By Charlie Johnston
(This article is not private revelation, so please do not treat it as such. It is, however, informed by my observations from a rather unique perspective over the last half-century)
Even the most brilliant man will become stupid under the influence of vanity and malice. Consider the devil. He has more knowledge than all of humanity combined. He is brilliant, shrewd, devilishly clever – yet he is also history’s greatest bungler. One of the reasons the satan so loves to find and use our vanity against us is that he knows how much damage it has done to him over the eons.
God calls us to seek what is right, true and just, even as we understand our limitations and propensity for error. Vanity causes us to change our focus from seeking what is right and true to believing whatever we say or do is right and true. Contradiction is always uncomfortable, sometimes painful. When we get caught up in vanity, it soon begets malice as we seek to retaliate against those who contradict us. If our error is bad enough, it can become a humiliation, which sparks obsessive malice and wrath.
The devil is nothing but vanity and malice. Contrary to romanticized popular fiction, he will end up with no kingdom, no henchman, no power. In the end, he will be as alone, isolated and desolate as everyone else who chose hell. He knows this, yet the illusion that he is a dark competitor with the Lord of Hosts serves his only purpose – to disfigure, mutilate and destroy man. For though the satan knows he gets nothing in the end, yet he still leads opposing forces to God in the great battle for humanity – and each soul is the battleground. If he can use his romanticized image as a powerful competitor to God to destroy man, that suits him just fine.
His brilliance gives him tactical superiority over all men, with thousands of types of attack, each precisely calibrated to the weakness of each man. Man has only one defense – to hold fast to Christ, as the satan uses every gambit to bully, seduce, cajole, flatter or terrify him into letting go. A moment is all that is needed for him to inflict terrible damage. The dullest man who humbly holds fast to Christ is invulnerable to the satan; the cleverest man who engages with the devil is lost before he begins. Yet even with all his tactical brilliance, satan’s malice causes him to make huge strategic errors. He cannot resist causing man to suffer – and does some things that undermine his own cause to enjoy the thrill of watching men writhe in agony.
The best modern example of this is abortion. Persuading people that it is their right, that it is good to slaughter their own infants gives satan delicious pleasure, but also does him terrible damage. The children murdered through this satanic attack are immediately received into heaven, borne up by both the baptism of blood and of desire. They spend their heaven interceding and praying ceaselessly for their parents, most especially their mothers, that those parents might repent, embrace God’s forgiveness and grace, that they all might be joyfully re-united in heaven. Though the children are the obvious temporal victims, the primary target is those who are left behind. Some women despair over what they have done, finding that the abortion has opened up a wound in their heart that will not heal. Many suffer in silence. Others become shrill advocates for abortion, desperately trying to quiet the consciences that silently but relentlessly accuse them night and day, trying to convince themselves that it was right to execute their child. Some enter into desperate, unrelenting despair; others so coarsen their conscience that it is mutilated beyond recognition. Either way, the satan gains a victim. That is just the agony of those directly involved in procuring abortion. It has an even larger cultural price. What of the children of “pro-choice” parents? How can they possibly believe they are loved for their very selves? They know they are merely random survivors of the deadly gauntlet the womb has become. Truly, if abortion were just, life would have no transcendent meaning. It would be short, brutish and nasty, with raw power the only palliative. Having raised this standard, is it any wonder that a dark nihilism, sometimes spilling into murderous rage and despair, stalks our culture, particularly among the young? But this despair comes at an ever-increasing cost for the devil. The millions of mature souls, butchered before they were born, cry out for justice against the satan and for the reclamation of their parents – and the Lord of Hosts is not deaf to their cries.
The nature of God is, through the love that processes unceasingly among the Persons of the Trinity, to create. Man, made in the image of God, is called to live that love and, with God, participate in creation, itself. Man is NOT primarily a consumer, but a creator. The nature of the satan is, through malice, to negate, mutilate and destroy what God has created. To Lucifer, man is as lowly, pathetic and loathsome as a maggot is to a man. That God should have made these pathetic creatures in His own image offended the satan’s vanity. Even worse, these lowly men were able to do something no angel has ever or ever will be able to do: participate with God in the act of creation, itself. Creation is the most refined and noble of Divine Acts. Every angel is impotent, a servant in the Master’s house. Men are called to be heirs of the Master. This provoked the satan into a jealous rage. It is why so much satanic activity involves disordered sexuality.
Even when men do not, the satan and his minions properly esteem the dignity of the capacity to participate in creation, a dignity they can never have. In part, the satan and his minions are neurotically driven to imitate the acts which, in men, can be so fruitful but among angels must ever be meaningless and barren. The larger part, though, is to indict those to whom the dignity of this gift was given – us. Satan ever accuses man of being unworthy of God. When he persuades men to butcher their own children, to make a mockery of creation by calling what is barren in its very nature to be right in the sight of God, the satan is demanding that God acknowledge error, to concede that men are not worthy of this dignity He gave them over His servants, the angels. Would that we would not be so eager to prove him right. Thus, while not all sexual disorder is satanically inspired, almost all satanic activity involves sexual disorder. It is the signature of this serial killer of souls.
