Hail Mary Full of Grace, Punch the Devil in the Face: A Meditation on Spiritual Warfare

Some years ago I wrote a blog post, Is the Church a Cruise Ship or a Battleship? I was surprised at the amount of negative commentary I got. For example, “How dare you compare the Church to an instrument of war!” Other comments lamented recourse to any violent imagery, ever. Still others called for bans on songs such as “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “I am On the Battlefield for My Lord,” and so forth. You might say that the response from the anti-military group was “militant.” I certainly wasn’t feelin’ the love! Most of those comments I didn’t publish because I didn’t want “war” to erupt in the combox.

Of course the reference to a battleship was by way of analogy, not literal. No one is insisting that the Church should actually use sixteen inch guns against unbelievers or purveyors of sin. The battle is a spiritual one requiring spiritual weapons. This is why we call it spiritual warfare!

It is important in our times that we recover some sophistication when it comes to language and how people use it. Analogies, similes, metaphors and the like are not to be interpreted in a crudely literalistic way. Deadpan literalism usually shows a lack of sophistication and maturity needed to engage others in a real conversation about what is actually being said. It usually rejects the possibility of analogy or hyperbole and assumes bad will on the part of one’s interlocutor, looking to take offense when none is intended.

Earlier this year an article in The Atlantic made such laments and actually expressed fears of growing violence that might come from “traditional” Catholics with all their talk of “war,” and so forth.  The author claimed that the rosary was an example of  “extremist gun culture” among traditional (he calls them “rad-trad”) Catholics.   Of course the article and the author exhibited just the kind of unsophisticated deadpan literalism mentioned above and thereby exhibited a gravely deficient understanding of an ancient Catholic tradition and instinct that we call spiritual warfare. I wonder if he even talked to an actual traditional Catholic, or was he just looking for trouble? Further, how many mass shooters or violent gang shooters march under Catholic banners? None.

But as noted above, many inside the Church as well misunderstand the battle language of spiritual warfare and, as a result, are either offended or fearful about the metaphorical language used by the faithful. But this should invite investigation rather than quick rejection.

To all the hand-wringing associated with “violent imagery” I can only say, “Hail Mary, full of grace, punch the devil in the face.” In other words I don’t think apologies and changes are due when some take offense at metaphorical language the Church has used for the whole of her existence. The picture above of Mary punching the devil in the face is from the 13th Century. But the tradition of Mary and Jesus at war with the Devil is even older than that. If the use of violent imagery in the spiritual warfare against Satan and the kingdom of darkness is such a terrible thing, then God Himself never got the memo. God said in Genesis 3:15  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head while you will strike his heel. Gadzooks! Such violence!

In this vein, I have recently attracted some negative attention by referring in sermons and writings of the rosary as a “fifty-round clip” to fire at the devil. Again, most people “get it,” while a small but vocal minority object to such violent imagery. I upped the ante with my recent purchase of a “bullet rosary” (see photo at left). Such a image has sparked both whimsical understanding and instant outrage among those who have seen it. One woman protested that, with all the violent shootings and killing in our land, such a rosary is reprehensible. But this weapon, and these bullets are directed against Satan. Real bullets cannot harm Satan since he has no body. But the spiritual bullets of rosary prayers, other prayers, fasting, obedience  and so forth can inflict real harm on the kingdom of darkness. These are the practices  at the heart of spiritual warfare. The message of a “bullet rosary” is that unless we are willing to wage spiritual warfare we get physical warfare. Our Lady at Fatima said “Pray the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and the end of the war.” (1st Apparition May 13, 1917) 

The Rosary is the chief weapon of our times. To exasperated souls who lament the moral condition of this world comes the answer: “Pray the Rosary.” What are you waiting for? Take up your weapon and wage war against Satan. If we will not wage spiritual warfare what we will get is physical warfare: real bullets, tanks, planes bombs and all the death toll.

To those who still fret at the warlike imagery, I can only say, Sorry, but we are at war whether you like it or not. Satan wages war against the faithful and you’d better take up your weapons too. This war waged against us by Satan is responsible for most of the casualties you see lying about you: those addicted, those who die from hatred, racism and physical violence, the sexually confused, victims of the sexual revolution, those destroyed by drinking and overeating, those lost in greed, and those lost in confusion so deep they cannot even distinguish a man from a woman.  Yes, we are at war and the victims lie all about us. And if we will not choose sides and do battle, we are not just useless, we are on the other side.

Those who want to “sit on the fence” forget that Satan owns the fence. There are only two armies on the field. Tertium non datur (no third way is given).

Take up your beads, your fifty-round clip and start shooting. Blessed be the LORD, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle! (Psalm 144:1) The Church is not a clubhouse, she is a lighthouse meant to conquer the darkness. She is not a cruise ship, she is a battleship sent to despoil Satan by shooting rounds of truth snatching back souls from his lying grasp.

This is war. Fight or be conquered.


