Since the beginning, man has suffered the devil’s attacks. Filled with envy at man’s harmonious relationship with his Creator, the devil immediately tried to lead Adam and Eve into sin.
The first temptation was only the beginning. Satan’s hatred for mankind continues unchanged. The devil continues to attack human beings in order to lead us out of light into darkness.
The devil’s first attack – Temptation
Human beings are created for freedom, because it is freedom that allows us to love. Satan’s most potent attack is temptation. He understands that the misuse of our freedom separates us from God.
Temptation is Satan’s most common attack, one that everyone experiences. Temptation always leads us towards actions that are contrary to the moral law.
The moral law has both a negative and a positive form. The negative form is the “shalt not’s”. No idolatry, murder, adultery, lust. The positive law is the “shall’s.” Feed the hungry. Keep the Sabbath. Clothe the naked.
All sin is either choosing to do something that we shouldn’t, or choosing not to do something that we should.
And it doesn’t matter if we don’t act on temptations. It is enough for us to savor a temptation in the privacy in our own minds and hearts.
The devil’s second attack – Oppression
If the devil can’t excite you with sin, he will try to oppress you. Think of an enemy army laying siege to a city. This type of attack often affects our emotional life.
For instance, if you are trying to do some good thing, you might become overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness. Or something that used to give you great joy might become terribly difficult and bitter.
This kind of devil’s attacks can be terribly severe. In my work of raising money to feed the hungry, I have faced days when I could barely come into work. Not for any externally visible reason. I’m good at my job and quite successful. The devil just attempted to crush me with feelings of hopelessness and despair that came literally out of nowhere.
The third attack – Obsession
When the third of the devil’s attacks comes against you, you’ll know it. Something unusual and out of the ordinary will begin to absorb your attention. You’ll find yourself obsessing over things that didn’t bother you at all.
Spiritual writers describe a form of obsession known as “scrupulosity”. This is a spiritual attack where you become obsessed with your sins and your sinfulness. Thoughts of your past sins fill your mind, and you can never get past feelings of guilt and shame. This is combined with a crippling horror that you might commit new sins. Scrupulosity is an obsession that makes it difficult for you to remember God’s love and mercy.
I personally experienced a terrible obsession before Pope Francis was elected. I couldn’t get past the idea that I was going to be elected pope. It’s laughable. Completely absurd. But the thoughts just wouldn’t go away. They announcement that the pope had been elected delighted me. The obsession finally stopped.
The fourth attack – Possession
The final attack is by far the most rare. Possession means that the soul has been infested by demons to the extent that they are able to take control of the body. The mind loses its freedom and plunges into darkness.
Demons fueled my nervous breakdown and insanity. My ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy completely disintegrated. I did things that I couldn’t imagine doing.
Most exorcists rarely encounter a person who is truly possessed. They require special attention and might take years of exorcisms to recover.
People who are possessed might speak in languages they don’t know, levitate above the ground, or speak with demonic voices. These extraordinary signs are rare, and are not the normal way that the devil attacks people.
Fight the devil’s attacks
Know how your enemy attacks. You probably face temptation every day. If you’re struggling to do the good you desire, oppression might be the problem. Obsession might be robbing you of peace and rest. And possession, rare as it is, could be a factor if you’ve experiencing truly bizarre phenomena.
If you don’t know that you’re under attack, you won’t be able to fight back. In future posts, I’ll talk more about what to do when that happens.
For more in depth information on exorcism, check out “An Exorcist Tells His Story” by Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the deceased exorcist of Rome.