Unmoored Freedom is No Freedom – A Reflection on the 4th of July

To most modern minds, freedom is a very detached concept; it is an abstraction of sorts, a free-floating power unmoored from any limits or defining standards. Freedom today is often viewed as personal and self-referential, with little consideration as to how one’s “freedom” might affect that of someone else. A healthy sense of the common good suffers mightily in a world of deeply conflicting personal freedoms.

I have written before on the paradoxes of freedom and will not repeat all of that here, but one point to reiterate is that for us (who are limited and contingent beings) the only true and healthy freedom is a limited one.

I was free to write this column and you are free to read it, but for shared communication to occur, we must each limit our respective personal freedom by following certain rules. I had to post the article in the expected place and you had to go there to read it. I had to follow many grammatical and linguistic rules in order to be intelligible, and you must apply similar norms in order to understand. As soon as either of us starts to cop an attitude and say, “I won’t be told what to do; I’ll do whatever I please,” communication suffers. Therefore, each of us limits his freedom in order to communicate.

Another example can be found in the realm of sports. Rules, in a sense, make the game. The players and spectators limit their freedom by accepting that a given game has a specific goal. Further, there are boundaries and rules of play. If some or all of these limits were removed, there would be no framework. Players would start moving aimlessly about the field and teams would break apart. Spectators would argue about everything and even forget why they were in the stadium to begin with. All order on the field and in the stands would break down; even the distinction between the field and the stands would start to lose meaning. Chaos and conflict would result.

To some degree this picture describes our modern age. Cultures, like the microcosm of a sports event, need agreed upon goals and rules of play in order to function properly. In the modern Western world, we are currently engaged in a misguided experiment as to whether a culture can exist without a shared cultus.

Obviously, the word cultus is at the heart of the word culture. In Latin, a cultus is something for which we care or about which we are concerned; it is something of worth, something considered valuable. It describes the most central, fundamental values of a group. In later Latin, cultus came to describe the worth or value we attribute to God, who is our truest goal.

Remove the cultus from culture and you get the breakdown we are seeing today. While pluralism and diversity have value, they must exist within a framework that is shared and agreed upon. Otherwise pluralism and diversity are unmoored and become like ships crashing about in a stormy bay.

In order for a culture to exist, there must be a shared cultus, a shared focus on what is good, true, beautiful, and sacred. Our modern experiment shows the failure of trying to have a culture without this.

Bishop Robert Barron, himself commenting on Pope Benedict’s analysis, writes the following:

The setting aside of God can take place both explicitly (as in the musings of the atheists) or implicitly (as in so much of the secular world where “practical” atheism holds sway). In either case the result is a shutting down of the natural human drive toward the transcendent and, even more dangerously, the elevation of self-determining freedom to a position of unchallenged primacy.

[Pope Benedict elaborates] here a theme that was dear to his predecessor, namely, the breakdown of the connection between freedom and truth. On the typically modern reading, truth is construed as an enemy to freedom—which explains precisely why we find such a hostility to truth in the contemporary culture. Indeed, anyone who claims to have the truth—especially in regard to moral matters—is automatically accused of arrogance and intolerance.

Society will be restored to balance and sanity, Benedict argued, only when the natural link between freedom and truth—especially the Truth which is God—is reestablished. … Behind all our arguments about particular moral and political issues is a fundamental argument about the centrality of God [Vibrant Paradoxes, pp. 217-218].

Thus, freedom cannot be an abstraction. It cannot be unmoored. It is not an unlimited concept. Freedom can only exist in a healthy and productive way when it is in reference to the truth—and truth is rooted in God and what He has revealed in creation, Sacred Scripture, and Tradition. This is the cultus necessary for every culture. True and healthy freedom is the capacity to obey God. Anything that departs from this necessary framework is a deformed freedom, on its way to chaos and slavery.

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1733).

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Two Stories About Detachment

It is common to think of detachment as something the poor easily have and the rich seldom have. Whatever the statistics on detachment as related to wealth, it is certainly true that there are some poor folks who are greedy attached to this world’s riches, while there are some rich people who are quite generous and unattached to the possessions their wealth affords.

Two stories come to mind. I do not recall the sources, and I have likely adapted them over the years. They speak to the difficulty of maintaining a healthy detachment from material wealth regardless of one’s financial health.

