Four Common Tactics of the Devil

FEature 072213In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in demonic possession. Movies and books, along with human fears and fascinations, are largely the cause. Although actual demonic possession is somewhat rare, it does occur. Each diocese ought to have an appointed exorcist to assess possession. This exorcist, with the permission of the bishop, should use the Rite of Major Exorcism when true and morally certain possession has been determined.

But because actual possession is quite rare, most of us should be looking out for the more common ways that the devil attacks us. His usual tactics are more subtle and pervasive, and we ought not let the exotic distract us from the more commonplace.

One of the key elements in any contest is to understand the tactics of your opponent and to recognize the subtleties of his strategy. In the spiritual battle of life we need to develop some sophistication in recognizing, naming, and understanding the subtleties of the Devil’s common tactics.

A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it a couple of years ago, I think it would be of value to reflect on four broad categories of the Devil’s tactics, which Fr. Cameli analyzes in his book.

While the four categories are Fr. Cameli’s, the reflections here are largely my own, though surely rooted in Fr. Cameli’s excellent work. I highly recommend reading the work, in which the categories are more fully described.

Here are four common tactics of the devil.

I. Deception – Jesus says, The devil was a murderer from the beginning and 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 deceives us with many false and empty promises. Most of these relate to 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 and accumulated suffering eventually comes from almost all sinful activity. Yet despite this experience, we humans remain very gullible; we seem to love empty promises and put all sorts of false hopes in them.

The devil also deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and conceal the fundamental truth about our actions. Our minds are very wily and love to indulge complexity as a way of avoiding the truth and making excuses. So we, conniving with the devil, entertain endless complications by asking, “But what if this? And 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 or others behave well and live according to the truth.

The devil also seeks to deceive us with “wordsmithing.” And thus the dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Sodomy is called “gay” (a word that used to mean “happy”). Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom are called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage as it is been known for millennia is labeled “marriage freedom” or “marriage equality.” And thus through exaggerations and outright false labeling, the devil deceives us. We too easily cooperate by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.

The devil also deceives us through sheer volume of information. Information is not the same as truth. Data can be assembled very craftily to make deceptive points. Further, certain facts and figures can be emphasized to the exclusion of other balancing truths. And thus even information that is true in itself can become a form of deception. The news media sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. And this, too, is a way that the devil brings deceptions upon us.

We do well to carefully assess the many ways Satan seeks to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. And while we ought not be cynical, we ought to be sober. We should seek 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. As such, He highlights that a chief aspect of his work on the cross is to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some point out 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 internally and feel torn apart, much as 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 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.

And of course the devil’s attack against our inner unity spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help drive this division and the devil surely taps into them all: anger, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop regarding those we love, and the flawed notion that we should seek other more perfect and desirable people. And thus many abandon their marriages, families, churches, and communities, always in search of the elusive goal of finding better and more perfect people and situations.

Yes, the devil has a real field day tapping into a plethora of sinful drives within us. His goal is always to divide us, both internally, and from one another. We do well to recognize that regardless of our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy. As 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). Feuding brothers will reconcile when there is a maniac at the door. But the first step is noticing the maniac, and then setting aside lesser divisions.

III. Diversion – To be diverted is to be turned away from our primary goal or task. And for all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things waiting for us in Heaven. Our path is toward Heaven, along the path of faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor. And thus the devil does all that he can to turn us away from our one true goal.

Perhaps he will do this by making us too absorbed in the passing things of the world. Many claim that they are too busy to pray, or go to Church, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in passing, worldly things and ignore the lasting reality that looms.

Anxieties and fears also distract us. Through these, the devil causes us to fixate on fears about passing things and fail to have the 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. In this way, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective, or will even go away altogether. But in this matter of fear, the devil says just the opposite: we should be afraid of the thousands of things that might afflict us on this passing earth, and not think about the one 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 in order to avoid focusing on greater things such as a moral decisions and the overall direction of our life.

Once again, we must learn to focus on what matters most and refuse to allow our attention to be diverted to lesser things.

