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Can evil spirits be good?

April 29, 2013 by  
Filed under Demonology, Fr. Bartunek

Dear Father John, since bad spirits are very manipulative by nature is it possible for bad spirits to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApresent themselves as good in certain circumstances in order to fulfill their plan and if so, what are some ways to distinguish that representation? 

Yes indeed, evil spirits are experts at deception. Our Lord, speaking of the devil, pointed this out: “When he [the devil] tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” And St. Paul states this explicitly: “And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The modus operandi of demons is deception and dissimulation. For this reason, exorcists are forbidden from engaging in conversation with devils – they may only ask questions necessary for the rite of exorcism itself.

Take the High Road

The best way to avoid being deceived by duplicitous tempters is to stay focused on the one who is the Truth and the Light: Jesus Christ. If we make the positive, proactive, loving cultivation of our friendship with Jesus into the great obsession of our lives, we will make it very hard for the devil to deceive us. This proactive approach to our spiritual journey is what Jesus was referring to when he exhorted us all to “But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).

Of course, “fixing our gaze on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1) involves using all the normal means for spiritual growth that we have at our disposal: daily prayer (vocal, mental, liturgical), frequent reception of Communion and confession, spiritual reading, self-denial and discipline, active love for our neighbor, fidelity to God’s will and the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, ongoing study of our faith, spiritual direction, etc… When we do these things, we are doing our part in the arena of spiritual warfare, and we become much less vulnerable to the deceits of the enemy. This is what St. Paul meant when he described “putting on the armor of God”:

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).

Know Your Enemy

Much has been written through the centuries about the deceitful tactics of the devil, and your continuing study of the spiritual life will certainly bring you into contact with a lot of this material. It may be worth mentioning here a few rules of thumb about the devil’s methodologies, without trying to be exhaustive.

If someone is already on a path of sin in their life, if they are moving away from God, the devil will in general try to keep that person comfortable and at ease. He will suggest thoughts of self-justification (“I’m not as bad as everyone else… I’m just doing what other people are doing… No one can really follow the Ten Commandments anyway… God is merciful and he won’t blame me for my sins…”). Notice how these kinds of thoughts aren’t really false, but they can blind someone from seeing the full truth about their actions; they can dull a person’s conscience.

If someone is on the path of Life, actively and intentionally pursuing greater intimacy with Christ, the devil will switch tactics. He will insinuate doubts, scruples, and contradictions that stir up turbulence in a soul, tiring the person out and impeding them from continuing forward: “God can’t really love me the way the Gospels say he does… My sins and failures are too much for God’s mercy… I just don’t know if I should pray the full Rosary every day or just one decade – I feel so guilty just praying one decade!…” The point of these smokescreens is to distract and tangle a person so that they lose their focus on God’s quiet voice in their heart.

The devil will also tend to tempt us in areas where we are weakest – either by temperament, by vice, or even by wounds that we received while growing up: all of these can make us vulnerable. This is why it’s so important to cultivate true and humble self-knowledge, and to ask for that grace.

Sneaking in the Back Door

If our spiritual enemies can’t convince us to commit evil actions, they will often try to convince us to over-commit ourselves in doing good. Stimulating our vanity or our unhealthy emotional patterns that make it hard for us to establish healthy boundaries, he will make it hard for us to say “no” when we ought to. This opens us up to wrongly continuing in destructive relationships, or simply exhausting ourselves doing too many things – good things, but more than what God actually is asking of us. These are common challenges for Christians who are well along on their spiritual journey. They need to be addressed in spiritual direction before they lead to burn-out, cynical frustration, or paralyzing discouragement.

In general, the inspirations of the Holy Spirit are sweet, insistent, and gentle. And when we follow them, they bring us interior joy and peace, even if they require self-sacrifice and uncomfortable generosity. In contrast, temptations from the evil spirit tend to be somewhat noisy and violent, passing, and strident, even when they seem to be drawing us to something that appears to be good in itself. And after we follow them, we end up feeling a certain emptiness and vague sense of dissatisfaction or courseness.

My favorite book illustrating the devil’s usual tactics is C.S. Lewis’s classic: The Screwtape Letters. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it! And if you like to listen to books, there is a wonderful dramatized recording of this one produced by Focus on the Family. Here’s a promo of it. And here is a link to the product.