A wandering monk moved about preaching. He owned only the clothing on his back and, strangely, a golden begging bowl, gifted to him by a benefactor who was also his disciple. One night as he was about to lie down among the ruins of an ancient monastery he spied a thief, lurking among the columns. “Here, take this,” he said, handing the golden begging bowl to the thief. “That way you won’t disturb me once I have fallen asleep.” The thief eagerly took the bowl and ran off. But the next morning he returned, saying, “You have made me feel poor, giving me the bowl so freely. Teach me to acquire the riches that make this sort of lighthearted detachment possible.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Among the wandering shepherds was a leader who lived in riches, with luxurious tents, surrounded by servants. So lavish was his wealth that his tent pegs, driven in the ground, were made of solid gold. A poorer shepherd came by one day with his wooden begging bowl, cracked and warped. Seeing such wealth, he begged from the wealthy man but also upbraided him for such conspicuous wealth. Nevertheless, the wealthy man welcomed him, served him a fine meal, and permitted him to rest in his expansive tents. Early the next day the wealthy man said to the poorer one, “Come, let us go up to Jerusalem.” Staff in hand, the wealthy man left his wealth and luxury behind without a thought or care. A short way into the journey the poor man realized that he had left his wooden begging bowl behind and wanted to go back and get it. But the rich man said, “I left all my wealth behind without care or worry. Yet you are so attached to a cup of little or no worth that you cannot go up to Jerusalem without it. You upbraided me for my wealth, but I want to assure you, the golden tent pegs to which you objected were driven into the earth, not into my heart.”

Yes, detachment is ultimately a matter of the heart. It is not wrong to enjoy the good things of life, but too often they possess us, and we come rely on them so heavily that we cannot imagine living without them. We who live in these times of widespread comfort sometimes discover that we lack the freedom to live without them. Further, though surrounded by abundance, we see to be more fearful, not less. Though this age is filled with luxuries and creature comforts, we seem more anxious than ever; we just have too much to lose. The tent pegs that belong in the earth are so often driven into our heart.

St. Paul describes the grace we should seek:

I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil 4:11-13).

Without this grace, it is clear how quickly our hearts enter bondage and we go astray. Help us, Lord, to enjoy what you have given but not so much that it becomes a substitute for you. May trust and gratitude be our guide to detachment.

 

Two Teachings on Discipleship from Jesus

In the Gospel for today (Monday of the 13thWeek of the Year) Jesus gives two teachings on discipleship. They are not easy, and they challenge us—especially those of us who live in the affluent West.

Poverty– The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Here is a critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us.Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God, or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?

In this verse, the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and wanted to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s kingdom is not of this world.

We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only do they not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.

The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful shortcuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less comfortable place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.

Thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship.What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.

Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that is poor. However, it also means being free of the many obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your possessions. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.

Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered. Yes, poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.

Promptness (readiness)The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple!”

Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because. There are always a few things resolved first.

It’s the familiar refrain: I’ll do tomorrow!

There is peril in procrastination. Too many people always look to tomorrow. But remember that tomorrow is not promised. In Scripture there is one word that jumps out repeatedly; it’s the word now. There are many references to the importance of now or today rather than tomorrow:

  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
  • behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
  • Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
  • Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).

That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.

There is an old preacher’s story about delay: There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man.The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there’s a Hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there’s no Hell or that there’s no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “You’re the man! That’s the plan!”

Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. It is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.

Here are two disciplines of discipleship. They are not easy, but the Lord only commands what truly blesses. There is freedom in poverty and joy in quickly following the Lord!

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Pondering Isaiah’s Advice to Close Our Eyes Lest We “Look on Evil”

In this age of nearly instantaneous communication, there is an overwhelming amount of news and information available to us. There is nothing wrong with news and information, but each of us must decide how much exposure, in terms of time and content, is good for us. Not all “Breaking News!” is really that urgent. Too much news can distract us, overwhelm us, and provoke anxiety and anger. Further, the “news” is heavily filtered to feature what is bad, strange, unusual, violent, and dangerous. It does not represent the reality most of us live in nor is it something on which we should be focused. Frankly, most of us lead routine and “boring” lives. This doesn’t make for riveting news, but it is more representative of our lives.

In such an environment, we do well to hear and heed an admonition of Isaiah, who describes the just person in this way:

He who practices virtue and speaks honestly,
who spurns what is gained by oppression,
brushing his hands
free of contact with a bribe,
stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed,
closing his eyes lest he look on evil.

He shall dwell on the heights,
his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness,
his food and drink
in steady supply
(Isaiah 33: 14-16).

