cut, tear, or divide. Jesus prays and works to reunify what the Devil divides.
The Devil’s work of division starts within each one of us, as we experience many contrary drives: some noble, creative, and edifying; others base, sinful, and destructive. So often, we struggle within and feel torn apart, much as St. Paul describes in Romans chapter 7: The good that I want to do, I do not do …, and when I try to do good, evil is at hand. This is the work of the Devil, to divide us within. And as St. Paul lays out in Romans chapter 8, the chief work of the Lord is to establish within us the unity of soul and body, in accordance with the unity of His truth.
The Devil’s attack against our inner unity of course spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help to drive this division and the Devil surely taps into them all: anger, resentment, fear, misunderstanding, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop with those we love, as well as the flawed notion that we should seek out other more perfect and desirable people instead. This leads many to abandon their marriages, family, churches, and communities; always in search of the elusive goal of finding better, more perfect people and situations.
Yes, the Devil has a real field day tapping in to a plethora of sinful drives within us. His goal is always to divide us within and to divide us among ourselves. We do well to recognize that regardless of our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy who seeks to divide and destroy us. St. Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Yes, feuding brothers reconcile when there’s a maniac at the door. Step one is to notice the maniac and step two is to set aside our lesser divisions.
III. Diversion – For all of us, our most critical focus is God and the good things awaiting us in Heaven. Faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor lead us on the path toward Heaven. The Devil does all that he can to divert us away from our one true goal.
Perhaps he will do this by making us overly absorbed in the passing things of this world. So many people claim that they are too busy to pray, attend Mass, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in worldly things, which pass, ignoring the lasting reality that looms.
Anxieties and fears also cause us to be distracted. The Devil causes us to fixate on fears about passing things while neglecting to have a proper fear of the judgment that awaits us. Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). In other words, we should have a holy reverence and fear directed towards the Lord. If we do this, many of our other fears will be put into better perspective or will go away altogether. In this matter of fear, the Devil says just the opposite: we should fear the myriad things that might afflict us in this passing world and not think at all about the most significant thing that awaits us—our judgment.
At the heart of all diversion is the fact that the Devil wants us to focus on lesser things so that we avoid focusing on greater things, such as making moral decisions and attending to the proper overall direction of our life.
We must learn to focus on what matters most and decisively refuse to be diverted by lesser things.
IV. Discouragement – As human beings, and certainly as Christians, we ought to have high aspirations; this is good. But as with all good things, Satan often seeks to poison them. With our high aspirations, sometimes we lack the humility to recognize that we must make a journey in order to achieve that which is good or best. Too easily, Satan tempts us to impatience with our own self or with others. Expecting to achieve our aspirations unreasonably quickly, we can be uncharitable toward our own self or others. Some grow discouraged with themselves or with others and just give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the Church because of the imperfections found there, as are found in any institution with humans.
The Devil discourages us with open-ended aspirations. There is always room for improvement; we can always do more. When we can always do more, it is easy to think that we’ve never done enough. And thus the Devil discourages us, sowing thoughts of unreasonable demands within us about we can or should be able to achieve each day.
The Devil also discourages us through simple things like fatigue, minor personal failings, setbacks, and other obstacles that are common to our human condition living in a fallen world with limited resources.
In all these ways the Devil seeks to discourage us, to make us want to give up. Only a properly developed sense of humility can save us from this discouragement by Satan. Humility—which is reverence for the truth about ourselves—teaches us that we grow slowly and in stages and helps us to recognize that we will always have setbacks and that we live in a world that is hard and far from perfect. With humility we can learn to lean more on the Lord and trust in His providential help, which grows in us incrementally.
Here, then, are four common tactics of the Devil. Learn to recognize and name them. In this way, we can start to gain authority over them. Consider reading Fr. Cameli’s book to learn more.