Stay on the High Road

These are just a few rules of thumb. It is not always easy to apply them in real life situations. It takes knowledge, prudence, and experience. But they may give you something to think about. I would like to end where I started, though: the best defense is a good offense. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and you will surely keep the devil on his heels. As St. James puts it, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • LizEst

    Thank you for this excellent essay on the deceptions of the devil, Father John. It can’t be stressed enough that, on our own, we are not strong enough to combat evil. And, the best armor to put on? As the apostle says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14a). When we are clothed in Christ, we have robed ourselves with the very best.

    This article would be great to hand this out to folks who are having trouble in this area. Sometimes, one can talk on this subject forever and not make any headway. But, let someone read it for themselves and it gives them occasion to ponder and accept it.

    • Patricia Budd

      I am one of them that has got it. This post is getting printed out

  • Patricia Budd

    Thank you Father this one is getting printed out. I feel I am never doing enough for God. This post has helped me see and understand the devil’s tactics and I finally understand what has been going on in my soul and other souls. Even in sleep the devil tries his tricks. I will remember to always seek the kingdom of God to seek Christ. This post match today’s meditation I was reading from your book The better Part # 69 in which you write staying in step with the Magisterium is the only sure way to stay in tune with God (p.261) Thank you for both meditations.

  • Grtgrandpa-Tom

    Great article. The Screwtape Letters (by C.S. Lewis) is a great read on how the devil is cunning in his methods to steal souls (even from people in the pew at church). One of my favorite lines is where the Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew Wormwood: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turning, without milestones, without signposts.” C.S.Lewis has other classics for the Christian to read, including Mere Christianity, and The Great Divorce (a story about pergatory).
    The lure of sin never comes to us in a outwardly harmful manner, it comes under the viel of goodness, because human nature would reject a thing which appeared bad or harmful. It seems that the type of people a person surrounds him or her self with has a influence on one’s behavior. When a person says a person they know did this bad act or that bad thlng… ask: “What kind of people do you know?”
    1 John 4:1-3: “BELOVED, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. – Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: – And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of anti-christ, whereof ye have heard that is should come; and even now already is it in the world.”

  • Carlos

    This is a great post.. exactly what I needed to read. Deo gratias!

    • Bob

      My Thoughts exactly. It was very helpful Father. Thank You.

  • Brad

    May God bless you Father, and all readers here. Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ.

    I beg everyone to read the two volume memoirs of the
    exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, Fr. Amorth.

    But meantime:

    We sometimes hear that we must prudentially “test the
    spirits” according to 1 John 4 et al. etc. Perhaps. But there are several land mines lying in wait

    First, no man can go toe to toe with a fallen angel. No man can even tangentially interact with one
    and remain standing. We have been told
    that if we were to see the least of them we would unhesitatingly fall down and
    worship it as God Himself, so great is their grandeur even in their fallen
    state. In our vainglory and simple ignorance we think we are anything next to
    them and can jostle with them? That is why we never rebuke them; in prayer we
    address the Lord Himself , our Safety, our
    wonderful Shepherd, and ask Him to rebuke them cf. Jude 1:9. To do otherwise,
    certainly among the laity, is frankly protestant bravado. They lack ordained men and it shows here. What an abject poverty that is, Lord help us.

    Second, the litmus test usually recommended is to inquire of
    a spirit about the truth of the Incarnation having happened, and that Jesus is
    the Hypostatic Union. Demons can be in church at the time of the
    consecration and during Exposition. During
    our dear Lord’s public ministry the demons addressed Him proactively and
    approached Him pointedly. They are God’s
    creatures and, loathing Him, are still able to look upon His Body and enter His
    structures. A son who hates his father
    can do as much. They are able to admit
    to “the litmus test”. Exorcists know
    this but laity often do not.

    Third, I suspect 1 John 4 (etc.) refers to spirits that are
    in false teachers going about in the apostolic age, and all ages. The false teachers are either themselves
    oppressed, possessed, or just in foolish error or human malice with no “spirit”,
    i.e. preternatural demon, present. St. John could be talking as much about men
    as demons here. The millstone is for men
    as much as it is for demons, after all.

