The purpose of our life on earth is to know God, love God and serve God so that we can be happy with God forever in heaven. This many of us learned in our basic catechism years ago. Saint Ignatius in the consideration Principle and Foundation expresses the same concept in these words:  “Man is created to praise God, reverence God, serve God and by means of that save his soul.” (Spiritual Exercises # 23)

The spiritual writers warn us of the three major enemies on our road to salvation: the devil, the flesh and the world. In this article we would like to illustrate fifteen of the many tactics that the devil often will utilize so as to trick us, trap us, tackle us, and try to enslave us to sin. A keen knowledge of these astute and cunning tactics of the devil can be of enormous help in our struggle, with the super-abundant grace of Almighty God, to attain the eternal salvation of our immortal soul. May Our Lady intercede for us and help us in our battle against the ancient serpent.

1.    KRYPTONITE.   We all know the story of SUPERMAN.  He has superhuman strength, could fly, leap over huge buildings, and many other heroic feats. However, once he was exposed to the fictional element that we know and call KRYPTONITE he was as weak as any other human person.  Applied to your spiritual life, you should know you own KRYPTONITE.  The devil knows very well your weak point and weak points, but we are ignorant of them. In this state we are very weak and vulnerable. Achilles was strong with the exception of his heel. Samson had strength, somewhat like Superman but when his hair was shaved Samson was rendered weak and vulnerable and his eyes were gouged out.   This is the 14th Rule for discernment in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.   In a word, remember the maxim of the desert Fathers:  “Know thyself!” Know your weakness!

2.    LACK OF PRAYER AND STRONGER TEMPTATIONS.  Our spiritual life is a constant battle against the devil, the flesh and the world.  If we give up prayer it is almost certain that we will succumb to and fall into temptation. A very clear example is that of the Apostles in the Garden.  They fell asleep when they should have been watching and praying with the Lord for an hour. Consequently, they fell into temptation and abandoned the Lord. As Jesus prophesied, Peter denied Jesus three times. Remember the words of Jesus: “Watch and pray so that you be not put to the test; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

3.    STATE OF DESOLATION.  Another prime time that the devil will lift up his arms and launch his grenades is when the devil notices that we are in a state of desolation. What does this mean?  Clearly this!  When we feel sad, depressed, lonely, discouraged, life has no real meaning, and nobody really seems to love or care for us, in this state we must be very careful  because most assuredly temptations will come at us in one form or another.  In the state of desolation we should strive to pray more and even more fervently as we contemplate Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was experiencing a powerful desolation, but he prayed all the more fervently to the Heavenly Father.

4.    IMPURE THOUGHTS.   Impure thoughts at times will invade our mind.  This is to be expected while we live!  Solid spiritual theology and direction clearly points out to us that these thoughts are not sins.   On the contrary, every time that we manfully reject these indecent thoughts we grow in merit and in the opposite virtue which is that of purity. It is recounted that the great Saint Anthony of the desert had a temptation against purity that lasted a full year. He never gave in and finally Jesus appeared to him to comfort and congratulate him for having fought the good fight against this prolonged and powerful temptation. Sin is committed when we give consent in the will to the evil proposed by the devil.

5.    NEAR OCCASION OF SIN—PLAYING WITH FIRE.  All too often temptations come upon us because we put ourselves in the near occasion of sin.  We all know these sayings:  “He who plays with fire will get burnt.” And this one: “He who walks on thin ice will fall.” Finally, “he who walks in a slippery slope will slip and fall.”  One of the best examples is in the case of our first parent EVE. She was close to the tree and the forbidden fruit. There were most likely many trees with delicious fruit hanging from their branches. Why did she get close to the tree with the forbidden fruit? It was a near occasion of sin and she fell!  Keep away from near occasions of sin and harm’s way! Otherwise disaster will visit you!

6.    LAZINESS—NOTHING TO DO!   Another spiritual maxim for you:  “Idleness is the workshop of the devil.” The great saint and educator, Saint John Bosco, experienced a mortal fear for his young boys during the vacation months. The reason?  They were sent home and away from the Oratory and had all of the free time in the world.  The devil takes quick advantage of this.  A saint once said:  “When we are working diligently still a devil might be there to tempt us. However, when we have nothing to do an army of devils descend on us!”   We should always be engaged in wholesome activities, be they physical, intellectual or spiritual so as not to open up the door to the enemy, the devil!

7.    T.V. AND ELECTRONIC WORLD.  Even though objectively the electronic media—t.v., radio, movies, and the internet are neutral, still it must be admitted that it is very easy for us to visit dangerous and morally damaging areas—especially in the realm of pornography.  Another tactic and maneuver of the devil is not only to get us to fall into sin, but to enslave us to sin. We call this an addiction.  Addiction to the crude reality of pornography is indeed one of the chief tools the devil uses to tempt, to seduce, to captivate, to enslave, and to form a deeply entrenched addiction. Some studies have pointed out that addiction to pornography can be more powerfully addictive than addiction to cocaine and other drugs!

