“At this, Jesus said to him, ‘Get away, Satan!'” (Matthew 4:10)
The Gospels make it very clear that, despite what the present world thinks, evil is personified in Satan. Evil is not simply the absence of good or some vague ‘force’ that exists. Christ is very clear at many points in the Gospels that Satan is real; He is equally clear at those times when He expels demons, and these are contrasted against the occasions on which He heals the sick. The Church, too, is just as clear in her belief in the existence of Satan and this is the constant tradition of the Church throughout the centuries, even now.
Most of us are unlikely ever to come into direct contact with the Tempter in an extraordinary way; but all of us will experience his ordinary action, which is through temptation. Even the greatest Saints were subject to this – the exception being the Blessed Virgin, who by virtue of Her Immaculate Conception shared no common ground whatsoever with the Devil; She was touched neither by Original Sin nor by actual sin. Some Saints did have direct experience of the extraordinary actions of the Demon – Saint Pio being an example of this; at times, he was attacked by the Demon, who at other times appeared to him as his superior in the monastery.
Saint Faustina also had a similar experience. On one occasion, the Devil appeared to her under the guise of the Lord, commanding her to burn the Diary she was recording – and she did so. Telling her Confessor about this, he commanded her under religious obedience to write the entire Diary again, which she duly did. And it is for this reason that the Diary is not written in proper chronological order – she was writing about the present at the same time as she was re-writing entires detailing past experiences. Faustina later noted – “I fight a continuous battle with the enemy of my soul” (Diary, para.1287).
For most of us, the Devil will try two main forms of attack – to prevent us from doing good, or to discourage us when we are heading in the right direction.
Discouragement is a subtle and very powerful form of attack – “what’s the point? I might as well not bother”. He will also try to postpone any good we might do, telling us we have all the time in the world. In reality, we have no idea how much time we have, so there may be no tomorrow. Doing some good is often due to inspiration from the Holy Spirit – and a particular grace is often give both in and for a particular moment; if we lose the moment, we risk losing the grace.
To prevent us from doing good, the Tempter will use whatever strategy he knows is likely to work best on a particular person – whether that be through vanity, pride, sloth, anger or some other weakness. After an argument, for example, we might intend to apologise and to make amends; the Devil will appeal to our pride in order to prevent us from doing so – “Why should I be the one to apologise!”.
Powerful though the Demon may be – and exceptionally intelligent, befitting the Angel he once was – he is limited in what he can achieve, and much depends on our self will. Temptation is only successful if we succumb to it. To prevent this, we need a solid spiritual life and much prayer, and we need the grace of God above all else, without which we can do nothing. Thankfully, the Lord is very generous with His graces and He always hears our prayers. We also benefit very greatly from the intercession of the Mother of God and the Saints in Heaven, whose help we should always call upon, particularly in moments of temptation or discouragement.
At times, even the strongest of us fall in one way or another; in such moments, we should remain joyful, renew our good intentions and begin again, making good use of the Sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of Confession and the reception of Holy Communion.
No sin is beyond the mercy of God, no sinner so far gone that he cannot return to the Lord. Saint John Paul reminded us that “we are an Easter people” – in other words, our Faith is built on hope. Even when all seems lost, that is precisely when the grace of God will shine most brightly. The Resurrection always follows Good Friday.