Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Part 1: How to Survive Spiritual Attacks by the Devil Relatively Unscathed

Part 1: How to Survive Spiritual Attacks by the Devil Relatively Unscathed
Part 2: The Sword That Pierces My Soul Too
Part 3: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi

Call them spiritual dry spells, fervently plead before the Blessed Sacrament or sing along to R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," but either way, I am a true believer that the world is a battlefield for souls, and the Devil is no passive player.

I'm currently in a funk. I am sure it started when I stopped attending daily Mass a while back. My work schedule makes it challenging to attend most morning times, except the extra early ones. I almost went to 7 a.m. Mass yesterday. I was unnaturally awake by 6:30 a.m.; then sloth overtook me and I rolled back into my pillow. I love you Jesus; sorry for sleeping.

The act of being spiritually attacked by the devil is subtle. You hardly notice it at first. For me, I start to forget reading my morning and evening prayers. Then I never seem to have the time to meditate upon the daily Scripture readings. I make excuses; I justify my oh-so-important busyness. The Devil's beloved vice, pride, was seeping into my thoughts and actions.

When I get into this desert, I talk to everyone, from the cleaning lady to my parents, more than God. It's like I'm in a foreign country, and I am asking for directions to the closest water fountain to everyone except the tour guide. When I do pray, they are short and sporadic, like throwing a baseball back and forth in the backyard. It's nice practice, but isn't serious. I struggle to center myself and concentrate. The whole day will fly by before I realize I haven't read Scripture; but now it is nighttime and I am barely away. I fling myself into bed and pray as I fall asleep, simultaneously running a to-do list of things I still have to do.

As if anything is more important than my God.

C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, an epistolary correspondence from Screwtape, the uncle and elder devil, to Wormtail, his nephew and a younger devil. At the beginning of the book, Screwtape is berating his nephew Wormtail because his "patient" has become a Christian. Still, Screwtape has hope that the man can still be turned. He gives suggestions of how to distract the man, whether it be from concentrating at church or when "The Enemy" is working nearby, and the importance of twisting reason. "Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from Church," says Screwtape.

The line that always gives me chills comes soon after that. Screwtape writes, "Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords."

The Great Wave by Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai

Spiritual dryness is frustrating because, oftentimes, I don't want to pray.

Sure, there are days I don't want to do a lot of things. I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to go to work. I don't want to go for a run. I don't want to write or read or be a productive member of society. But I usually do the above activities anyways. When I am feeling spiritually dry and I don't want to pray, I also begin to repel prayer, like a windshield wiper to rain.

This past weekend, for example, I got a round robin e-mail, and one of the girls suggested we pray for Blah Blah Blah. Since I was behind on my e-mails, I read a couple e-mails in a string: first enthusiastically agreeing to pray, and then people began sharing prayers. I immediately balked, and complained to B. that I was feeling "prayer pressure" (a variation of "peer pressure," perhaps?).

What exactly is prayer pressure, he asked.

Such a basic, logical question. My grumblings did not qualify as an equally good answer. At another point, he asked me if I was still going to daily Mass. I admitted I wasn't. The puzzle pieces began to fall into place. I guiltily wondered if I should put aside my editing and go read my Magnificat. God, so merciful, pulled me back during Saturday evening Mass.

The first reading, from 1 Kings 19, told of Elijah. God said to him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;/ the LORD will be passing by.” Then there was wind, an earthquake and a fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. "After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound./ When he heard this,/ Elijah hid his face in his cloak/ and went and stood at the entrance of the cave."

The Pslams' responsorial: "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation."

The second reading was from Romans 9: "my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness/ that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart." B. was not pressuring me. The round robin e-mails were not pressuring me. My negligence was my own unraveling. I stood at the entrance of eternity and was hiding my face. I was feeling detachment, but not truly seeking to engage my heart.

At the proclamation of The Gospel, from Matthew 14, came the crescendo, and then God's kindly whisper:

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins - William Blake
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the Ten Virgins: five of whom wise and five were foolish, and brought no extra oil for their lamps. The Bridegroom was late and they all fell asleep. When he approached, the wise ones trimmed their lamps and were prepared and the foolish ones left to buy more oil and were subsequently locked out of the wedding feast.

When they knocked on the door, they shouted, "Lord, Lord, open the door for us!"

To which he replied, "Amen, I say to you, I do not know you."

"Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13).

More chills.

Since I was a sophomore in college, after the semester I really had the fire of the Holy Spirit infused into my heart, I began being routinely spiritually attacked. It was always in small ways; a bad day, a bad witness, a discouragement. It was my roommate who introduced me to the very idea that the Devil found me worthy to attack. You see, I was waking up, and the Devil was not pleased. He had being holding me in a haze since I was 13 years old.

I was very spiritual as a child, enjoying frequent prayer and conversation with God, reading about the saints and learning about my Catholic faith. At the age of 13, I was on vacation with my cousins and I saw a man jump off a balcony and smash into the ground below. A month later, the attacks on the World Trade Centers in NYC happened and I watched in horror as people jumped out of buildings to their death. I got flashbacks. I excused myself to the bathroom and sobbed. From hence, I was confused. Nothing seemed stable any more.

This was published yesterday in the Mirror, from the London Riots. Please pray!
In high school, I always wanted more from my Catholicism. I wanted meaning and to have a noble purpose. After watching The Mission, I decided to become a missionary. I wanted to understand and be supported in my faith. I found my community of all-girls to be supportive, subjective, petty and ambitious. I entered college determined to prepare myself for a practical career in journalism.

