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Help Me Understand Attacks of the Devil (Part I of II)

Help Me Understand Attacks of the Devil
Part I of II

Dear Father John,  I seem to be constantly tempted to, or away from, one thing or another.  I would like to arm myself as much as possible against this spiritual darkness.  Would you help me understand attacks of the devil?

SECULAR ATHEISTS CAN develop strong willpower and natural prudence,  and they can put them to work in the service of impressive and useful achievements. They can develop the natural virtues of responsibility and dependability through persevering effort. But when we aim at serving God’s kingdom instead of the kingdom of this world, an additional set of obstacles gets involved. The spiritual battle kicks in, a struggle, as St. Paul explains, that “is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Spiritual Struggle

Developing willpower always demands effort and sacrifice, but aligning our will with Christ’s and growing in Christian courage and perseverance—which always require obedience, not just sheer determination—will demand even more. Both our intellect and our will are wounded by original sin…and when we launch out on the path of healing and make loving obedience to God’s plan the desire of our hearts, our spiritual enemies become intensely interested in deterring us. St. John Paul II explained this is in his encyclical on the moral life:

PalazzoSchifanoiaSaloneDeiMesi04AprileFDelCossaToro03_2This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9), exchanging “the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25). Man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and skepticism (cf. John 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself.*

The Enemy’s First Strategy: Corrupt the Heart

Jesus had to fight this battle in his life, too. His nature wasn’t wounded by original sin or personal sins, but he had to do combat with our ancient enemy, the devil. And in that combat, he revealed the devil’s three basic strategies.

At the beginning of his public life, Jesus went into the desert wilderness for forty days for prayer and preparation. During that period, the Gospels explain, he was “tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:13). We are BarthelemyParrocelJesusAuDesertall familiar with the temptations that were used in this case (see Matthew 4). In these, the devil tried to divide Jesus’s heart, in order to remove or at least corrupt his core desire of loving and obeying his Father. The devil tried to replace it with a desire for pleasure and comfort when he tempted our Lord to turn stones into bread. When that didn’t work, the devil tried to replace it with a desire for earthly power and dominion, showing our Lord all the kingdoms of the world and promising to put them under his control for the simple price of worshipping the devil. That didn’t work either. And so the devil tempted Jesus to seek first popularity and adulation by performing a dramatic miracle of jumping off the top of the temple without being hurt. That temptation failed as well. The devil’s first strategy, to corrupt the heart, was laid bare.

* St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor,  paragraph 1.


Art: Detail of Palazzo Schifanoia, Salone dei messi, 04 aprile (f.del cossa) toro 03 2, Sailko, 30 September 2013 own work (photography), CC-SA;  Jésus au désert (Jesus in the desert), Barthélemy Parrocel (1595-1660), undated, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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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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  • Diana Marie Winkler

    Everyday we are faced with choices…..that of the world and that of the Lord. That is why it is so important to ground ourselves in the Word of God…everyday, even if it’s just little snippets here and there. The more we understand what the Lord offers, the more we get to understand the man, Jesus Christ, the more we are in tuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit the easier it will be when faced with the temptations. Soon, it will not be a question of deciding, it will be of knowing to “walk away.” I work at it daily knowing life is easier( not always trouble free) when walking with the Lord. Speak your concerns to the Lord. Let Him know you want His nourishment everyday, Let Him feed you. Eventually, the other “cravings” will not look so appetizing. God Bless.

  • Ellen Corsiglia

    Fr John, please advise me how to battle spiritual attacks. I have encountered an evil presence in the past, but lately it is more frequent. It is always in my bedroom at night while I’m asleep, I am awakened and am immediately aware of a dark presence in the room. Last night there was a shadowy figure next to the bed, and I felt it move quickly towards me and I heard a guttural groan. I spoke out loud the name of Jesus Christ and made the Sign of the Cross, and asked my Guardian Angel for protection. Are their particular night time prayers I should say. I had a nun as a spiritual director, I spoke to her about it and her reply was don’t put to much into the existence of the Devil. Which I disagree with, he and his demons are very real. Please help and pray for me.

    • MariaGo

      Hi! I am not Father John but I hope this helps. If you only encounter the evil spirit in you bedroom, I suggest having it blessed and exorcised by a priest. Although only an exorcist priest can do a formal exorcism, any priest can perform a simple exorcism.

      Fr Syquia, the Exorcist for the Archdiocese of Manila has suggested that those attacked in their dreams take eat a little exorcism salt before they sleep. It souls also be helpful to bless your self with holy water. You can also sprinkle the exorcism salt and holy water around your room. You could also but a St Benedict’s medal and curcifix, have them blessed according to St Benedict prayers. You can wear the medal and keep the crucifix in your bedroom.

      I hope these help! I will give you links if you need more info.

      St Benedict’s Medal

    • LizEst

      A few thoughts, Ellen:
      1. Read this post on demons and nightmares,and discussion comments,here:
      2. As well, it was announced today that we will be having a webinar on Spiritual Warfare and the Discernment of Spirits. It might be worth your while to attend. Here is the link:

    • marybernadette

      ‘Dear Ellen, I am wondering if you have been exposed to ‘the new-age with it’s occult practices.’ This could explain the ‘evil presence.’ Anyway, it may be that you may need ‘deliverance prayer’ as well as Liz and Maria’s suggestions.’

    • Michelle

      Holy water is very effective. Put some in spray bottle or sprinkle it over your bed at night. Also, I agree with Marybernadette. We don’t realize in our youth what dabbling in new age/occult like practices can do. Things like horoscopes, drug use, anger and lack of forgiveness can open doors to the enemy and his lies. I’m currently reading Unbound, by Neal Lozano. It’s about deliverance and gives a healthy perspective on the devil. Also, seek out a priest through your diocese who is learned in this area. Keep looking until you find one. Stay close to God and in the state of grace. Make a good confession and receive the sacraments frequently. Pray the Rosary or at the very least a good Hail Mary daily. Ask God to help you find any lack of forgiveness you may have hidden in your heart. I’ll pray for you.

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  • Gloria Lopez

    Division of the heart is explained better here. Thank you! God bless.

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