When the Devil Goes into Damage Control Mode

Now I can’t say I have the devil figured out, but here’s one insight I am convinced is true: When the devil realizes he probably isn’t going to succeed in winning you over into a life of blatant grave sin and error, he changes his strategy (while of course never losing the desire to pull you into that, and never entirely foregoing his attempts at it). He goes into damage control mode — he tries to distract you. He is utterly terrified of what you can do if you simply order your days, your goals, your priorities, and your endeavors in such a way as to truly optimize their eternal value. He is more afraid of a soul in a state of grace than a deer is of a hunter. Knowing your immense power over him and his minions and his plan (only through God’s grace, of course), he strives to divert you to things so far below your calling; so that even if he cannot make you his own, you at least will not so greatly damage his plan in the world. How does he distract? In so many ways:

  • Above all, he distracts you from your prayers. He makes you feel busy, and he makes you believe the lie that you don’t have time for an intense and lengthy daily prayer routine. (And yes, that is always a lie. Those with the greatest excuse for being busy in the world – the Roman Pontiffs – have been men of massive prayer. Pope Francis prays for hours each morning before Mass. JPII did likewise.)
  • He fires up your passion for worldly debates. I know many good Catholics whose potency as soldiers in the Church Militant is so greatly reduced (if not almost entirely mitigated) because they are far more zealous for the promotion of organic food (or opposing organic food), opposing vaccinations (or supporting vaccinations), being a crunchy mom, or what have you, than they are for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Now there is nothing wrong with having opinions on these things! But these are the topics on the tips of their tongues. These are the emails they forward. These dominate their conversations. It is their stance on these matters they really want to convert other people to. No serious Catholics would flat out say that these issues mean more to them than the Faith, but when your words and deeds demonstrate that they have your focus instead of the Kingdom and His righteousness (or when your thoughts default to such matters), then the devil has succeeded perfectly. He has neutered you.
    • I could have listed a million other worldly issues that do the same thing to Catholics (sports, finances, pets, novels, movies, television shows, stocks, internet research, politician bashing, Facebook, etc.) — but the needs of the body seem to me to often serve as the greatest distraction for good Catholics — hence Our Lord’s insistence: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
  • He entangles you in factiousness within the Church on issues that, even if important to be dealt with, are no where near as effective in the glorification of God and the salvation of souls as are evangelization, prayer, works of mercy, and the like. Factiousness, such as:
    • Debating Pope Francis’ most recent statement (or those of the often-quoted Bishops and Cardinals)
    • Arguing for this or that form of the Mass
    • Criticizing clergy for their poor decisions and statements
    • Endless reiteration of how abysmal a state the Church is in
    • Dedicating the majority of your effort to simply opposing one or two particular sins, heresies, or liturgical violations
    • Dedicating the majority of your effort simply to defending (or opposing) one particular apparition.
    • (Notice I have not said advocating for women’s ordination, contraception, divorce, gay marriage, etc., since those are blatant heresies and not the point of this article. If the devil has drawn you into any of that, he has done far more than distract you.)
  • He makes you think your primary vocation (e.g. your duties as a provider) supersedes your universal vocation (your call to holiness). Hence, to give just one example: a father (or a young man hoping to become one) who succumbs to this only cares about (above the bare essentials of the Faith — Mass on Sundays and avoiding mortal sin) doing everything he can to secure the best possible living for his family. He dedicates himself to career advancement and will not consider anything for the glory of God that might interfere with that. He’ll go to any length to ensure that (for the sake of not harming potential future jobs) googling his name does not associate him with any Catholic apostolate. He’ll never ask his boss if he can modify his schedule slightly to allow for daily Mass. He won’t consider living anywhere but the most safe and pristine possible neighborhoods, even if home prices there force him to stay with a career that ruins his spiritual life. The list goes on.
  • He tries to distract you from his own hideousness by compelling you to focus primarily upon the hideousness of those people who follow some of his ways. Is Obama-bashing what you are known for? Do you believe that we’d return to the Garden of Eden if only we could get rid of Planned Parenthood? Do you prefer ripping apart Islam to actually behaving in such a way that you might win Muslim converts? Do you readily rattle off a conspiracy theory for every ill that faces this world? If so, then you have fallen into this distraction and likewise become neutered. Remember that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. Imagine how useless a U.S. Marine would be who, upon being sent into a foreign country to take out a terrorist cell, focused only upon eliminating the cockroach infestations there. Do not be like such a Marine, for you are in a far more elite, far more essential army: the Church Militant.
    • My inspiration for this point is Peter Kreeft’s excellent talk — the Culture War
  • He gives you a great love of excessive “hanging out,” or eases you away from those who embolden you, and towards those who placate you. This is the greatest danger with families, but it also happens with Catholic groups. They often start out as great salvation-causing apostolates, but before long they are just cliques. The time spent actually saying the prayers and doing the works of mercy they were founded upon becomes perhaps one hastily prayed Rosary, if even that — then hours are spent having coffee afterwards engaging in mundane worldly conversation. Family gatherings become grace prayed before the meal, and then one worldly thing after another until an entire day is gone.
