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Written Word > Articles & Commentaries > July 2012 > Revisiting the Spiritual Warfare
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Revisiting the Spiritual Warfare

By Rev. Robert Barron

In the sixth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, we find the account of Jesus sending out the Twelve, two by two, on mission. The first thing he gave them, Mark tells us, was “authority over unclean spirits.” And the first pastoral act that they performed was to “drive out many demons.” When I was coming of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was common, even in seminaries, to dismiss such talk as primitive superstition—or perhaps to modernize it and make it a literary device, using symbolic language evocative of the struggle with evil in the abstract. But the problem with that approach is that it just does not do justice to the Bible. The biblical authors knew all about “evil” in both its personal and institutional expressions, but they also knew about a level of spiritual dysfunction that lies underneath both of those more ordinary dimensions. They knew about the world of fallen or morally compromised spirits. Jesus indeed battled sin in individual hearts as well as the sin that dwelt in institutional structures, but he also struggled with a dark power more fundamental and more dangerous than those. 

What, or better, who is this threatening spiritual force? It is a devil, a fallen or morally compromised angel. Imagine a truly wicked person who is also very smart, very talented and very enterprising. Now raise that person to a far higher pitch of ontological perfection, and you will have some idea of what a devil is like. Very rarely, devils intervene in human affairs in vividly frightening and dramatic ways. But typically, devils act more indirectly and clandestinely, through temptation, influence and suggestion. One of the most terrifying religious paintings in the world is in the Cathedral of Orvieto in Italy. It is a depiction of the Antichrist by the great early renaissance painter Luca Signorelli. The artist shows the devil whispering into the ear of the Antichrist, and also working his arm through the vesture of his victim in such a way that it appears to be the Antichrist’s own arm, thereby beautifully symbolizing how the dark power acts precisely with us and through us.

What are his usual effects? We can answer that question quite well by examining the names that the Bible gives to this figure. He is often called diabolos in the Greek of the New Testament, a word derived from dia-balein, to throw apart, to scatter. God is a great gathering force, for by his very nature he is love; but the devil’s work is to sunder, to set one against the other. Whenever communities, families, nations, churches are divided, we sniff out the diabolic. The other great New Testament name for the devil is ho Satanas, which means “the accuser.” Perform a little experiment: gauge how often in the course of the day you accuse another person of something or find yourself accused. It’s easy enough to notice how often dysfunctional families and societies finally collapse into an orgy of mutual blaming. That’s satanic work. Another great biblical name for the devil is “the father of lies.” Because God is Truth, truthfulness—about oneself, about others, about the way things really are—is the key to smooth human relations. But how often we suffer because of untruth! Perhaps many years ago, someone told you a lie about yourself, and you’ve been wounded by it ever since. Perhaps you’ve deliberately lied about another person and thereby ruined his character and reputation. Consider how many wars and genocides have been predicated upon pervasive misperceptions and fabrications. Finally, the author of the first letter of John refers to the devil as “the murderer from the beginning.” God is life and thus the fosterer of human life. The devil—like an unhappy person who likes nothing better than to spread unhappiness around him—is the enemy of human flourishing, the killer of life. Does anyone really think that the massive slaughters that took place in the twentieth century—the piling up of tens of millions of corpses—can be adequately explained through political or psychological categories?

An extraordinarily important aspect of the good news of Christianity is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has won victory over these dark forces. St. Paul said that we battle, not simply flesh and blood, but spiritual powers and principalities. But then he reminded us that nothing—neither height nor depth, nor any other power—could finally separate us from the love of Christ. Jesus has entrusted to his Church the means to apply this victory, the weapons, if you will, to win the spiritual warfare. These are the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession), the Mass, the Bible, personal prayer, the rosary, etc. One of the tragedies of our time is that so many Catholics have dropped those weapons. Allow me to focus a bit more attention on Confession by switching from a military to a medical analogy. An open wound—untreated and un-bandaged—will rapidly become infected by germs and bacteria. Think of a pattern of serious sin as a sort of open wound in the spiritual order. Untreated, which is to say, un-confessed, it becomes a point of entry for less than savory spiritual powers.