Note especially this part: stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed, closing his eyes lest he look on evil. While it is not possible to avoid all exposure to bloodshed and evil, it is surely advisable to avoid unnecessary exposure to it lest we become desensitized to it or unnerved by it.

Obviously, we should avoid movies and video games with gratuitous violence, but we should also limit our exposure to a steady stream of news that emphasizes violence, conflict, controversy, excess, and aberration. Many news programs today feature panels who engage in endless debate, even to the point of yelling, and who say more and more about less and less.

There is also a lot of sinful curiosity and voyeurism involved. Everyone has personal struggles—even tragedies—but the cameras don’t need to be rolling and public displays made of them. Talk shows traffic in this sort of material; people are invited on to share what should remain private, and viewers, indulging in a kind of sinful curiosity, willingly consume the sad display.

Sadly, this bleeds over into news coverage as well, where every sort of strange psychological, addictive, compulsive, and dysfunctional behavior is trotted out for our consumption. The overall effect is to normalize bad or dysfunctional behavior, exaggerate its extent in the population, and make a public spectacle of it. All of this serves to desensitize us to its sinful, even tragic, roots.

We have gradually shifted from being informed to “look[ing] on evil” and “hear[ing] of bloodshed.” The loss of life implied by bloodshed is more than physical death; there is a great deal of spiritual death in our culture as well.

If viewing this public spectacle of sin, confusion, and death led us to deeper prayer and a commitment to working harder to speak the truth in love, perhaps it would be a more tolerable change. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this even among committed Christians.

Therefore, the advice of Isaiah should be heeded. We should we actively limit our exposure to this spectacle, closing our eyes lest we “look on evil” and stopping our ears lest we “hear of bloodshed.”

There is some need to stay informed, but we should limit our exposure. Reading the news may be better than viewing it; one can skim the headlines and read further only if necessary. We don’t need to know as many details as we think we do. Staying informed at a general level is adequate for most of us.

Stepping back from the spectacle and from the steady diet of the dysfunctional and the tragic will give us greater serenity so that we can pray, which is a better gift to the world than our being merely informed.

St. Paul give the following advice:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8-9).

Being serenely at peace, connected to God, able to pray, and growing in virtue are much better solutions for the problems of our day than is knowing all the gory details. Be careful what you read and listen to each day. There is a place and time to close our eyes lest we look on evil and stop our ears lest we hear of bloodshed.

Pondering St. Paul’s Lament of Savage Wolves

In the first reading for Wednesday of the 7th Week of Easter, St. Paul warns of perhaps the most damaging and wrenching evil that the Church must face: dissension from within.

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them. (Acts 20:30-31).

St. Paul calls them savage wolves. Is this hyperbole? No, for their work is to devour the flock. They may do this with subtlety and smooth words, but they (and the evil one who inspires them) devour the flock nonetheless. Let’s ponder this troubling truth in three ways:

I. There are false prophets.

Scripture warns of this repeatedly:

  • Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits …. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Mat 7:15, 19-20).
  • And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray …. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand (Mat 24:11, 24-25).
  • But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed, they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell … (2 Peter 2:1-4).
  • There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (2 Peter 3:16-17).
  • But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit (Jude 1:17-23).
  • Children, it is the last hour; and just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But their departure made it clear that none of them belonged to us (1 John 2:18-19).

There are more passages like these, but allow this sample to demonstrate the consistent warning of the apostles that deceivers, scoffers, and false prophets would arise.

II. Of special concern are false prophets who come from within.

There is a special subtlety in this kind of deceiver, especially if he wears a collar or priestly robes, and even more if he be of the rank of bishop. Down through the centuries there has been particular harm caused by wayward clergy. The grief is especially deep because so many of the faithful have been rightly encouraged to love and listen to the clergy.

Therefore, in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul calls them savage wolves. This terminology is true on its face because their goal is to devour and scatter the flock, but St. Paul’s language also indicates an especially sharp pain caused by this sort of betrayal. Other scriptures affirm this deep pain:

  • For it is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng. Let death steal over them; let them go down to Sheol alive; for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart (Psalm 55:12-15).
  • Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me (Psalm 41:9).
  • Even my trusted friends, watching for my fall, say, “Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him” (Jer 20:21).
  • The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me (Mat 26:23).
  • Look! The hand of My betrayer is with Me, even at the table (Luke 22:21).
  • Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? (Luke 22:48)

Yes, there is a special grief when error and sin come from within the Church. It should be enough that the world hates and derides us, but internal wounds are the most painful of all.