  • He inspires in you a Lowest-Common-Denominator Bible/saint/pope quote attitude. Many, it seems, can at the drop of a hat whip out a plethora of quotes from Scripture, saints, popes, or other Catholic authorities to dispense themselves from any sort of zeal in their spiritual life; the only thing they have been zealous about is the collection of such quotes! Can you imagine what havoc this approach would wreak upon your life if you took it to your health– if, upon googling, “health benefits of _____,” you would go ahead and partake in _____, so long as you could find someone with an “MD” or “PhD” after his name endorsing it? You would be dead within the month. Obviously quoting Scripture, a saint, or a pope is a fundamentally different thing, but we still must bear in mind that if we are reading these works primarily for any reason other than self-admonishment and personal growth (i.e. for rationalization or argumentation), then we will not grow one iota in holiness. (Mind you, when such quotes prevent advancement in the spiritual life, it is usually because they are taken out of context or otherwise improperly applied) Have you ever met an immoral moral theologian? I rest my case. (Hint: if you’ve met a moral theologian, you probably have). Examples:
    • “Preach the Gospel always, when necessary, use words” to dispense yourself from your duty to evangelize
    • “You will always have the poor with you” to dispense yourself from works of mercy
    • Using the Little Way of St. Therese to dispense yourself from the virtue of magnanimity. Be well assured that St. Therese had nothing against great things; she rather insists (rightly) that the most important thing is to first ensure that we do the small things with great love.
    • Using the many great words of St. Josemaria Escriva on the sanctification of work to think that this is some sort of a default, automatic thing – and that you need not strive to make your work into prayer, or to have a serious life of prayer and works of mercy apart from your work and family life.
    • Using the many great words of St. Francis de Sales on prayer according to one’s State of Life to think that if you are a spouse and a parent, you need not bother with anything but Sunday Mass. Here’s another quote of his to counter that mindset!: “Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.
  • He reminds you of someone you respect who does a certain thing as soon as your conscience begins to tell you that you might be better off without it. Has your heart felt that prick recently; that initial indication that some endeavor you are currently engaged in, even if not blatantly gravely sinful, still might not be really in line with your calling? Or maybe you have started to realize you simply don’t like the thought of your spouse, child, fiance, or significant other doing something that you are doing, which then leads you to wonder why you yourself are doing it? Perhaps it’s a TV show you are watching, a book you are reading, a form of dancing you regularly participate in, a song you listen to (e.g. “it’s just to get me pumped at the gym”), a type of clothing you wear, a type of medication you take or give your kids, an activity you engage in with your spouse, a costly indulgence you feel you deserve, an occasion of sin you have up to now justified, a type of conversation that you have always strained to argue doesn’t really count as gossip, or any number of other things. You cannot outsource your discernment to others; just because people you greatly respect (and perhaps are far holier than you yourself, maybe even having “Fr., Sr., Br. or Bp.” before their names) engage in something does not mean it’s automatically okay for you to do so. God speaks to your heart; trust that. If you will not trust that, why are you a Christian? You must follow that voice.  When you follow that voice, you become so formidable to the devil that he spares no expense to prevent you from attaining such clarity of conscience. His first line of defense in this regard is to say to you “Your pious friend _____ does it, so it must be okay.
  • He compels you to react with perceived helplessness instead of intercession when you observe or hear of evil. What is your reaction when this happens? To respond “Oh, what a shame”? Why is it not to say “Lord have Mercy” and then pray with fervency, or to physically do something if you can? What is your reaction when asked for money by a clear drug addict on the street? To lie and say you have none, then leave, embarking upon a long mental lamentation of all the societal ills that lead to this… or is it to ask him his name, shake his hand, and say you cannot give him money, but would love to say a prayer with him, take him out to McDonalds, etc.? What is your reaction to those instances when you are confronted with the hideous reality of the abortion genocide? To rant against priests who in their cowardice never oppose it from the pulpit, the politicians who endorse it, etc.? Or is it to commit to pray more against it and get outside abortion clinics more regularly to pray and sidewalk counsel?
  • While distracting you with everything under the sun, he will convince you that the urgency and calls to conversion of private revelation (which is the one thing that will really awaken some people) are themselves distractions, and are best avoided.

Has the devil gone into damage control mode in your life? I was only able to write this post because I’ve recognized that he largely has in my own. But don’t let him succeed in that. In all four Gospels, Christ said that He came “to destroy the works of the devil.” Being a member of the Church Militant is not primarily about being on the defensive — it is first and foremost about being on the offensive. That fact is perhaps what we forget most when we discuss spiritual warfare. Rest when you die, not now. “And Jesus said to him: Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou, and preach the kingdom of God.”