IV. Discouragement – As human beings, and certainly as Christians, it is good to have high aspirations. But Satan often seeks to poison that which is good. For along with high aspirations we sometimes lack the humility to recognize that we must make a journey to what is good and best. Too easily, then, Satan tempts us to be impatient with ourselves or others. We sometimes expect to reach our aspirations in an unreasonably short amount of time and show a lack charity toward ourselves or others. Some grow discouraged with themselves or others and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the church because of the imperfections found there.

The devil also discourages us with open-ended aspirations. The fact is, there is always room for improvement; we can always do more. But here the devil enters, for if we can always do more, then it is also possible to think that we’ve never done enough. And thus the devil discourages us, sowing unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do each day.

The devil also discourages us through simple things like fatigue, personal failings, setbacks, and other obstacles that are common to our human condition and to 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 help to save us from these discouraging works of Satan. Humility, which is reverence for the truth about ourselves, teaches us that we grow and develop slowly, that we do have setbacks, and that we live in a world that is hard and far from perfect. Being humble and recognizing these things helps us to lean more on the Lord, and to 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. Louis Cameli’s book to learn more.

I have compiled here a list of demonic titles and descriptions from the Rite of Major Exorcism that refer to some of these tactics of the Father of Lies. You can view it here: Titles of Satan from the Rite.

51 Replies to “Four Common Tactics of the Devil”

  1. I think we should follow Mexico’s lead. Just exorcise the whole country and drive the demons on up to Canada. If we can get them past the artic circle maybe hell will freeze over.

    1. Dear “Robertlifelongcatholic,”

      “[A]nd drive the demons on up to Canada”?

      I am a priest of a Canadian diocese and I find this comment reeking of anti-charity. Nor is it funny if that was your intention.

      Fr M. G. Hysell MA MTh

      1. It was my intention Father. I had a second cousin who was a monsignor at St.Patricks Cathedral in New Orleans for around thirty years. My mothers brother was a priest in the Little Rock Diocies of Arkansas all his adult life. His siter, my aunt, was a nun in the order of The Sisters of the Incarnate Word. I worked in a Catholic hospital for years and was well aquainted with the nuns there. Many priests and nuns were family friends of ours and came to my grandparents and parents houses regularly on weekends to vist, talk about life, religion, listen to music and occasionally have an adult beverage. They filled a pew in the chuch at my wedding. I spent a week at a convent in Salt Lake City while training at LDS Hospital. The nuns insisted I tour the LDS campus downtown, God forbid, and they actually drove me down there, dropped me off among those Mormons and told me when they would be back to pick me up. I had dinner every evening with those nuns while there with the exception of the night I had dinner with the priest across the street. They were and some still are real people with a sense of humor while understanding the human condition. We are part of those dreaded Irish clans who pray that you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows your dead. There was a time in this world when progressive politcal correctness and secular social sensitivities didn’t have people crying foul every time someone expressed themselves with colorful introspect. I don’t take credit for my sense of humor. It just comes unawares. It blows where it listeth. Talents on loan from God. Me and my wife went to Toronto about twenty years ago for four days. We would ask for a glass of iced tea at a restaurant and they would look at us like we were crazy. When they brought the glasses of tea they would have one or two melting icecubes in the glass. You would have thought there was a shortage of ice in Canada. We went to Universal Studios theme park as part of the American College of Cardiology Conference group while there. Walking around the park there were concession stands and one of the few treats they had for sale were Lipton frozen tea popsicles. They were nasty. I wouldhave rather had a Texas size glass of tea full of ice. Regretfully, one might have thought they were reeking of anti-charity nor was it funny if that was their intention.

        1. Robert:
          Was that Msgr. Clores? (sp?) My family used to attend St. Patrick’s as my Dad was one of the lead baritones in the choir. LOVE that church! Now that we live in another state, we really miss the stately churches and architecture. Not to mention the amazing music!!!

