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The Two Standards: Christ and Satan

Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

What will it be for you, for me, Christ and eternal heavenly glory or Satan and everlasting terror, horror and hellfire? When meditating it’s not hard to visualize whose side we choose to be on, but recognizing the deceits of the devil and having the courage to resist them is something else. He tells us to desire for worldly possessions, honor, pride, and finally, moral depravity. We must yearn and pray for the grace to respond to the holy desires coming from Christ. What will it be for me, for you?

Good evening, this is Fr. Hardon for our teleconference this evening. Suppose we start with a prayer.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Mary, Queen of angels, pray for us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our meditation for this evening is on the Two Standards: Christ and Satan. As you know, this meditation is at the beginning of the second week of the Spiritual Exercises. My plan is to cover this in three areas. First, to speak on the devil and the Divine Providence, then to expand specifically on the two standards, and finally, to say something on how we are to cope with the evil spirit in our lives. The devil is part of divine revelation. From the opening verses of Genesis, to the closing chapters of the Apocalypse, the Holy Spirit reveals the role of the evil spirit in the salvation history of the human race. Our purpose here will be to identify the most prominent lessons that we should learn from what the Scriptures teach us about the devil. Each is a short but important lesson on how the devil belongs, as for sure we know he belongs, to God’s mysterious, permissive providence.

The fall of our first parents:

Tempted by the devil to eat of the forbidden fruit, Eve in turn tempted Adam, who also disobeyed God. As a result the whole human family lost its supernatural life. It’s built-in control of our human desires and the precious gift of bodily immortality. That is why Christ speaks of the devil as the murderer from the beginning. Except for the devil there would be no human death on earth. What the devil did then, he continues doing now. He is allowed to disobey God, the devil’s purpose is to seduce us into sin, but always we distinguish between the malevolent intent of the evil spirit and the mysterious providential purpose of God. God’s purpose is that through being tempted by the devil we might grow in our love for and obedience to the Creator. Still in the Book of Genesis, after the devil had seduced Adam and Eve. God cursed the evil spirit and prophesied, “I will put enmity between you and the woman. Between your seed and her seed.” The woman is Mary. Her seed is Christ. Ever since Eden there has been a deadly conflict between the followers of Christ and the followers of Satan. Not to know this is not to understand the most fundamental warfare that’s been going on since the dawn of human history.

Then we turn to the New Testament, Christ our Lord began His public ministry by first fasting for forty days in the desert and then allowing Himself to be tempted by the evil spirit. How this needs to be underlined, part of the imitation of Christ is to expect, and I mean expect, to be tempted by the devil. Indeed the greater and firmer our desire for holiness, the stronger will be the efforts of the fallen angels to make us follow their example of refusing to serve God. The key of course, is to recognize the demons’ strategy, and courageously act against what they are urging us to do. We may take it for granted that we are being urged to self-indulgence, the key to Lucifer and the key to the demons’ temptations of us. The key is self, self-indulgence, self-assertion, self-will. The impulse leading to this self-will is from the minions of Lucifer, who became the devil precisely because he used his will. As the Church has solemnly defined, the devil became the devil because of his free will. Once the free will turns against God it becomes demonic.

Then Christ’s exorcisms: One the most remarkable features of the Gospels are the number of exorcisms performed by the Savior. The Fathers of the Church explained these exorcisms in telling us why. For the coming of Christ, the devils saw that their power over the world was being broken and they reacted in dramatic, shall I say, in demonic self-defense. In our day there is extraordinary attention given to the devil. He must be extraordinarily active. One reason, told me by my friend, the chief exorcist of Rome, is that people preoccupied with worldly pursuits are an easy prey to the prince of this world. Satanism is widespread, I never thought I’d have to say this, but say it I must, Satanism has penetrated the Catholic Church and even, may God have mercy on them, religious communities. We close part one of our meditation by reflecting on the contrast between the Church militant and what the early Fathers of the Church call the mystical body of Satan. There are two mystical bodies, one of Christ and one of Satan. The devil, the devil is highly organized and unless the followers of Christ are correspondingly, deeply motivated, strongly organized and zealous, profoundly, heroically zealous, they are no match for the followers of the evil spirit. Which leads us to part two of our meditation.

