Do you know that you can achieve all your goals and still be unhappy? You can be grateful for your blessings, believe in God, follow His commandments, confess your sins, and even go to church frequently—and yet still end up becoming a frustrated, confused human being.
Why? Because to really get a handle on things, there’s something else you have to consider. It’s called evil.
Self-help experts don’t like to talk about evil because they don’t want to be viewed as “religious fanatics.” But there’s a problem with that. Even if you ignore evil, evil is not going to ignore you! You can listen to motivational podcasts regularly and become well versed in the power of positive thinking— and then one day, when you’re least expecting it, evil strikes. Maybe someone you know is raped. Maybe a child from the neighborhood is abducted, abused, and murdered by some deviant monster. Evil crimes occur all the time. And when they do, it’s pretty hard to believe that all that’s required to “overcome challenges” is to manifest some kind of “positive attitude.” All those easy catchphrases seem empty in the light of cold, merciless malevolence.
St. Paul said that our struggle in life is not with “flesh and blood” but rather with “powers and principalities” (see Eph. 6:12). Do you know what “powers and principalities” are? Those are specific kinds of angels—in this case, fallen angels (better known as demons) and their leader, the devil.
Like it or not, believe it or not, there’s a real spiritual war going on. If you need evidence, just look inside yourself. Look at your own inner battles — all the temptations you face on a daily basis — all your dark secrets, lusts, jealousies, grudges. Then look at all the terrible evil in the news — the crimes, the drugs, the acts of terrorism, the child pornography, the sadistic violence. Look at the big societal evils — the murder rates, the suicide rates, the wars, the genocides. Just look at the abortion rate — twenty million babies killed a year, worldwide. A veritable ocean of blood!
Now, I’m not calling anyone in particular evil. Take abortion as an example. God knows that most women who have abortions do so because they feel trapped and pressured by their circumstances and by their families and by their boyfriends. They don’t have abortions because of “freedom of choice” but rather because they feel they have no freedom and no choice. Of course God has mercy on them. Of course God wants to forgive them. But a sin can’t be forgiven if you don’t think it’s a sin. An evil can’t be washed away if you insist that it’s really a good. In theology, that’s what’s called a “diabolical inversion.” It’s when the truth becomes a lie, and a lie becomes the truth. It’s what the “powers and principalities” are always working to accomplish. They want a world in which morality is upside down, in which the positive is negative and the negative is positive.
But let me ask you a question: What happens in life when you do that? What happens when you reverse the polarities of an electric current, for instance—when you switch the charges and make the negative positive? What happens if you do that with the electric wiring in your home? The power gets cut! The lights go out!
And isn’t that exactly the state of our society today? Hasn’t the whole moral system been turned on its head? Men claim that they’re women, and women claim that they’re men. Promiscuity is viewed as empowering, while chastity is dismissed as insanity. Unborn babies are called blobs of tissue with fewer rights than sea turtles. The elderly and infirm aren’t treated as the wisest, most treasured members of society but rather are killed because they’re in the way. Innocent children are given transgender indoctrination in grammar school but aren’t allowed to pray to God. They’re also legally permitted to get abortions and sex-change operations while adults who object are branded as “anti-choice” and “homophobic.”
Hasn’t black become white and white become black? Aren’t we literally entrenched in a culture of atheistic deceit, despair and death? Doesn’t spiritual darkness prevail everywhere?
The sins that afflict modern society and that afflict each of us personally are not just psychological or physical in nature. If they were, we would need only psychological or physical weapons to combat them. But there’s a large spiritual component involved. The temptations we face are very real and strong. And they never let up. Sometimes they seem to take a rest, but not for long. They’re always there, trying to pull us down into the slimy gutter — heavy, powerful, and relentless.
