It is only a rough and ready guide, but you can generally tell what kind of Catholic someone is by their attitude to the Devil. Those who downplay his existence – see Fr Lucie-Smith’s recent blog on the Superior of the Jesuits – are one kind; those who take him seriously are another. These musings are prompted by my reading a book entitled Fearless: a Catholic Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare by Sonja Corbitt.
Corbitt is absolutely clear that the Devil is real and our deadly enemy and that there is always a spiritual component to our battles with psychological, societal or physical issues. As she also points out, Satan “tempts us to sin in ways that degrade the body as much as possible, especially sexual sin since it perverts the flesh’s miraculous life-giving intention.”
Wanting to explore further some of the points she makes in her book, I ask the author how she would explain a quotation early on in her book by the late saintly American Jesuit, Fr John Hardon, who described the Devil as “not one person [but] an organised battalion of malice.” She tells me that Hardon was “emphasising that our battle is not simply with Satan, the leader of all fallen angels, but with “principalities and powers”. So we must approach the spiritual life with a strategy against sin or we fall to the superior organisation and effort of the hierarchy of demons, who follow their leader in seeking the ruin and final destruction of souls.”
How do we discern between demonic activity and our own personal sins for which we are responsible? Corbitt explains that the discernment between “what the Church calls “extraordinary demonic activity” and “ordinary demonic activity” falls under the authority of the Church.” She adds that in her own life, “I have found the Scriptures to be incisive in pointing out what is personal sin in my own life.”
In her book, Corbitt quotes St John Paul II who said that “spiritual combat” needs to be taught again. What did he mean? She tells me that the phrase simply means “the systematic eradication of the sin in my life that holds me hostage and prevents the abundant life Jesus came to give me: self-medicating habits, toxic relationships etc.” She reminds me that “a serious approach to holiness is a sweaty endeavour that requires our very last breath. It is such a narrow road that many are too lazy or presumptuous to pursue it, believing that God is so merciful he will overlook our sins at the end. But God is not mocked; we reap exactly what we sow.”
I note that Corbett makes several personal allusions in her book to her problematic relationship to her father who had a personality disorder. How was she affected by this? She tells me that it “prevented me from seeing God properly and influenced all my relationships”, adding that “our wounds become a veil through which we cannot see ourselves or God clearly, so we act out of our pain in sinful, destructive ways. But Jesus said that if we remain in the truth of the Scriptures he will set us free.”
Finally, I note that Corbitt was a Baptist before her conversion. What led her into the Church? She responds that her “issues with authority, stemming from my father wound, led me right into the Church, as I discovered by reading Martin Luther’s writings that he also had a father wound that caused him to rebel against the Church in exactly the same ways I had rebelled.”