Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1 Pet 5:8-9)
St. Peter’s words are frank. They should awaken every single one of us to a stark reality: we are being hunted daily, hourly, every second by a fallen angel and his minions. Few people understand this relentless assault on their souls. In fact, we live in a time where some theologians and clergy have not only downplayed the role of demons, but have denied their existence altogether. Perhaps it is divine providence in a way when movies such as the The Exorcism of Emily Rose or The Conjuring based on “true events” appear on the silver screen. If people do not believe in Jesus through the Gospel message, perhaps they will believe when they see His enemy at work.1
But Peter does not panic. Rather, he says, be “sober and vigilant.” In fact, it is the devil who is the frightened one, stalking at a distance from any soul who is in communion with God. For such a soul is empowered through Baptism to not only counter-attack but crush the enemy:
Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:19-20)
Yet, the wisdom of the Apostles comes through when Peter warns that even Christians imbued with divine power are not impenetrable, not invincible. The possibility to not only fall back, but to lose one’s salvation remains:
…a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him. For if they, having escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of [our] Lord and savior Jesus Christ, again become entangled and overcome by them, their last condition is worse than their first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment handed down to them. (2 Pet 2:19-21)
STEALING YOUR PRAY
To destroy a sincere Christian—that is, lead him into mortal sin—is a more difficult task. I remember meeting with Monsignor John Essef, a priest, exorcist, and friend of St. Pio. He paused at one point, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Satan knows he cannot take you from a 10 to a 1. But he only needs to take you from a 10 to a 9—to distract you enough that you are no longer hearing the Lord’s voice.”
Those words described the spiritual battle that surrounds me 18 hours of the day. And it applies to most of us, I believe. In the wild, a lion often comes and steals the prey of another predator. In the spiritual life, the devil comes to steal your pray. For once a Christian stops praying, he becomes easy prey.
One priest relayed that his bishop once said that he did not know of any priest in his diocese who left the priesthood without first leaving his prayer life. Once they stopped praying the Office, he said, the rest was history.
Now, what I am writing here is the most important thing I could ever say to you at this time in the world—and it is straight out of the Catechism:
Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2697
Simply put, if a Christian is not praying, his heart is dying. Elsewhere, the Catechism states that:
…prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father… —CCC, 2565
If we aren’t praying, we have no relationship with God. Then who do we have a relationship with but the spirit of the world? And what fruit does this begin to produce in us but the fruit of death?
I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)
To live by the Spirit is to be a praying person. Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty said:
Slowly, we begin to understand that the Catholic faith is not only a matter of attending Mass on Sundays and doing the bare minimum the Church requires. Living the Catholic faith is a way of life that embraces every minute of our waking and sleeping hours and permeates our lives at work, at home, in school, on a date, from the cradle to the grave. —from Dear Parents; in Moments of Grace, July 25th
I love my wife and I think about her all the time because she loves me and has given her “yes” to me. The decisions I make, then, involve her, her happiness, and what her will is. Jesus loves me infinitely more and gave His “yes” to me on the Cross. And so I want to love Him with all my heart. This is what it means to pray, then. It is to breath in the life of Jesus this moment, and exhale Jesus the next. To make decisions moment by moment that involve him, what makes Him happy, what is His will. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,” said St. Paul, “do everything for the glory of God.”2
If I don’t understand this radical gift of self, it’s probably because I am not praying! For it is precisely in prayer, in relationship, that I learn to love God and let Him love me—just as I have fallen more and more in love with my wife over the years because we have a relationship. And thus, prayer—like marriage—takes an act of the will.
This is why the Fathers of the spiritual life… insist that prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart: “We must remember God more often than we draw breath.” But we cannot pray “at all times” if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. —CCC, 2697
So you see, Satan prowls like a roaring lion looking to steal your pray. In doing so, he begins to starve you of the grace you need to do God’s will. For,
Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. —CCC, 2010
When you no longer “seek first the kingdom of Heaven,”3 Satan has now taken you from a 10 to a 9. From there, a 9 to 5 is not so hard, and a 5 to a 1 becomes dangerously easy.
I will be blunt: if you are not cultivating a sincere prayer life with God, you will lose your faith in these days of tribulation. The spirit of the world—of antichrist—is so intense, so prevalent, so all-encompassing in nearly every facet of society today, that without being firmly rooted on the Vine, you risk becoming a dead branch that will be pruned away and thrown into the fire. But this is not a threat! Never! It is, rather, an invitation into the Heart of God, into the Great Adventure of becoming one in love with the Creator of the universe.
It is prayer that has saved me—I who, in the beginning of my ministry, found it so difficult to sit still, let alone pray. Now prayer is my lifeline… yes, the life of my new heart. And in it, I find Him whom I love even though, for now, I cannot see Him. Sometimes prayer is still difficult, dry, even repulsive (as the flesh opposes the Spirit). But when I let the Spirit, rather than the flesh guide me, then I am preparing the soil of my heart to bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, peace, patience, kindess, self control…4
Jesus awaits you in prayer! Stay sober, be vigilant—watch and pray. And that prowling lion will keep his distance. It is a matter of spiritual life and death.
So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. (James 4:7-8)
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- Caution: these films are about real demonic possession and infestations and should only be watched in a state of grace and prayer. I have not seen The Conjuring, but highly recommend seeing The Exorcism of Emily Rose with its stunning and prophetic ending, with the aforementioned preparation. [↩]
- 1 Cor 10:31 [↩]
- cf. Matt 6:33 [↩]
- cf. Gal 5:22 [↩]