I grew up believing, as the Church taught, that the devil is real. Then somewhere in the 1960’s I began to hear of some theologians who taught that the devil is not real. They described him as a symbol or personification of evil, like the “Big Bad Wolf” in the Little Red Riding Hood story. This made sense to me, and I begin to think of the devil as an imagined leftover from my early education in the faith.
Then I visited two young Catholic evangelists who worked with street kids in New York City. Lyn looked at me and said, “Believe me Satan is real. We see him every day working in these neighborhoods. Satanism is a naked reality in an inner city culture that is stripped of suburban sophistication.” At that moment I knew without a doubt that what I was taught at an early age was absolutely true. Lyn spoke from experience not from theory.
Today we listen to the Apostle Paul confirm what Lyn told me. As he concludes his letter to the Church at Ephesus he writes (Ephesians 6:10-20):
“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of the present darkness, with the evil spirits of the heavens.”
Paul writes these words from prison. He had experienced daily warfare with the “principalities and powers” that rule the present darkness. He tells us that the Devil is real and has subversive tactics. He tells us that there are evil spirits floating around trying to destroy the work of Jesus—including us!
Was Paul trying to scare his Christian brothers and sisters? No, rather he was trying to sober their minds and have them take precautions against the Enemy of Jesus. We all take precautions in life.
When we go out in the hot sun we put on sun screen, sunglasses, and maybe a broad-rim hat. When we take money out of the bank, we tuck it at the bottom of our purses or hide it somewhere in our cars. We are careful not to give out our social security numbers over the phone. And when we leave home we make sure the coffee is turned off and our doors are securely locked.
Do we use the same reasonable precautions to protect the life of Christ that was planted in our souls at baptism? Sure, our skin is important as is our money and our homes. But all of these will disappear someday. Our inner lives will live forever.
St. Paul revealed to us that there are sunglasses, sun screen, broad-rim hats, protective clothing, and even beach umbrellas in the spiritual world. He calls these the “armor of God.” They have the power to protect us from the damaging forces of Satan—they are the same “clothes” that Jesus wore. Upon rising each morning we put on our clothes for the day. Do we also spend a minute or two to consciously put on the “armor of God?” Are we allowing ourselves to walk out of the house spiritually “naked?” How foolish. We wouldn’t think of going out without our clothes would we?
Paul lists six specific pieces of protection that we need to wear every day. These are salvation, righteousness, faith, the Word of God, truth, and an eagerness to spread the gospel. They are divine power against the rulers of darkness, and they work!
Salvation reminds us that we depend on God and not ourselves. Righteousness means we let the Holy Spirit do its full work in us to make us like Jesus. Faith means we know that we are protected by the power of God. The Word of God is the daily food we need to sustain our spirits; we never skip our Bible reading. Truth is what God says, not what the world says. Eagerness is a reminder that each of us is an evangelist, and we try to carry Jesus to everyone we meet during the course of our day–the “best defense is a good offense.”
We do not hide out in fear, for we are protected as long as we put on God’s armor. On the other hand, we do not allow ourselves to grow careless under the pretext that the Devil, the powers and principalities, and evil spirits do not exist, much less have any interest in destroying the presence of Jesus in us.
“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war” (Ps 144:1).