I could not have imagined the impact my roommate, my academic adviser and his family, my department head and his family, and the dozens of friends I made on both sides of the Christendom stream would have had on my life, my mind and my writing ambitions. An openness to express my faith, the earnest pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty, and a widening of my mind and love for the Lord manifested in me as it did in my smallish college community. I was healing, and flourishing, despite some of the more painful times.

The summer before my senior year of college, I was fresh back from my TWT internship in Washington, D.C. My best friend Julia was visiting and, before she left, we went to Mass together at St. Gertrude's with my two little siblings. On the way home, we were driving along and the brakes snapped in the car I was driving. There was a red light, I was pushing my foot against the brake, and the car was not slowing down. I was panicking, and I was praying.

As a moment of clarity, I swerved, and only hit the corner right bumper of the car in the front of me. I was driving the family Excursion, I should add-- if I hadn't swerved, I would have plowed into her and given her car and her neck a lot more damage. Nonetheless, the woman got out in the middle of the intersection and started screaming obscenities at me.

Like I did it on purpose, I thought.

We pulled over (the car was barely behaving!) and called the police. The woman was in hysterics: it was a new car. It's my fault, I said; my brakes weren't braking and, besides, the damage isn't bad.

She shot me a dirty look. AND, she announced, she has not been feeling well these past few days and this was just too much. It literally was; while the police officer was there, the lady vomited once and, as she was walking back to her car, fainted. I ran and was able to catch her before she hit the ground.

The damage to her car aside, I more fully saw purpose in our meeting that day: I could have saved her life. I could have saved the life of my best friend and two younger siblings by not being on a more steeper hill, as we would have encountered before arriving back home. I had no control over that man's death seven years before (Biblical number, eh? Just realized that.) but now, I felt saved. I felt sanctified in all the emotional and spiritual pain I had been feeling over the years, and never knowing why. I felt prepared to do God's will. From that day on, I feel as though God had given me another chance at life.

Our life is our choices: even when bad things happen, we choose how to respond. There is purpose in everything.

There is even purpose in dry spells; in famine, the fruit tastes better. One appreciates the water. Another reason spiritual dryness is hard on me is that I know better. I know I need to be on my guard. I know I'm susceptible to temptation to skip prayer or daily Mass or have a lazy moment of self instead of ordering my mind upwards, where my patience exists, and my kindness.

I am less apt to be harsh, and more able to love fully, as Christ intends all of us to do, when I pray and offer my burdens up. His suffering redeemed pain; he knows the crosses I carry, and helps lighten my load. The sacramental life encompasses every facet, and it is the purpose of our lives that Christ is known, and it is through Christ that our lives are given meaning.

look at those waves by Vincent van Gogh!
The best part is knowing having the Holy Spirit's fire is possible; my heart will be kindled again. God and I will return to our everyday conversations; the initial bashfulness of returning will pass. He will smile at me and hug me. I will barely contain my smile and words as I rejoice in God my savior. As St. Thomas More said, one does not get to Heaven on a feather bed. Especially as Catholics, we should aspire every day to be a saint. This is not easy, but it is achievable; in this same vein, salvation is not promised, but it is possible. I relish in such a hope and desire.

For the next two weeks (at least), I am going to pray "An Act of Spiritual Communion" every day. I hope, in Christ, through this prayer meditation, that I will once again banish the Devil from my elbow, where he lurks and brings forth my worries and fears, trying to hold me captive under their weight. But the real Enemy forgets that I am under His mercy, and it is in God I trust:

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

How does spiritual dryness affect you? How do you combat it? Will you join me in praying "An Act of Spiritual Communion" these next two weeks? Will you pray for me so that I too, as Pope Benedict XVI prayed at his inaugural Mass, "do not flee from the wolves"? Please feel free to leave your own intentions in the combox or my e-mail. Heaven knows there is never a lack of things to pray for!

My God! How great is our Lord, that all can work within his greater plan, and that we may glorify him through sun and storm. This is the first of three posts this week on spiritual dryness. Please stay tuned.

Blessings on your Tuesday, folks!


  1. I struggle with this too, Julie. The Devil is alive and kicking in 2011.

  2. The same thing happens to me and I went so far as to mention it during Confession one time. The padre helped me put everything into perspective. Now that I have experienced this type of warfare, I know that evil is real and this makes it even easier for me to adhere to what is good and avoid what is bad.

    When this happens to me, I silently cry out "Christ save me, I perish!" or I pray the Saint Michael prayer...or I simply just pray. Regardless of how tough it may be, you're fine. God's got your back. You're only being bothered because you're escaping the devil's clutches and he doesn't want to see another one go. Hang in there!

    Feel free to email me about this. I would be more than happy to help a fellow athleta Christi.

  3. This was such a great and encouraging post, and very relevant to me right now. Thanks. :)

  4. Thanks for this good post. Though I know everyone struggles with this, it's good to hear every now and then that I'm not alone and that it is normal.
    When I feel "far" from the Father, it always seems to help to pray the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I love how you can make this short sentence slip into your day. It gives me peace and brings me closer to God again.
    If you wouldn't mind, I would love for you to pray for my sister who lives in Liverpool. The riots are coming closer to her home (just a few streets away now) and though she's fairly calm about it, I'm not.

  5. Thanks for this post, Julie! It's terrifying to me to think how often young children who deeply love the Lord get so ferociously attacked--I know it happened to me, and many of my friends. I'm so grateful to God that when times have seen darkest, he's pulled me out through church, the word, community--and, yes, prayer. :)

  6. This is so beyond wonderful. Prayer has really been my go-to when I'm feeling far away from God. It's crazy to think that just a few years before I wouldn't have even thought of praying every night or before meals. I'm so glad that I'm not alone when I struggle. There are others who are struggling as well. I am looking forward to the next part of this.
    And you truly have a writing gift. I always look forward to reading your posts and I'm never disappointed :)