Our Lady spoke to St. Agnes Sasagawa in Akita, Japan (an approved apparition) and said with sadness,

The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres … churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord. The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God (Message of Oct 13, 1973).

III. What are the faithful to do?

First, from the Scriptures above, we must understand the warning that such things would happen. Indeed, they have happened down through history. False prophets arise, even from within. The Lord says thorough His apostles, “Remember that I have told these things would inevitably occur.” Therefore, we ought not be dismayed, but rather sober.

The first Letter of St. John says,

Who is the liar, if it is not the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son can have the Father; whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well. As for you, let what you have heard from the beginning remain in you. If it does, you will also remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you…And now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears, we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming. (1 John 2:15ff).

St. Paul adds,

Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be anathema (under a divine curse!) As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced from us, let him be under a divine curse! (Galatians 1:7-9)

The Letter of Jude says,

But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:20-23).

Catholics today must remember that the teaching of the faith is not simply anything that any clergy of any rank utters. The magisterium is more than that! Everything we hear is to be squared with the consistent teaching of the Church, back through the centuries, as articulated in Scripture and in the doctrinal and dogmatic teachings of the Church. Stay close to the catechism, close to Scripture, close to the Fathers of the Church!

We began with St. Paul’s lament of savage wolves who would seek to mislead and scatter the flock he had labored so hard to build. Mysteriously, the Lord allows some degree of dissent, but He has left us with warnings. Our task is to heed these warnings and judge everything we hear by the deposit of the faith as articulated consistently in the Church down through the ages. Look to the most certain sources: Scripture, the fundamental dogmas of the Faith, the Fathers of the Church, the Catechism, and St. Thomas Aquinas. These are bulwarks for us.

I look to the faithful in the land
that they may dwell with me.
He who walk in the way of perfection
shall be my friend
(Psalm 101:6).

Four Common Tactics of the Devil

One of the key elements in any contest is understanding the strategy of your opponent. In the spiritual battle of life, we must be able to recognize, name, and understand the subtleties of the Devil’s tactics. While we often emphasize his more obvious and frightening maneuvers (especially on Halloween), his usual tactics are subtler and more pervasive.

A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it a few 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 this book.

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

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 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 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 deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and to conceal the fundamental truth about our actions. Our minds are very wily; we try to avoid the truth by making excuses. Conniving with the Devil, we entertain endless potential complications by asking, “But what if this? And what about that?” Along with the Devil, we propose all sorts of difficulties, exceptions, and sob stories in order to avoid insisting that we behave well and live according to the truth.

The Devil deceives us with euphemisms, exaggerations, and false labeling. The dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom are called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage (as it has been known for millennia) is labeled “marriage freedom” or “marriage equality.” We too easily cooperate with the Devil by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.

The Devil deceives us through the misuse 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. In this way, information that is true in itself can be used to deceive. The news media sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. This, too, is a way that the Devil deceives us.

We do well to carefully assess the many ways in which Satan tries to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. While we ought not to be cynical, we should be sober. We should attempt to verify what we see and hear and then 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. In so doing, 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. St. Paul lays out in Romans chapter 8 that 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 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, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop with those we love and the flawed notion that we should seek other more perfect and desirable people. Many abandon their marriages, families, churches, and communities 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, internally as well as 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. For all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things awaiting us in Heaven. Our path is toward Heaven, along the path of faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor. The Devil does all that he can to turn us away from our one true goal.

The Devil tries to make us too absorbed in the passing things of the world. Many claim that they are too busy to pray, go to Mass, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in passing, worldly things and ignore the lasting reality that looms.

The Devil seeks to distracts us with anxieties and fears. He causes us to fixate on fears about passing things rather than having the proper fear of the judgment awaiting 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 seen in better perspective or will even go away altogether. The Devil says just the opposite: we should be afraid of the thousands of things that might afflict us in this passing world, and not think about the one most significant thing that awaits us—our judgment.

The reason for this diversion is that the Devil wants us to focus on lesser things so that we do not focus on greater things such as a moral decisions and the overall direction of our life. 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, we should have high aspirations, but Satan often seeks to poison that. Along with high aspirations can come pride. 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 and 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 and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the Church because of the human imperfections found there.

The Devil discourages us with open-ended aspirations. 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. The devil discourages us, encouraging these unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do each day.

The Devil 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 of the Devil’s common tactics. 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 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 (Titles of Satan from the Rite).