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Fighting Satan and escaping the darkness of evil Part 1: An interview with Fr. Robert Spitzer

  • PAUL SENZ

"God has given us," says the author of a trilogy of books about the reality of evil and the challenge of spiritual warfare, "through our freedom, the ability to participate in this huge struggle, where it's the mystical body of Christ vs. the kingdom of Satan, and we're involved."


FallOfTheRebelAngelsFr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center, is noted for his books and talks on science and spirituality.  He has been writing a trilogy of books — two of them now published by Ignatius Press — that explore the daunting topics of sin, evil, Satan, and spiritual warfare.  The struggle between good and evil, as Fr. Spitzer points out, is one that no one can escape, even if we are unaware of it.  And so Fr. Spitzer aims to show how the Church helps us to understand this great challenge to shows us how to fight in this battle.

The trilogy is entitled Called Out of Darkness: Contending with Evil through the Church, Virtue, and Prayer.  The first two volumes, Christ Versus Satan in Our Daily Lives: The Cosmic Struggle Between Good and Evil (Ignatius Press, 2020) and Escape from Evil's Darkness: The Light of Christ in the Church, Spiritual Conversion, and Moral Conversion (Ignatius Press, 2021) are now out.

The third volume in the current trilogy, entitled The Moral Wisdom of the Catholic Church: Principles of Personal and Social Ethics, is due out from Ignatius Press early next year.

The series is a follow-up to a popular quartet of books published between 2015 and 2017.  The quartet was titled Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence, and the volumes are Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts (2015), The Soul's Upward Yearning: Clues to Our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason (2015), God So Loved the World: Clues to Our Transcendent Destiny from the Revelation of Jesus (2016), and The Light Shines on in the Darkness: Transforming Suffering through Faith (2017).

Fr. Spitzer spoke recently with Catholic World Report about his latest books, and how we can prepare ourselves to fight in this cosmic struggle.

Catholic World Report: How did the books come about?  Was this always envisioned as a trilogy?

Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ: It was actually envisioned as a single book initially.  When I was finishing the quartet [Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence] I realized I was never going to get to the problem of evil.  I was trying to do transcendence, happiness, and suffering, and trying to get evil in there, but I just realized it couldn't be done.  So I told Ignatius Press that I had to do another book and detach it from the quartet.  Then looking at it, I realized this book itself would have three parts.

We live in a culture that doesn't even believe in the devil — and if they do, they're worshiping him.  We've got a problem!  I mean, there are priests who don't believe in the devil!  So I realized I had to make the case that there is not only spiritual evil in us, but there is a real spiritual evil entity out there who is — in every imaginable way — stoking the fires, and masterfully taking over our culture.

So I really wanted not only to make the case that there really is such a thing as a spiritual evil force (a fallen angelic being), but here are the tactics he uses in our individual lives, here are the tactics that he and his minions use in the culture, and, frankly, he's winning.  He's taking things over, and he is laughing all the way to the bank.  And in order to do this right, and include the deadly sins (which are his favorite tools), I really had to spend a whole book on that.  So then the next book has to cover the counteracting force — which, of course, is Jesus Christ and his Church.

But again, we live in a culture in which the Church is under attack.  And there's a lot of propaganda out there saying that the Catholic Church is not the Church of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ certainly has not protected the Catholic Church throughout the ages.  So the first thing I have to do is to make the intellectual case for the Catholic Church, then I have to make the spiritual case for the Catholic Church.  I needed a book that starts off with "Why the Catholic Church?"

Then, on top of that, I need to lay out the benefits of being Catholic — what does the Catholic Church have that no other church has?  Of course, I start off with the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. These two sacraments are the worst nightmares that a devil can encounter.  After that, we really do need magisterial truth; it's no accident that you have over 30,000 Protestant denominations in 500 years (or 2,000 to 3,000 even without counting country to country differences).  It's an enormous number, and just one Catholic Church.

It's no accident that you have over 30,000 Protestant denominations in 500 years and just one Catholic Church.