St. Ignatius calls this the Two Standards. Basic to a correct understanding of the spiritual life in every state of life is the fact that the following of Christ is a social venture. Let me repeat, the following of Christ is a social enterprise. We must go beyond the desire for our own sanctification to cooperate with Christ in propagating His doctrine among all men throughout the world. Togetherness is of the essence of our faith. Equally basic is the corresponding fact that the evil spirit is active in his propagation of his doctrine and he has a doctrine among all men throughout the world. Remember the parable of the sower who sowed good seed during the day, and then sometime later weeds began to grow. Sown in the same field by an enemy. There are two sowers sowing their seed in the hearts and minds of men, one sower is Jesus Christ, the other is Lucifer. And let me tell you, this is not pious rhetoric or mere devotion. This is bedrock Christianity. The focus of our concentration here is to compare the method used by Christ in organizing His followers with a corresponding and competitive method of Satan in mobilizing his agents. Or as St. Ignatius calls them, the Two Standards are commonly associated with the Spiritual Exercises. They are really part of Divine Revelation and essential to every believer’s Christian spirituality. Not to know what I want to share with you, is to be sheer ignorant, blind, to what is going on in the world today.

First then, the standard of Satan:

Let me first quote from St. Ignatius, “The chief of all the enemy summons innumerable demons and scatters them. Some to one city and some to another throughout the whole world, so that no province, no place, no state of life, no individual is overlooked. He goes around to lay snares for men to seek to chain them. First they are to tempt them to covet riches, as Satan himself is accustomed to do in most cases, that they more easily obtain the empty honors of this world and then come to overweening pride. The first step then, will be riches, the second; honor, the third; pride, from these three steps the one leads to all other vices”, unquote St. Ignatius. Now some explanation, the devil’s strategy is to get people to become attached to earthly things. He urges them to, well, acquire say material wealth, which is the cheapest kind of riches, or acquire education. Ah, dear Lord, how clever the devil is. Or acquire mastery in the use of their emotions, or cultivate gifts in the social order, or, would you believe it, the devil will even tempt people to acquire spiritual riches. Forty-seven years in the priesthood, as I keep telling people, have taught me an awful lot. Twenty-five years of teaching the most highly intellectual people that the Church can gather, members of the Society of Jesus, oh how hungry men can be for knowledge. But whatever the possession, whether as cheap a thing as money, or special things say as, secular knowledge or even spiritual wisdom, the beginning is to become wealthy and thus to attain to recognition, praise, honor. How well I know, I’ve lived with too many people, too many highly gifted individuals, who have fallen like cheap tinder because they’ve allowed themselves to be beguiled by the evil spirit. Attachment to the things of this world gradually makes a person, not only satisfied with what he or she possesses, but hungry for acceptance, recognition, praise, and honor. And once, as Ignatius says, once a person becomes a victim of empty honors, then pride follows as a matter of course. I’ve struggled with too many multi-millionaires not to know how weak these wealthy people can be if they allow their attachment to the things of this world to bewitch them, and as a consequence make them an easy prey by making them proud. Because once a person falls into pride, there is no limit to that person’s malice. Proud people are the agents of the devil. He uses them to seduce others. In fact, he uses them to work with him, and under his demonic power he organizes proud people into what some of the Fathers of the Church, as I have said, call a distinct power, call it the mystical body of satan. By whatever name, it is mastered by the father of lies. And God allows the demons to exercise superhuman power over those who allow themselves to be victimized.

