Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
For many years, pious platitudes didn’t stand a chance around me. I reduced them to wishful thinking or sentimentality. Whenever anyone spoke of spiritual warfare and attacks of the enemy, I smiled condescendingly, closed my eyes, and rolled them.
Now I speak that language freely. When everything fell apart, when everything I did to try to right wrongs only made them worse, I wondered: Do my reductionistic explanations for evil add up?
After I tossed my failed cleverness to the wind, Ignatius of Loyola ministered to me.
In his Spiritual Exercises, he taught about discerning the evil from the good. He depicted the inner enemy as a clever coward who discourages the life of love. The enemy wears down our spirits with indirect questions, half-truths, and misplaced responsibility. Upon finding us too tired and confused to resist, the inner enemy attacks straightaway.
Ignatius helped me recognize and name the enemy, invoke Christ’s name, then tell the enemy to leave me alone. The coward flees when called out. So I tried it, and to my skepticism’s shock, it worked. The enemy returns sooner or later, but prayer keeps me ready to respond again.
The enemy has a simple objective:
Confound God by discouraging us from accepting God’s love and following our calling. Common methods include
- bolstering the inner critic to keep us feeling unworthy,
- puffing up pride to promote forgetfulness of the need for God,
- building a consumer mentality about God to turn us to other sources if we don’t get what we want when we want it.
The cases seem compelling. Yet, when I see that they serve no purpose other than to distract me from God’s love, I know from whom they come. Now I know the name and how to respond.
Henri Nouwen believed that facing the enemy in this way not only keeps you safe but gives you fresh direction:
As you see more clearly that your vocation is to be a witness to God’s love… the attacks of the enemy will increase. You will hear voices saying, “You are worthless, you have nothing to offer, you are unattractive, undesirable, unlovable”… Do not be afraid. Keep deepening your conviction that God’s love for you is enough…
The love of Jesus will give you an ever-clearer vision of your call as well as of the many attempts to pull you away from that call. The more you are called to speak for God’s love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. Only when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant. The enemy is there, waiting to destroy you, but you can face the enemy without fear when you believe that you are held safe in the love of Jesus.
Ignatius Dreams: A Young Man Learns Discernment and Teaches the World
To Love the Enemies Without, Love the Enemy Within
Henri Nouwen: Witness to Heaven on Earth
 Daniel Fleming, SJ, Draw Me Into Your Friendship: The Spiritual Exercises, A Literal Translation & a Contemporary Reading. (St. Louis, Missouri: The Institute of Jesuit Resources, 1996), pp. 246-267.
 Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. (New York: Image, 1996), 93-94.