    2. We already have a plethora of them here in Canada. Unfortunately I think things are worse here morally then Mexico or the US

      1. I have often wished that Cardinal Wuerl would exercise his option to pronounce and exorcism on Washington on the Feast of the Epiphany. Can you imagine the Cardinal standing at the foot of the Capitol, cross in hand and with chalk nearby and pronouncing the exorcism. I think the very ground would shake

        1. 🙂 That’s great Msgr! I have often dreamed of a “clean slate” in Washington. This would surely hey it done.

      2. Sorry Msgr. Pope but nothing will change, nothing at all will change as long as the foundation of the culture of death is being built by openly Catholic politicians and these politicians are welcomed to receive the Body of Christ by our Bishops.

        I live in the Chicago area and Bishop Cupich LUVS the pro-sodomy and pro-abortion politicians and never has a word of correction for them. (our non-catholic, pro-abortion, pro-sodomy Illinois Governor has even received Holy Communion from the hands of a Bishop in the Cathedral)

        Game, set, match, it’s over…….all of the Catholic cultural and political elites who make abortion possible, have made marriage based on sodomy the law of the land, promote contraception are welcomed and even celebrated when they receive Holy Communion.(Remember Dolan welcoming Biden to Mass on Good Friday)

        Satan would laugh for hours if Cardinal Wuerl on one hand attempted an exorcism and then on the other hand welcomed every culture of death promoting Catholic politician to Mass.

        Msgr. you yourself make a mockery of the faith when you suggest an exorcism would be anything other than an empty and meaningless gesture as long as our Cardinals and Bishops are saying “bravo” to sodomy, paying for abortions as Cardinal Dolan does through Archdiocese insurance policies, marching in sodomy pride parades,Catholic Relief Services in league with every pro-abortion group they can find, the list is endless.

        Is the Catholic faith so superficial and are exorcisms just a superstitious practice so you really think they will have any effect at all when our Church leadership will not lift a finger to discipline Catholics who are the root and foundation of the satanic takeover of our society.

        Come on, grow up.

        1. Maggie, Alot of frustration, understandable, catholics not being catholic what could be more infuriating. If the world’s going to hell, at least a catholic shouldn’t be standing on the sidelines, shouldn’t be apart of the procession, shouldn’t be providing any substance and support to continue the journey to the Lake of Fire.
          Catholics have a free chose to help and aid the world for the better or for the worse. From the beginning its always been so, those especially blessed joining the masses around them in one way or another but a remnant always moves forward, we know what the Lord can do with a remnant so its not game, set and match, we got players and they’re a hard group to beat, we’re just down a set. P.S We have team spirit and we believe we will prevail.

        2. Your own remark ends in a childish quality. Try reading Catholic history for a deeper insight.

    3. In Christ we are not Mexicans, Americans, or Canadians. We are all brothers and sisters in the family of God. Let us not wish evil upon each other, but seek to encourage (instead of discourage) and to unite (instead of divide). Peace, Lara

  2. A really informative and encouraging post Father, thank you.
    May I have your permission to reproduce it on my blog ‘whitesmokeahoy’? I will of course,give you full attribution. Brian Crowe.

  3. That was a great and timely article Msgr. I have been responding to comments made by friends concerning Laudato Si even though no one has actually read it yet. I have reserved comment on the document itself because I haven’t read it either, but I have urged everyone to take a deep breath and realize that the Holy Father hasn’t changed anything pertaining to what is necessary for salvation (he can’t). Our faith is still the same, the Church is still the Mystical Body of Christ with Christ as our head. It is still led by the Holy Spirit and is the only place we can receive the sacraments. The four categories you talk about in the article all seem to be present. Satan never ceases to attack the Church. Thanks for your article.

    1. Yes, the deep breath might also help some of us take personal account of our own issues. So often we want to look everywhere but the mirror to find the source of the problems in the Church or the World. I know this much, the Church is not perfect because I am a member.

      1. How does that jibe with many who for one reason or another feel slighted by someone or perhaps the entire society and take on what some would call a victim status? In other words, blaming external forces for their less than happy lot in life. Maybe you have discussed this issue before since I haven’t followed your blog that long.

  4. Above all, Jesus says, Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself and Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do To You. Condemning others was not exactly what Jesus was teaching us.

