IT was one of the most powerful lessons in my life. I want to share with you what happened to me on my recent silent retreat…
Wounds and Warfare
A year ago, the Lord called me and my family out of the “desert” in Saskatchewan, Canada back to Alberta. That move began a process of healing in my soul — one that really culminated during the Triumph retreat earlier this month. “9 Days to Freedom” says their website. They’re not kidding. I watched many souls transform before my eyes during the course of the retreat — my own included.
During those days, I recalled a memory of my kindergarten year. There was a gift exchange between us — but I was forgotten. I remember standing there feeling set apart, embarrassed, even ashamed. I never really put much stock in that… but as I began to reflect on my life, I realized that, since that moment, I had always felt apart. As I grew in my faith as a young child, I felt even more isolated as most of the kids in my Catholic schools never attended Mass. So I never really formed strong friendships during my school years. My brother was my best friend; his friends were my friends. And this continued as I left home, throughout my career, and then my ministry years. It then began to bleed into my family life. I started to doubt my own wife’s love for me and even that of my children. There was no truth to it, but the insecurity only grew, the lies became bigger and more believable and this only brought tension between us.
A week before the retreat, it all came to a head. I knew without a doubt that I was being spiritually attacked at that point, but the lies were so real, so persistent, and so oppressive, that I said to my spiritual director last week: “If Padre Pio was tossed about his room physically by demons, I was going through the mental equivalent.” All the tools I used in the past were seemingly starting to fail: prayer, fasting, the rosary, etc. It wasn’t until I went to Confession the day before the retreat that the attacks immediately stopped. But I knew that they would come back… and with that, I set out for the retreat.
Delivered from Darkness
I won’t get too much into the retreat except to say that it weaves together Ignatian discernment and Thérèsian spirituality, blended with the Sacraments, Our Lady’s intercession, and more. The process allowed me to enter into both the wounds and the pattern of lies that emerged from them. During the first few days, I wept many tears as the Lord’s presence descended upon my little room and my conscience became illumined to the truth. The tender words He poured out in my journal were powerful and liberating. Yes, as we heard in the Gospel today:
If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:31-32)
I encountered the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity distinctly and more than I ever have in my life. I was overwhelmed with God’s love. He was revealing to me how I had subtly bought into the falsehoods of the “father of lies,”cf. John 8:44 and with each illumination, I was being set free from a spirit of negativity that had put a pall over my life and relationships.
On the eighth day of the retreat, I shared with the rest of the group how I was being overwhelmed with the Father’s love — like the prodigal son. But as soon as I spoke it, it was as though a pinhole opened up in my soul, and the supernatural peace I was experiencing began to drain. I began to feel restless and irritated. During the break, I went into the hallway. Suddenly, tears of healing were being replaced by tears of anxiety — again. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I invoked Our Lady, the angels and the saints. I even “saw” in my mind’s eye the Archangels beside me, but still, I was being gripped by fear to the point of trembling.
It was at that moment, I saw them…
Standing outside the glass doors across from me, I “saw” in a blink Satan standing there as a large red wolf.During the time of my retreat, my dad said that a large wolf strolled across the front yard where he lives. Two days later it came again. In his words, “Very unusual to see a wolf.” This doesn’t surprise me as part of the retreat is bringing healing to our “family tree”. Behind him were smaller red wolves. Then I “heard” in my soul the words: “We will devour you when you leave here.” I was so startled I literally backpedaled.
During the next talk, I could hardly focus. The memories of being mentally tossed around like a rag doll the week before came rushing back. I began to fear that I would fall back into the old patterns, insecurities, and anxiety. I prayed, I rebuked, and I prayed some more… but to no avail. This time, the Lord wanted me to learn a crucial lesson.