8.    PAST HURTS—OBSESSIONS!  It is not uncommon that the devil can fish into our past and bring images into our mind in the present. This is especially the case with respect to past wounds. I think all of us have experienced this case where, out of the blue or out of nowhere, a past hurt in which possibly a family member who hurt us even years ago surfaces in our mind. There that painful image is present causing us pain, anguish and definitely taking away our peace of mind, heart and soul. This thought can be transformed into a fixed idea; it simply will not leave us. This could be termed a diabolical obsession—a fixed idea that will not leave us in peace! The remedy to this interior struggle with the enemy is to go to one’s confessor or to one’s spiritual director and to reveal this to him.  Usually after divulging this the temptation and the obsession crumbles, dissipates and evaporates like smoke. The devil can easily turn mole hills into huge mountains. Transparency and openness to one’s spiritual director is essential!

9.    PAST ROMANCES.   Parallel to the past hurts that can easily surface and rankle the soul is the play of the devil on our emotions and feelings, especially related to past emotional, affective, and romantic ties. How often is the case of a married man or woman that out of the blue a thought surfaces in the mind of a past boyfriend/girlfriend and how good it use to be with that person. Frequently these past romantic images will surface when one’s present marital status is shaky or even on the rocks. The devil can compare your “X” lover with your present spouse. The devil will point out all of the negative qualities of your present spouse; then he will accentuate and glorify in graphic detail all of the excellent qualities of your past boy-friend/girl-friend.  In other words, the devil is inciting adultery of the mind and feelings and emotions. One thing is certain; the devil never goes in vacation. He works 25 hours a day, eight days a week, and 366 days a year.  As vigilant soldiers we should always be in the guard for the attack of our enemies—the evil spirits.

10. POSTPONE/ PROCRASTINATE—“THE DEVIL OF TOMORROW”.   Another major tactic of the devil is to convince us that we have a long life and that we can put off important decisions and actions until tomorrow. Often this is the case with respect to our prayer life. The devil can convince us to get up late so as to avoid praying early in the morning. Or simply the devil can convince not to do our prayers for the day, convincing us that we need a rest and will pray much better tomorrow! If there is one thing that the devil is, it is that of being CRAFTY!!!

11. DISCOURAGEMENT.  Saint Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church, states that after sin the worst thing that can befall us is that of giving in to discouragement, losing hope and wanting to give up the daily battle.  Like Judas, after a fall the devil will try to convince us that we are a loser, a basket-case, that we will never be able to overcome this failure! The good spirit teaches us that after a fall we should get up, like the Prodigal Son and return to the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father.

12. THE DEVIL OF COMPARISONS.  Another tactic of the devil is to move us to compare ourselves to others. The devil will often work in this way to point out the talents, qualities and good aspects of a friend or family member; then the devil will highlight the fact that he/she is much better than you. This results in sadness and bitterness of soul. Spiritual writers agree on the fact that comparisons are odious and to be avoided like the plague. Do not focus on others but focus on the talents and gifts that God has given you— this is the best remedy!

13. DISTRACTIONS IN PRAYER.  If the devil cannot convince you to give up prayer, then he will do all in his power to destroy your prayer. If he cannot destroy it, then he will try to diminish its efficacy by assaulting you with a huge variety of temptations.  The following are some examples of distractions that might visit you in your Holy Hour: food, work activities, impure thoughts, a past hurt or even that you are wasting your time at prayer and your time could be used much more profitably by working—like in the case of Martha!

14. WEARINESS, FATIGUE, AND SICKNESS.  We should never forget that when we are in a weak state that the devil will sometimes exert double force. That is to say that when we are physically exhausted or run-down, mentally drained, emotionally frazzled, or simply physically sick, the devil is aware of this and may even attack us more forcefully. In other words our spiritual life is a constant combat. We are in war-zone until we die!

15. TEMPTATIONS AGAINST JESUS AND MARY. The devil is so astute that He can sometimes even tempt us against God Himself. Due to an untimely death the devil can tempt those who are weak in their faith to doubt God’s love and providence. The devil can even tempt us against the love and maternal presence of Mary in our lives. All too often the devil can launch this attack: “If you pray to Mary and love her then you will be diminishing the importance that Jesus merits from you in your spiritual life. Many saints have had these and similar temptations!

In conclusion, let us calmly and prayerfully read over these various ways that the devil is known to tempt us and be ready as soldiers of Christ to resist immediately and manfully the onslaught of the devil and have quick recourse to Jesus and Mary, being fully aware that God’s presence and grace is much more powerful than the assaults of the enemy.  Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.