    Fourth, all angels, souls in heaven, and souls in purgatory lovingly
    conform to the Father’s will by definition.
    Thus, we can summon no good spirit or good human soul who has gone
    on. The Father habitually forbad us in
    the OT to communicate via any occult.
    The human mediums involved are not the object of the ban: the spirits
    being channeled are: we must not seek spirits because only evil ones will reply. How much more are we then forbidden to
    interact directly, without a medium, with a spirit? Again, any entity which *responds* to our
    call is not good because the Father has requested the good to never do so in
    this order. The visitations by angels
    and good souls do not happen because we have conjured them, but happen because
    God sends them.

    I now must say that to each point there are exceptions and
    extenuating circumstances, so many that as I write this now I almost want to scrap
    it, but I’ll just have to leave it at that.

    Ecce Crucem Domini!

    Fugite partes adversae!

    Vicit Leo de tribu Juda,

    Radix David! Alleluia!

  • “This quotation I remain with me from this splendid Post, Fr. John: “If we make the positive, proactive, loving cultivation of our friendship with Jesus into the great obsession of our lives, we will make it very hard for the devil to deceive us.”

    I must congratulate Brad’s response. This, Brad, is what the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy are treated to in our Divine Mercy Centre every 3rd Saturday of the month Prayer Day by the so-called Catholic Charismatics:

    “In our vainglory and simple ignorance we think we are anything next to
    them and can jostle with them? That is why we never rebuke them; in prayer we
    address the Lord Himself , our Safety, our
    wonderful Shepherd, and ask Him to rebuke them cf. Jude 1:9. To do otherwise,
    certainly among the laity, is frankly protestant bravado. They lack ordained men and it shows here. What an abject poverty that is, Lord help us.”

    I have been perturbed by what they do but since the previous Sister Administrator of the Centre believed in them, they have been allowed to carry on with their unfortunate ” so-called Healing Ministry”. The whole spectale turns so embarrassing when women begin immodestly falling down before their children. My belief has always been – and is still is – that exorcism is a Specialized Ministry in the Catholic Church performed by fully trained and ordained Priests, and the dignity of the patients must be respected. My humble misgivings about what goes on in our Centre has, up to now, been ignored. But by the Grace of God, we now have a new Administrator who will in due course attend to this issue.

    • Paternoster7

      Pax et bonum.
      There is so much misunderstanding about the Catholic Charismatic movement. Before I was baptized into the Holy Spirit in a Holy Roman Catholic Church by devout Roman Catholic priests who love the Magisterium I too looked down upon this form of worship as Protestant. It disturbed me greatly. Then I discovered that Pope John Paul the Great was Charismatic and approved of this form of worship. I witnessed conversions, healings and the manifestations of evil spirits put to flight at healing masses. I physically experienced the Holy Spirit at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass presided over by Fr. Sudac and I saw the
      physical healing of a crippled child at a Mass by Fr. Suarez. The evidence is incontrovertible. We are a people of the Pentecost! The Holy Spirit is alive and well and He is a gift to us. I realized that God is too big to be put in my box. He works outside of how I thought He should work. I have been so blessed to experience Him in the Holy Eucharist, in Perpetual Adoration, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which I assist at daily, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in praise and adoration. I implore you all to ask
      the Lord to open your eyes and hearts to this Charismatic gift. It is from the Lord. Read John 14:12. Deo Gratias!

      • Brad

        If I could attempt to reconcile what I think you are both expressing, I think Mary was just talking mostly about laity addressing demons directly as if the former were ordained and appointed exorcists. Regarding healing, there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit overflows through the lay faithful. May God bless you both.

        PS Pater, if I could just say, having reread your comment I suspect the reason you saw demons “put to flight” in the instance(s) you relate is because this occurred within the context of the Holy Mass and therefore Who was present upon the altar, not the fact that laity were simply assembled and praying. He revealed the demons and He dismissed them while the Holy Mass was occurring, praise God. I don’t know if had some laity assembled ad hoc in the church hall, say, the demons would have been revealed and then ejected.

  • Felix Edmund Kong

    thank you father!

  • susanna

    Whenever I see something grotesque on the news I clearly see the devil at work and it explains everything in my mind. I don’t think it’s talked about enough or even believed in by most! Thanks Father B.

  • melchizedekmail

    I’d like to add..
    The Lord teaches us to pray “Deliver us from the evil one”

    Maybe a reason for this is that the antics of the evil one are far more sophisticated than we can all imagine and far too exhaustive. I believe we must humble ourselves and know that the evil one is stronger than we imagine (and cleverer too) but take heart that “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world!”

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