One of my projects for Advent was reading the Life of St. Anthony of the Dessert by St. Athanasius. This little book is regarded as “de rigger” by many who contemplate growing in the spiritual life. St. Anthony is regarded as the father of Western Monasticism and his story is quite incredible. Like St. Frances of Assisi he was a child of great privilege who heard the call of God louder than anything else around him. He wound up giving away all to live in his hermitage in the dessert in order to come to know God and oppose the Devil in the world. Despite his asceticism he lived to the age of 105. Read this little book and you will get a clear picture of how evil operates in the world and what to do about it.
The longer St. Anthony worked to fight evil the more knowledgeable he became about how the enemy plys his trade. He became more and more aware of the fact that the devil is really powerless. One of the faculties that the enemy does not have is the ability to create. It is the one thing that he is most jealous of humans about. He can mimic, bring up illusions, fake effects but he lacks the power of creation in any way shape or form. Because of this, his litany of temptations to humans follows a repeated pattern that is easy to recognize if you know what to look for. It moves from the obvious to the subtle: first he threatens property, then those around us, then loss of the normal pleasures, then doubt because of the difficulty of virtue, then the weakness of our own bodies then evil thoughts and feelings start to appear. He counts on our own flaws and ego to magnify any of these at any stage and basically “do ourselves in”.
Anthony’s remedy to any of these temptations was to always be working at keeping our discernment up to par and keeping your spiritual tools sharp and at the ready as a matter of habit. As a writer and living witness we get no “days off” from anything the enemy might want to roll our way. As a matter of course, each of us is probably a more tempting target for him!
Next, Anthony advises that anytime you suspect spiritual harassment, the solution is simply to “call it out” and demand that the spirit or temptation identify itself. “Therefore if we would despise the enemy, our thoughts must always be of God and our souls always glad with hope, and we shall see the toys of the demons as smoke and themselves fleeing…for they are very cowardly. This sign also keep by you to cut off fear of them: When any vision [temptation] comes, do not begin by falling into panic, but whatever it be, first ask bravely, ‘Who are you, and whence?’ and if it be a vision of the good, they will satisfy you and change your fear into joy. But if it is anything diabolical, at once it loses all strength, seeing your spirit strong; for simply to ask, is a proof of [your] calmness. So how sharp are your tools? Maybe you need to dust them off?