26 Replies to “Hail Mary Full of Grace, Punch the Devil in the Face: A Meditation on Spiritual Warfare”

    1. Hmmm… it’s funny how my Mennonite and staunchly pacifist relatives (I am Catholic) have absolutely no trouble belying out Onward Christian Soldiers in church! Being a Christian in this world is spiritual warfare, after all; there’s no getting around it, it’s biblical! Thanks for this!

  1. One of my favorite sermons on the analogy of the Church to a warship began: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

    1. That has been attributed to Revolutionary war Captain John Paul Jones, American WWII Adm “Bull” Halsey and others, virtually all in a straight military context.
      So, is Mr Pope still the bad guy?

      But wait! The Bible writer Paul, not a military man, used soldierly imagery in exhorting the faithful.
      See his detailed and knowledgeable essay at Eph 6:11 ff. “Put on the complete suit of armor from God”.
      I found it interesting that, of all the pieces of equipment discussed, only the sword is purely offensive. “the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.” It’s only with God’s thinking, not our own, that we can be prepared to counter the ‘crafty acts of the devil’
      So Mr Pope appeals to St Paul, and we must exonerate him. 😊

  2. Most of your critics would sooner “clutch their pearls” than clutch a Rosary. Contemporary zeitgeist is to be aggrieved.

    I must confess, I’ve never been a big fan of the Rosary. But too many Saints have endorsed it for me to ignore. Foremost among them, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

    It definitely feels monotonous, but I’m gonna have to take the opinion of those in Heaven over my own.

  3. Well said! A very vital distinction that I shall make use of in my own homilies.

  4. Love this article, we need to hear more of this and take up our own arms. Most people have been too silent too long, the Church along with them.

  5. Try the “Scriptural Rosary,” a line or 2 before each Hail Mary that reflects the specific Mystery that you’re praying. It takes a little longer, but it is the only way that my mind wanders less.

  6. Very important message for all who have lost their way because of the ” church of nice.”

  7. As a former Navy/Marine Corps chaplain, I GREATLY appreciate the “call to arms”. BTW, I just ordered a bullet rosary for myself!

  8. The description of the rosary being a fifty round clip could classify it as an assault weapon?

  9. We don’t even have to go back to the Old Covenant. In Ephesians 6: 11-17, Paul is very explicit in his word choices when talking about spiritual warfare: armor of God… wrestling with principalities and powers… resisting the evil day… girded loins… breastplate of justice… shield of faith to resist evil darts… helmet of salvation… sword of the Spirit

  10. This is why we need the so-called imprecatory psalms. When we direct them at the devil they become efficacious. I find satisfaction when praying Ps. 137:9 to the Father of Lies: “Happy the man who shall seize and smash your little ones against the rock!”

  11. On a literal level I am proud of the bravery of the military for our country; for example the navy patrolling the seas so that we have have free trade unimpeded by pirates or countries who want to expand tyranny.. Their days are long and dangerous; and I thank them for their service. It is sad that this metaphor is seen as negative. Because of the ‘militant’ service of the military, our country is in relative peace.

  12. It was Jesus, not then yet in heaven, who counseled against repetitive prayers. Good enough for me. And I can be confident that I’m praying _to_ the right person – Yahweh, not Mary. (These days of course we pray to God _through_ Jesus. John 14:3,13.)

  13. Amie, during my years in the US Navy I often heard the phrase “our army” or “our troops”, and I put credence in it. Yet almost every country has its armed forces, each having its patriotic defenders and its anthems and its flags. Yet the world seems no safer. If the US seems so it’s because of its geographic isolation. (No pirates on the Mississippi.)

    Does the US military have anything to do with keeping election officials safe from death threats? Does it keep children and their teachers safe in schools?

    Jesus, whom we admire as a leader (and who was indeed called “Prince of peace”), told us to pray for the coming of a government with the power to solve any of these problems, and more. When it comes, will we want to be caught having allegiance to any of man’s arrangements? Their fate is described graphically at Dan 2:44.
    What do you think?

    I find it hard also to claim the turmoil in this country over the last 5 years or so to be an example of even “relative” peace.

  14. Dear Monsignor Pope, I get analogies, I get metaphors; use them all the time. And using them to describe our spiritual warfare with the world is fine. But the ‘bullet rosary’ crosses the line for me. As you say, bullets cannot harm Satan, they harm people. It reduces the spiritual strength invoked by simple and humble ‘beads’ to a reliance on inferior physical violence so prevalent in the U.S. and other places. It has always puzzled me why some of my staunchest Catholic friends are so pro-gun. “God, Guts and Guns”. I have not been able to find a rational connection to justify this attitude in the Bible. So let’s hit Satan where he is hurt the most, by proclaiming truth, calling for justice, having faith and hope, obedience and love. There are plenty of opportunities for engagement and battles in our society.
    BTW, I always enjoy your thoughtful reflections.

  15. EXCELLENT and I love the call to action to say the Rosary! I can never hear that too frequently from priests. 🙂

  16. We had a Director of Religious Education rebuked us for teaching our children the term “Church Militant,” as in Church Penitent, Church Triumphant. “We don’t use such violent terms anymore.” And that’s how Satan wins…when the Church forgets she’s in a war for souls.

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