Jesus sent out the Twelve to battle dark spirits. He still empowers his church to do the same. Don’t be reluctant to use the weapons—and the healing balms—that he has given

Posted: 7/25/2012 11:21:48 AM by Word On Fire | with 10 comments
Filed under: devil

Fr. Barron - Thank you so much for listening to the Holy Spirit when you wrote this article. It is exactly what I needed to read and a message I must take to heart.
7/26/2012 4:10:13 AM
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vito benigno
Father Barron,thank you for this much needed response to this very serious topic.I do not think that the people of today fully realize the consequences of playing around with the dark arts.iam refering to ouija board,tarro cards,etc.we are not to try and look into the future but live in the present moment and trust in the DIVINE MERCY OF JESUS. people look at these things like simple games but in fact they open the door to the evil one.the devil himself.there is much SACRED SCRITURE to understand that this is not a game.just like our SALVATION is not a game.the stakes our high,Heaven or HELL in eternity.ST.PAUL said 'for we are not contending against flesh and blood,but against the principalities,against the powers,against the world rulers of this present darkness,against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.anyone tampering with the darks arts should get to a CATHOLIC PRIEST immediately for confession!Also, in an actual exorcism i was told this is only for a Qualified Catholic PRIEST not a must be part of the royal Priesthood.WHEN the door shuts it is my understanding that it is an all out battle against the evil one.the father of lies is ten times smarter than us human beings not to mention powerfull.Although as Father BARRON stated he is not OUR LORD JESUS rival and only has power because our LORD and GOD allow it.MI IMMACULATA
7/26/2012 11:54:33 PM
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Rev.Dr. Harry Pickett
Insightful as usual. On a pastoral visit this week I heard that people have forgotten that evil exists, so thank you for highlighting that sin and the devil are certainly real.
7/27/2012 12:11:24 AM
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vito benigno
Thank you Father Barron.playing in the dark arts is a very dangerous way to open youself to the evil one.ouija board tarro cards etc must be confessed at confession and stopped immediately.very dangerous!The father of lies is ten times smarter than us humans.MI IMMACULATA
7/27/2012 12:15:23 AM
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I was introduced to the Spiritual Warfare prayer. The evil one can creep anyway. I sensed something not right. Because it frightened me. It is powerful.... I have talked to a Priest about it and have not read it since then. I read the Word and have Peace . Our minds in this world can be weak....But through Christ Phil 4:10 " I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He gives me Peace....only if you Let Him:-)
8/12/2012 3:26:46 PM
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Thank you for writing this valuable piece.
Dear Jesus, please protect us all from the evil one. May all know of the evil one's existence but never become fanatical in their response to it or lose their joy over it but be vigilant of it. And, above all, that we always turn to You, Jesus, in prayer (and everything else mentioned in Fr Barron's article), and above all become part of you, spirituality and in body, more and more, in your love and the humility you demonstrated on the Cross.
8/22/2012 6:34:12 PM
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nenette hechanova
I, thanked God so much for leadıng you to all of us Fr.Barron, thank you so much for these message. I pray to God that your explanatıon may reach out all people of dıffırent natıonalıtıes and relıgıons, that they may understand the true meanıng of SPIRITUAL WARFARE. GOD BLESSED YOU FATHER BARRON.
9/6/2012 2:16:54 AM
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Ben Dunlap
It seems to me that the liturgy of the Extraordinary Form is good armor/weaponry for the spiritual combat.

Most of the texts have been fixed for over a millennium, which means they come down to us from a culture that was far more aware of spiritual realities than our own.

Look, for example, at the beautiful Compline prayer "Visita, quaesumus", which does survive in the modern Liturgy of the Hours, but is only said on the vigils of solemnities.

In the EF it is the prayer that always closes Compline -- and thus closes every single day of the year.

This prayer makes clear and unashamed reference to the Enemy and to God's "holy angels" and begs the assistance of the latter in protecting us against the former.

We need more of this kind of praying in our daily lives.
9/12/2012 10:15:38 AM
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Thank you Father Barron for sharing this with us. I've been struggling with a spiritual issue concerning my home for over three years now. Various priests and an exorcist have tried to offer counsel and assistance, but it seems that this entity is extremely stubborn. I've had four priests at my home and two Masses said, and yet the problem persists. I am contemplating moving, but that is another story. I've received emails from people all over the world who are dealing with similar situations such as mine, and some much worse than mine. I really enjoyed reading your post, and it is so nice to know that I'm not crazy.
9/19/2012 11:24:43 PM
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Thank you Fr Barron, for helping us identify the sources of our discords and its solution in Jesus Christ & His Church.
9/21/2012 2:22:35 AM
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