The main tools the satan uses to get men to turn loose of Christ are vanity, despair and confusion. But he has an infinite variety of subtle tools to spark these responses – and tailors every attack to the weakest point of the one attacked.
In the late 90s, I was warned by my angel that the devil was now targeting me – and would be sending me false visions to attempt to deceive and seduce me. It was at that time I began adopting a set of protocols that must be met before I would even consider a vision or visitation potentially authentic. I have never written these down or spoken them aloud to anyone. Sure enough, I received several visions that were marvelously comforting and seemed true – but contained some small detail that was objectively contrary to what the Church teaches. I immediately rejected them. I have the capacity to banish some things from my mind almost altogether. In fact, I only have one fleeting memory of an innocuous portion of one of those visions, I so completely banished them. I felt pretty good – thought I was fairly adept at recognizing false visions. Then, in one of the rare occasions he has ever treated me with exasperated disgust, my angel appeared briefly and told me tersely, “He is not trying to convince you of what is in the visions – he is trying to convince you he is clumsy.” I was shaken and embarrassed. I hate to disappoint my angel…but I was disappointed I had allowed the satan to enflame a subtle vanity in me.
Do you think your sins are too great for God to forgive? That is just an ugly variant of pride masquerading as humility to blind you to the sin in it. The pride is that you are such a mighty actor that you can sin beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Come crawling back every time. Are you so ashamed of your sins that you just don’t think about it – and miss Mass, thinking you are unworthy? Again, just ugly pride masquerading as humility – as the devil laughs at you.
Are you obsessed with making family and friends believe as you do? It is a more subtle form of pride that persuades you their salvation is dependent on you – and a failure of trust in God. You depend on yourself rather than God. If you would truly trust God, you would give witness in season, hold your counsel out of season, but love always, for as it is written in I Peter 4:8, “love covers a multitude of sins.” It covers not only your sins, but that of those you love. Do penance for them, pray quietly and constantly for them – without making a show of it or burdening them – and then trust with an iron faith, like St. Monica, that the Lord will rescue those you love through your loving penance. This is one of the satan’s favorite gambits against genuinely pious souls who yet lack iron trust – to attack those close to them. Trust truly and hold fast to the Lord with all your heart and He will not suffer those you love to perish.
If you are prone to fantasies of heroic prowess, the devil will gleefully cower before you to persuade you that you can handle a demon. All he needs is for you to depend on yourself rather than Christ for a few moments to crush you.
Think about the characteristics in you that you are most proud of, that make up your identity. The devil will use these against you…either by confirming them so that you think you are great or by confounding them so you fall into a morass of confusion. Some people are prone to conspiracy theories. If you are one, you can expect to see many confirmations of such things this year that will ultimately turn out to be false, that the devil may convince you you are preternaturally clever. Some people are skeptical of everything. If you are one, you can expect to dismiss some things that turn out to be true for the same reason. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Oddly enough, I am a skeptic, dismissing almost all conspiracy theories as the poppycock they usually are. (I appreciate the irony. I sometimes suspect that the Persons of the Trinity amused themselves as they sent me to my mother’s womb by saying, “Hey, let’s make this guy a skeptic by nature…they won’t see that coming.”) Sometimes I miss things because of it. One client of mine, a formidable and accomplished woman, once insisted she was being marginalized by the sexism of some substantial men in the district. I pooh-poohed it and told her to quit feeling sorry for herself. She did. Later I found she was right and I was wrong. I apologized profusely and she told me she let it go after she knew I couldn’t see it. I thought she was calling me a sexist, but she explained I was so far from it that I couldn’t imagine it in others I respected. I failed her because I didn’t look. In my defense, I had another client, a brilliant man who was given to a little paranoia. We actually made a good team – he would run his dark fears by me, and if I firmly dismissed them, so would he, even though he still felt them. At one point, he asked me to take on a special task because he thought there was a ridiculously huge conspiracy against him in a particular situation. I rolled my eyes and took the assignment because of my respect for him – and came to find he was absolutely right. We popped the conspiracy. As I thought about it, I was most pleased that he had trusted me to examine it honestly, even though he knew I was dismissive of such things. The devil loves to confirm what you are already inclined to believe to deceive you. Examine everything.
A good examination of conscience goes a long way to revealing the hidden vanities that lurk in the heart’s depths. I dislike a lot of such examinations because they get too scrupulous and can have you despairing of things that are of little or no account. They are almost as bad as no examination at all. I think this one from the National Catholic Register is a pretty good one. Above all, know that the devil will rarely come at you dressed as the devil. He will come telling you that you are right! Or you are powerful! Or you are special! Or if you don’t push hard, those around you will be lost! Or that the danger is insurmountable! Or that all is lost! He almost never comes as himself.
Many years ago, an angel told me, “What you desire most is most effective against you. Desire God and all else shall be given to you.”
I may talk more about the satan; I may not. I don’t like talking about him at all. Give thanks that you have never been forced to look through his eyes at humanity, for all he sees is hideously misshapen. I have given you the formula that will carry you safely through whatever trials, temptations and terrors arise: Acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. So long as it pleases God that you are still breathing, it is never too late for that act of faith.