  5. Satan was the brightest of the angels; I take that to mean the highest of the seraphim.

    This is what Isaiah says about his fall in chapter 14:

    12 What, fallen from heaven, thou Lucifer, that once didst herald the dawn? Prostrate on the earth, that didst once bring nations to their knees? 13 I will scale the heavens (such was thy thought); I will set my throne higher than God’s stars, take my seat at his own trysting-place, at the meeting of the northern hills; 14 I will soar above the level of the clouds, the rival of the most High. 15 Thine, instead, to be dragged down into the world beneath, into the heart of the abyss.

    1. Yes, a great passage. I use it a lot in deliverance ministry

  6. I suffer from extreme fatigue. Not “tired”. I’m never just “tired”. I’m exhausted to the point where I can’t get out of bed. So tired that I can’t sleep “hard” enough. It affects my work (I miss sometimes 2 days a week). It affects my concentration. It affects my parenting (I’m too tired to do housework or activities with the kids). I wake up just as tired as when I went to bed. Just getting out of bed is exhausting. I missed Mass on Sunday because I was so tired. I have been seeing two different doctors who are trying to figure this out. I also take antidepressants because doctors thought it could be depression. I’ve had all kinds of tests. They are still trying to get to the bottom of it. I’m honestly at the end of my rope.
    Your article was the second time I saw the devil linked to fatigue. Could that cause extreme fatigue? If so, how do I rid myself of it?

    1. Perhaps, but we should always look to natural causes and rule them out at first. The fatigue the Devil works is usually deeper than a physical fatigue. It is a deep fatigue that reaches the soul and plugs into sloth and mediocrity.

    2. KAT,
      I have been in the same boat as you. If your doctors have not done a muscle biopsy and checked you for mitochondrial disease. Ask for them to. It is very hard to diagnose. It took me 5 years and a knowledgeable doctor to get my diagnosis. I will keep you in my prayers. MAT

    3. Kat,
      Have you been tested for sleep apnea? My husband suffered with the same symptoms for years until he was tested.

  7. Good post. St. Faustina experienced a lot of difficulties with respect to the great mission given to her by Jesus, especially difficulties regarding her health. We all know that she persevered and the fruit that came forth.

  8. Due to an unfortunate situation in my life a few years back, I was plagued by anger. I wasn’t just mad, it was a pervasive state of being.

    I worked with a priest at my parish and underwent deliverance prayer. Through the grace of confession and the laying on of hands, this prayer saved me from an anger that had to be the work of the devil.

    For anyone dealing with a difficult struggle against sin and evil, I urge you to read a book called “Unbound” by Neil Lozano. Find a priest or Layperson who has been trained in Deliverance prayer and work with them to free yourself from the grasp of Satan.

    Please understand, it is not exorcism and should not be confused as such. It is prayer. It is gentle and loving and life changing.

    1. Yes, a great book and process. I use it a lot in deliverance ministry and we just had an unbound conference here in DC two weeks ago. 300+ attended.

  9. Msgr., you make it sound like Satan and God are equals: Satan somehow has access to every soul personally and individually. Strange.

    1. Not sure you why you say this. What -do you mean by “access” a word that I do would not use. Do you equate access with influence? If so why. Do you suppose somehow that influence can force a person to do things? Is this what you mean by access. And why do you think I put Satan on par with God. That is absurd. I don’t even think Satan can read our minds. So it would seem you haven’t been reading here long? But if you don’t think that Satan can get to you personally to influence you, it is you who live in the land of strange. Satan cannot overrule our freedom, or take over our mind. Even the possessed do not lose their freedom wholly. But I think it is clear that you have not been reading here long. Your accusation is both vague and strange, not supported by facts.

      1. Your article deals in universals, Msgr. I presume you intend to mean that Satan has universal influence over everyone. By access I mean direct influence on the mind and soul of a human being. Satan is at work everyday on every singe human being? Is that what you are saying? Remarkable, if that is what you mean.