If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself in evil’s clutches, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can fight it off the same way you do the other problems in your life. Don’t think that the self-help industry can rescue you—because it can’t. And the reason is that you can’t fight a spiritual battle with worldly weapons. When you try to do that, the “powers and principalities” sit back and laugh at you! They know that you need to use spiritual weapons for that kind of combat — otherwise, you get nowhere.
Christ Himself said that certain “demons” could be overcome only by “prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). And if Christ said it, you can be sure it’s true.
So let me ask you: Do you pray and fast? If not, then you shouldn’t complain that you have temptations that are too difficult to resist. The fact is, you’re not taking advantage of two of the most important spiritual weapons God gave you to fight evil. Of course you’re having trouble with lying or lust or rage or laziness. Of course you’re on the wrong side of the issue when it comes to abortion or euthanasia or sex-change operations. It makes perfect sense that you can’t make progress in either overcoming “hard” sins or obtaining clarity about the difference between good and evil.
If you’ve got serious problems, you need to be praying a lot more than just before bed. You need to continually raise your mind to God throughout the day. For goodness’ sake, don’t be afraid of being branded a “religious fanatic.” You should be doing everything you can to be on intimate terms with God. You should be reading the Bible. You should be studying that catechism. You should be praying novenas. You should be enlisting the help of the saints, the angels and Our Lady. You should be praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Angelus and even the Liturgy of the Hours. You should be going to Confession frequently. You should be making use of sacramentals, such as the scapular and the Miraculous Medal and the crucifix and holy water. You should be going to Eucharistic adoration and spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. Most importantly, you should be attending Mass — if possible, every day — and receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. All of these are extremely powerful forms of prayer; all can help you take your personal relationship with the Lord to a new level, and all of them — together — are needed during times of great moral crisis.
Then there’s fasting. Everyone forgets about fasting, and yet it’s absolutely essential to your spiritual life. Fasting is when you willingly refrain from doing something that’s morally permissible because you want to make a sacrifice for God. Usually, people refrain from eating for a period of time. But you can fast from anything: music, social media, television, shopping — whatever you really enjoy doing. The key is that it’s got to be difficult. You can’t give up something that’s easy for you. The whole point is to feel “hungry” and to resist giving into that hunger. Yet, people rarely fast in a serious way. Then they complain that Christian morality is too difficult to practice.
Too difficult to practice? Of course it’s too difficult to practice! How in the world can you hope to follow the moral teaching of Jesus Christ in this hedonistic, morally upside-down age without ever getting any spiritual nourishment from Jesus Christ? And how can you even think of mustering enough courage to take part in the great spiritual culture war that’s raging around us when you haven’t built up your willpower by using the most rudimentary spiritual weapon at your disposal—fasting? It’s like trying to defeat an enemy with both hands tied behind your back. To quote G.K. Chesterton, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
Don’t make that mistake! Don’t spend decades amassing money, friends, power and personal-development skills in an attempt to secure happiness, and then forget that evil can wipe it all out in the blink of an eye. Don’t be so naïve to think you’re safe—because you’re not. Nobody is. Instead, be intelligent—spiritually intelligent. Find some good books on spiritual combat and study them. Pray and fast regularly, especially during times of great temptation. Read the Bible, not just once in a while, but every day. Worship and receive the sacraments with your fellow believers; don’t be arrogant and try to do it by yourself. Above all, be sure that God is the center of your life.
If you use these and other spiritual weapons, then, when that day of evil comes, you’ll be able to stand your ground without wavering. You’ll be able to be happy even in the midst of the worst trials. Indeed, you’ll be able to overcome the worst trials. And if you persevere in using these weapons, I guarantee that no matter how deep the darkness that surrounds you, your light will always shine forth and serve as a powerful beacon to your family and your friends and all who know you.
That’s a heck of a lot more than any kind of positive thinking will ever do for you.
Editor’s note: this article is the fourth of a five-part series. It is adapted from a chapter in Anthony’s forthcoming book 30 Days to Your New Life, available for pre-order at Sophia Institute Press. The book will be released June 20, 2023.