There is rather a long scene from the Marvel series “Daredevil” which touches on a topic too often glossed over or mistreated in popular movies. It’s rather a long video but you can start at 0:52 and not miss anything.
The acting, writing and cinematography of this scene is stunning, in my opinion because it draws on true theology. There really is a devil and he walks among us, and he works evil. I too believe in the devil, for much the same reason. I saw a little girl once at a Holy Week service when I was in the Philippines, with every square inch of her legs below her skirt covered with cigarette shaped burns. That is pure hatred.
People of the 20th century find it fashionable to scoff at the idea of the devil. This is silly. The devil is the only possible explanation of the 20th century. Two world wars, Nazism, Communism, the Cambodian killing fields, the Rwandan genocide, the Serbian genocide, to say nothing of the abortion of millions of unborn children, are the fingerprints of the devil written large across this world. But those fingerprints are also in small things. In essence, those big evils are nothing more than collections of much smaller acts of selfishness and hatred.
I had a conversation with my preceptor in clinic a few weeks ago, talking about some of our “crazy” patients. There was one in particular that I had identified as having borderline personality disorder (incidentally she was also given that diagnosis in the ER). He did not deny the diagnosis, but he did make the observation that a personality disorder is really a learned set of behaviors. No one is born with a personality disorder. They learn a set of strategies for coping with their environment, and if those strategies work in some way then they are reinforced and repeated until they become a habit, and neurologically a reflex. Eventually it ceases to be a chosen behavior and instead becomes a personality.
In this particular case, the patient had been sexually abused for most of her childhood by an older male relative and her parents did not believe her until he was caught and convicted. Then her father blamed her for the whole thing.
It is not an uncommon story, sadly. It explained her disorder. She is caught in a pattern of behavior that she learned as a child, still trying to find protection and love with only the emotional resources of a child, and increasingly validated in her belief that everyone will eventually betray her. This is the work of the devil. Through the agency of a human entirely or partially given over to his influence, he destroyed this woman’s health and sanity, and seeks to destroy her soul as well. This is why when I am in the room with patients I am usually praying for them silently. Sometimes I ask my guardian angel to talk to theirs. Usually I remember to pray for them in the morning before clinic, and in the evening after clinic. The physical ailments are only the tip of the iceberg. We do not contend with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers.
Perhaps not coincidentally I am currently reading Paul Thigpen’s “Manual for Spiritual Warfare.” We exist in a spiritual battlefield. We are born into a war that began before the first human drew breath and will not end until all is consummated at the end of time. We may not like it, but it is true. It is not enough to hunker down and bury our heads in the sand. We must fight. Nor must our fighting be solely defensive, just trying to keep ourselves out of trouble. I am my brother’s keeper, and I am called to fight for them. To the extent that I have authority over anyone or love anyone, I am called to fight for them spiritually. What does this mean?
- Live a good Christian life. Practice virtue, root out vice, fulfill the duties of my state in life.
- Pray. In this battle most of us function more as TAC-P’s than as Marines. That is, we don’t go hand-to-hand with demons, we call in angelic airstrikes. Whatever else our prayers include, they must include at a minimum:
- Mass at least once per week
- Confession as least once per month (Padre Pio recommended weekly)
- The Rosary at least once per day
- Fasting: At least once per week. This should be a serious fast, at least in line with the Church’s rubric of only one full meal and two small meals that do not equal the full meal. If we cannot fast for health reasons (most people can) we should be making some other sacrifice, such as cutting out electronics for one day per week. Ideally this discipline should be imposed by a spiritual director so that it may be born out of the virtue of obedience.
- Almsgiving: Practice charity concretely, in your works, in your wallet, in your watch.
That’s it! Pretty simple, more or less the same things Catholic mothers and fathers and saints have been telling us for two thousand years. Being conformed to Christ is spiritual warfare, because the victory is His through the cross. To become conformed to the image of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is to be changed into His victory over evil, because…