        1. Yes, and if you don’t think this is happening, you have been deceived. Satan is the prince of this world and he does have worldwide influence. I can only suppose that you are trolling at this point. My article deals in “universals ??” Again this is your word. But I think your personal issue is that you absolutize what is written. I do not. Satan has varying influences on people depending on a lot of factors. What part of “Common” in “Common tactics” do you not understand?

          The world the flesh and the devil a basic witches brew.

          1. You said “Four common tactics the Devil uses against you”. So simultaneously billions of people are being approached by Satan every minute of every day. I don’t know what you mean by “trolling at this moment.” Universals is not my word. It means you are absolutizing the activity of Satan over every single person on earth. The mystery of evil is not so simple as to be reduced to a program of 4 common tactics. Your inclusion of the “world” and the “flesh” is borderline Manichaeism.

          2. No, Steve. Satan and his minions are working where there is the greatest damage to be had. Your attempt to corner Msgr into a heresy shows how open you were, at that moment, to an uncharitable work of falsehood.

  10. Great post – I was wondering when you would post something along the lines of this especially after the Unbound conference. I am actually currently reading “Resisting the Devil” by Neal Lozano and it’s a pretty good book so far.

    It’s also a very timely post given all that is going on today in the world. We all know by now what has happened in SC. You don’t even have to be on social media to see all of the news articles and blog posts debating everything.

    As always, I have plenty of questions as to why some things happen, especially in my own life, but if I got into all of that, this comment would be well over a hundred pages in length. I often wonder if some things are truly the work of the Devil himself (in regards to my own life story and things that I’ve seen in my career in the ER).

  11. Good post Msgr. I do have a fear of Satin and evil and try not to watch movies about it or read even fiction about Satin. Is that a “healthy” fear? As a child I was always told not to entertain those things because it just gives him an “in” in my thoughts. Is that correct?

  12. I think one of Satan’s greatest deceptions is modern psychology. Indeed, some people do have very serious mental illnesses that require medical intervention. I am not speaking of these. I’m referring to problems people have that are often categorized as neurosis or personality disorders. I am convinced some of these are really temptations of the devil, and people would be more helped if they would recognize them as such, instead of looking for root causes in their childhood experiences.

  13. This article is very helpful in being aware of the enemy’s tactics. I would also find it helpful if you would suggest ways to combat each of these tactics. Part of the answer is repenting of our complicities in his tactics by our sins as well as rejecting the lies about ourselves that he whispers in our ears from the sins of others in our lives eg. the reason why our parents did or did not relate to us was our fault because of we’re such and such. A spiritual director would be helpful here. But, are there enough people out there who believe and know how to deal with Satan’s influence in our lives? eg. How often do we hear about Satan from the pulpit? It seems like we have a lot of work to do in the seminaries and in priestly conferences to get that to happen. Great article, thank you.

  14. Great article. Easy to read reminders. I recently realized that discouragement was an attack on me from age 12 until recently; but more in chronic, diabolical thoughts of suicide. I found it helpful to confess this and say short prayers of thanksgiving and praise when confronted now. While I may have had or continue to struggle with depression and anxiety, I no longer have temptations. If I think of “death”, I think of dying to myself and giving everything to God. I see discouragement as a temptation in young people as a whole. I heard a priest once say that the media is most damaging in its expression of despair.

  15. Thank you Msgr. Pope –

    I just did a lesson with my wife and kids using your article. My five year old girl Grace understands this stuff better than most adults!

    Than you,


  16. I suggest “Hostage to the Devil” by Fr. Malachi Martin S.J. for those who doubt the devil. It details 5 modern day US exorcisms. Many people can not finish reading the book – it is frankly very alarming.

  17. I, too want to thank you Msgr. Pope for an enlightening, logical but most of all very timely post on the
    devil-which I find practically synonymous to evil but for the “d”. I too want, with your permission to
    reproduce your post in my website. I feel with all the chaos and mayhem in our world-it is very timely.
    Thanks and God bless,

  18. Msgr. Pope, Kindly pray for me. I struggle with spiritual warfare and living far away from home makes it that much harder for me. I live and work in Tanzania. I find that praying or singing the Ave Maris Stella helps significantly. I just pray or sing until I feel peace. Thank you, again.

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