Now the Standard of Christ: In the words of St. Ignatius, I quote, “Christ our Lord, the Lord of all the world, chooses so many persons, apostles, disciples and sends them throughout the whole world to spread His Sacred doctrine among all men. No matter what their state or condition may be, the address which Christ our Lord makes to His servants, whom He sends on this enterprise, is to urge them to seek to help everyone. First, by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty and should it please the Divine Majesty and should He deign to choose them, even to actual poverty. Secondly, by encouraging them to desire insults and contempt, for from these two things comes humility. So then, there are three steps. The first poverty, opposed to riches, the second scorn or contempt, opposed to worldly honor, the third humility, opposed to pride. From these three steps Christ leads them to all virtues”, unquote St. Ignatius. We now have the contrast and what a contrast this is. Christ’s strategy is the direct opposite of Satan’s. It begins by inspiring His followers and future apostles in every age, in every state of life to practice the first beatitude, ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’, detachment of heart from earthly possessions. And even, if it is God’s will, attracting them to dispossession. In all my years in the priesthood I don’t go to theological analysis when I invite people to work in the apostolate, but behind every invitation is the principle behind the Two Standards. The first condition is that the person who wants to serve Christ in winning souls for His Divine Majesty is himself, at least internally, detached from everything and I mean everything, and I mean everything, in this world, money is the most obvious but not only. This is so fundamental in the apostolate that in two thousand years, what am I saying, I mean it, in two thousand years there have been no exceptions, the only persons that Jesus Christ uses to spread His gospel are the people detached from the things of this world. And nobody cheats. You cannot play both sides. You cannot love, as Christ tells us, both God and mammon. Then Christ inspires His followers just the opposite of the devil’s instigation. And those are the two words I always use theologically, instigation by the devil, inspiration by Christ. Christ inspires His followers to actually desire, of course, of course, under the influence of grace, to be scorned or contempted. I know whereof I speak. I made the Spiritual Exercises for the first time at the ripe old age of twenty-two. I have not had to change one syllable ever since. You must want, I mean it, you must want, and I quote Ignatius, “to be scorned, despised, ignored, rejected.” That doesn’t mean you go around behaving as somebody who is well, out of his mind. But, for the world, and I mean that in the most generic sense possible, for the world anyone who follows Christ faithfully is out of his mind, do you hear me. And in the world’s estimate we are only as out of our mind as we are faithful in the following of Christ. And having, God knew I didn’t know then, having done my own graduate studies and got my degree in psychology, having read, because, well I had to, volumes of Siegmund Freud. One of his favorite definitions of a psychotic, “a psychotic is anyone who believes that he will be rewarded after death for the good that he has done here on earth”, unquote Siegmund Freud. Pardon me ladies and gentlemen, my dear fellow psychotics. In other words, presumed behind all that we are saying is that sincerely to imitate Jesus Christ is to be considered, well, not just unworldly, but irrational. And the best we can do is, well, hide or protect or mask what the world calls our irrationality, quite an art. I give a whole course on that subject.

Now some explanation of Christ’s call:

What this means to all of us who wish to follow the Savior, and mind you not merely follow Him individually, but follow Him as one who wants to brings others, through us, to follow Him. We must look around or search for rejection or dishonor. Do we to have to look around? No. They will come unbidden, unsolicited. My five-year tenure at a state university taught me a lot, including what I’m sharing here. And the key element here is the disposition of will, which is ready to endure. Let me go through the litany, scorn or contempt even, in the faithful following of Christ, but mind you, in the faithful following of Christ the Leader, the One who is inviting the whole human race to follow Him. The net result, on our part of sincere detachment from creatures and corresponding attachment to Jesus Christ who Himself was scorned and condemned is deep, deep, deep humility. And a perfect synonym for this deep humility is interior humility, inside humility, in the mind and will. Humble people and only humble people are used by Christ to propagate His message of salvation to the world. Let me repeat. Only humble people are used by Jesus Christ to propagate His message of salvation to the world. And Christ knows who is humble and who isn’t. But don’t you dare for a moment suspect that humble people are, well, stupid people or that humble people are weak people. Oh, no. Humble people can be extraordinarily gifted people. Ah, and the more gifted they are, the more God will use them. Provided, that’s the proviso, provided they are really, sincerely, profoundly, interiorly humble. This now brings us to part three of our meditation.

How to overcome the devil:

I thought it was worth quoting at some length from St. Peter’s first letter where he talks about the evil spirit. See here we are, we now are asking how concretely and specifically we are to overcome the evil spirit. Here is Peter’s statement, a little long but worth quoting. “All of you practice humility towards one another, for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in the time of visitation. Cast all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you. Be calm, be vigilant, because your enemy, the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world.” 1 Peter 5:5-9

Now the application:

The basic need without which we are helpless in the face of the devil, the basic need for overcoming the evil spirit, is humility. Proud people are no match for Lucifer. This first means being humble in our dealing with other people. And remember our dealing with other people begins inside of our own minds without a second thought. We are tempted to spontaneously think of others as somehow, at least somehow, inferior to us. So any thoughts of superiority on our part or inferiority on their part should be resisted. First then, what we call social humility and its internal social humility. Again, it means humble resignation to God’s will no matter how demanding this divine will can be, and the divine will can be very demanding. And always, always we should keep in mind, except for God, I wouldn’t even be the air that I breathe, I just wouldn’t be. Except for God, I wouldn’t have a will. God gave me the mysterious but awesome power of choosing to do His will. All that I’m doing, therefore, when I accept God’s will, and it has to be demanding otherwise there’s no price. It is the most rational thing in the world to submit to the will of God. It further means, the habit of humble prayer, by surrendering our wills in patience. There are people, how well I know, there are people who can be, oh so self-restrained, even the voluntary muscles on their face can be under control. They may be burning with anger, but they’ll smile. It’s not enough. The heart of patient humility is in the will, in the will. And there’s one truth of our faith which is the heart of spiritual life, it is, that the will has power over the will. Do you hear me? The will has power over the will. I have power over my hands. I can lift them or lower them. My feet, I can move them, my mouth, I can open it. But the will has power over itself. The will can tell the will, kneel down. As I see so many people nowadays not genuflecting, I say to myself, my God, my God, what madness, the perfect symbol of pride. We bend our knees to symbolize the bending of our wills.

Still following St. Peter’s injunctions, we are to maintain ourselves in calmness of spirit. This is crucial. I cannot exaggerate, in almost a half a century of priestly ministry, what a pity, what tragedies can follow over a person not being calm. And that’s what Peter tells us, be calm. Which means, there is peace of soul. Why because, my faith tells me that I have God’s grace on my side, alone I’m helpless, but with the grace of God, I can resist all the demons of hell. We go on, still Peter. Watchfulness; if we’re going to cope with the evil spirit in our lives, we must be vigilant. The devil is deceptive. He adjusts himself to pious people with piety, to intelligent people with intelligence, to artistic people with art, and so on. Be watchful. Then still quoting St. Peter, “never be afraid of the devil, resist, stand up to him, do not weaken” but, and now this is St. Peter’s conclusion, “our strength comes from the fact that we have the faith.” We’re in the presence of God, we trust in God’s grace, we trust in the power of prayer and we know that God wants, wants souls to be saved through others. And He wants us to be channels of His grace to other people, just to underline the necessity of prayer. Anyone who thinks that the injunction to pray always is a pious hyperbole is wrong. Remember we’ve said this before, the only grace you’re absolutely sure of having whenever being tempted, and here by the evil spirit, is the grace to pray. To be assured of the grace I need to cope with the devil, I must pray.

Now some basic rules, that over the years I’ve never tired repeating. They are based on St. Ignatius’ discernment, are bread and butter in Christian spirituality. We distinguish between how the good Spirit and how the evil spirit works on people who are virtuous, trying to do God’s will and those who are steeped in sin.

First the good Spirit; for those who are sincerely trying to do God’s will the good Spirit gives them peace. What else? How the good Spirit operates on those who are estranged from God and living in sin, just the opposite. Sins that would be casually called pangs of conscience wake them up. Maybe some dreadful illness, an accident, a near death tragedy, anything to wake the people up. Conversely, how the evil spirit operates, watch this, on those who are sincerely trying to do God’s will, just the opposite. Anxiety, worry, diffidence, maybe even to despair. One of the most basic laws of the spiritual life that for years I’ve been teaching my priests to teach those under their care. Anyone who sincerely wants to do God’s will should always, (comma) always consider anxiety or worry as a temptation from the evil spirit. And conversely, how the evil spirit deals with people who are in sin. Well, what else? Assures them, don’t worry, God is merciful. No problem, be at peace.

I would like to close with some quotations from the saints on the subject. This is St. Catherine of Sienna, I quote, “I have sent him,” (that’s the devil) “in this life to tempt and molest my creatures that they may conquer proving their virtue and receiving from me the glory of victory.” Then the wise saying of St. John Chrysostom, “ be ever looking for the enemy, but do not breed a war, for this is not the attitude of a soldier but of a seditionary”, unquote John Chrysostom. In other words, don’t stir up trouble, rather, keep calm, do God’s will. And if the trouble, if there is any, will come to you from the evil spirit and you will cope accordingly. To all of you I recommend daily reciting the prayer to St. Michael.

St. Michael the archangel defend us in battle. Be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil and do thou prince of the heavenly hosts drive into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

May God bless you, and thank you for listening.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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