I picked up my phone and sent a text to one of the retreat leaders. “Jerry, I’ve been blindsided.” Ten minutes later, I was sitting in his office. As I explained to him what had just unfolded, he stopped me and said, “Mark, you’ve fallen into a fear of the devil.” I was surprised at first to hear him say this. I mean, for years I have rebuked this mortal enemy. As a father and head of my home, I have taken authority over evil spirits when attacking my family. I’ve literally seen my children rolling on the floor with stomach pain in the middle of the night to then being completely fine two minutes later after a blessing with Holy Water and a few prayers rebuking the enemy.
But here I was… yes, actually shaken and afraid. We prayed together, and I repented of this fear. To be clear, the (fallen) angels are more powerful than us humans — on our own. But…
You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
My peace began to return, but not completely. Something still wasn’t right. I was about to leave when Jerry said to me: “Do you have a cross?” Yes, I said, pointing to the one around my neck. “You must wear this at all times,” he said. “The Cross must always go before you and behind you.” When he said that, something in my soul sparked. I knew Jesus was speaking to me…
When I left his office, I clutched my cross. Now, I have to say something rather sad. That beautiful Catholic retreat center we were in, like so many others, has become host to many New Age seminars and practices like Reiki, etc. As I walked down the hall toward my room, I held my cross in front of me. And as I did I saw, like shadows, evil spirits begin to line the hallway. As I passed them, they bowed before the cross around my neck. I was speechless.
When I returned to my room, my soul was on fire. I did something that I would never normally do, nor do I recommend that anyone do it. But a holy anger rose up in me. I grabbed the crucifix hanging on the wall and went over to the window. Words rose up in me that I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted, as I felt the power of the Holy Spirit welling up. I held up the Cross and said: “Satan, in the name of Jesus, I command you to come to this window and bow before this Cross.” I repeated it… and I “saw” him quickly come and bow at the corner outside my window. This time, he was much smaller. Then I said, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord! I command you to confess that He is Lord!” And I heard in my heart him say, “He is Lord” — almost pathetically. And with that, I rebuked him and he fled.
I sat down and every trace of fear had utterly disappeared. I then sensed the Lord wanting to speak — as He has a thousand times in this ministry. So I picked up my pen, and this is what flowed into my heart: “Satan must kneel before My Cross because what he thought was victory became his defeat. He must always kneel before My Cross because it is the instrument of My Power and the symbol of My love — and Love never fails. I AM LOVE, and therefore, the Cross symbolizes the love of the Holy Trinity that has gone out into the world to gather the lost lambs of Israel.”
for I swing you as a scythe to gather
but Light upon a people in darkness.
— two beams of wood —
and thus, nailed the condemnation of all upon this Tree.
the Tree of Life, the Source of Life.
and thus became the most fruitful tree of all.
and every spiritual blessing.
with the Blood of the Lamb.
upon your splinters lay the Son of Man,
the brother of all, the God of creation.
which is the key that unlocks all chains, that snaps their links,
For them, the Cross is their condemnation; it is their sentence;
it is their mirror in which they see
the perfect reflection of their rebellion.
for with it, I ransomed the souls of My brethren,
But what will they be like, these servants, these slaves, these children of Mary? …They will have the two-edged sword of the word of God in their mouths and the blood-stained standard of the Cross on their shoulders. They will carry the crucifix in their right hand and the rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart. —St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, n. 56,59
having forgiven us all our transgressions;
obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims,
which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst,
nailing it to the cross;
despoiling the principalities and the powers,
he made a public spectacle of them,
leading them away in triumph by it.
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|↑1||cf. John 8:44|
|↑2||During the time of my retreat, my dad said that a large wolf strolled across the front yard where he lives. Two days later it came again. In his words, “Very unusual to see a wolf.” This doesn’t surprise me as part of the retreat is bringing healing to our “family tree”.|
|↑3||Actually, when Jesus said this, I thought this might be a heresy or coming from my own head. So I looked it up in the Catechism, and sure enough, Jesus did empty the bowels of Hell of all the righteous when He descended to the dead after His death: see CCC, 633|
|↑4||cf. Phil 4:7|
|↑5||“They will look upon him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:37)|