Secondly, there is so much internal infighting about what Jesus meant, what true doctrine is, what Jesus had as his intent, how to reconcile seemingly contradictory Scripture passages, and so forth.  We've got that tension alleviated for us, because of the Catholic Church's magisterium.  A lot of people might see that as an encumbrance, a sacrifice of freedom.  In reality it's the protection of our unity, and the protection of the Truth that will save us.  The more confusion there is, the more the devil likes it.  For all intents and purposes, the Catholic Church is the alleviator of confusion, and the definitive and ultimate resolves of disputes.

So from that point of view: why do you want to be a Catholic?  Well, because you get the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of Reconciliation, the magisterial teaching of the Church, the unity of the Church, and a whole lot of other things, like the best-articulated moral teaching applied not only to the individual life but social ethics as well.  Don't you want to belong to a church that is, by far, the largest charitable institution in the entire world?  The largest healthcare institution in the world, by far?  The largest educational institution at the primary level, the secondary level, and the collegiate level in the world, by far?

CWR: How is the Catholic Tradition distinctive in its spirituality and approach to morality?  How does that fit into your books?

Fr. Spitzer: We have a rich spiritual tradition.  I talk about this in the book.  Protestants certainly have a good relationship with Scripture, an emphasis on personal prayer, but they don't have these rich, deep networks of spiritual tradition, lectio divina, Ignatian meditation.  So there's a chapter looking at what every person should be gleaning from our spiritual traditions.

We're not the prosperity Church; we're the School of the Cross Church, and we do it better than anybody, because that's the reality that Jesus came to give: "Take up your cross and follow me."

Who does virtue better than the Catholic Church?  Nobody.  Nobody touches it!  Nobody holds a candle to the Catholic Church!  But how do you become the "new man," as St. Paul would put it, and abandon the old self?  Nobody will be perfectly converted when they leave this world, but I'll tell you what, you can make a lot of progress!  So the last two chapters are about some of the things that can help us do this, to help us facilitate moral conversion.

Then, of course, I knew I'd need a third volume, because you need to talk about the commandments.  The Church gets a bad rap, and gets pummeled for being "against" everything.  For example, the homosexual lifestyle — but then when you look at the statistics, you see shocking things.  Forty percent of people who live a homosexual lifestyle contemplate suicide, when for the overall population it's only 5.5%.  Wait a minute, something's wrong here.  Triple the amount of substance abuse, triple the amount of familial tensions, triple the amount of depression, triple the amount of major psychiatric incidents.

I look at secular studies — not bloviating, "Spitzerian" studies, but what's really going on in secular, university studies.  What are they saying?  They're saying this is an insane lifestyle.  So I thought: I'm going to take the twelve big controversial issues (cohabitation, premarital sex, homosexual lifestyle, gender change, artificial birth control, abortion, physician assisted suicide, etc.) where the Catholic Church is getting pummeled, and I'm going to go right through and examine how it helps or hinders love, how does this in some sense (in terms of a secular ethic that is based on principles of justice that everyone can appreciate) how does it square up.  And then I'm going to take every secular study about what happens to the part of the population who like gender change, with all the people who are cohabiting — does it result in better marriages?  Absolutely not.

How about premarital sex, the number of partners you have before marriage, any correlation between that and divorce rates?  Absolutely, a direct correlation.  Zero premarital sexual partners and your divorce rate is about 4.5%; one premarital partner and it jumps up to 22%; 2-4 premarital partners and it jumps to 36%.  Something's amiss here!  Something's wrong, and it's not just that but also depression rates, sexual violence.

The attack on the Church's teachings leads to these incredible increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, familial tensions, suicidal ideation, suicides themselves, homicides.

The "great sexual revolution," what has that given us?  A six-times increase in rapes.  You start going through these statistics and you begin to see how insane it is.  The attack on the Church's teachings — every single one of them leads to these incredible increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, familial tensions, suicidal ideation, suicides themselves, homicides.  And not only that, but it's also leading to a tremendous destabilizing of marriage, the undermining of marital satisfaction.

This is why we're getting pummeled?  For speaking the truth?  Secular studies prove that every one of these issues is causing, not just a rupture within the culture, but the destabilization of our families and marriages, of emotional intimacy, plus huge increases in emotional disorders.  So, I thought, I'm just going to make the case for common sense here.  Whether or not someone is a Catholic, they can take a look at what they're promoting and look at these statistics from secular studies.  If I'm right about my natural law interpretation, what's so good about the secular plan?

CWR: And the result of that is the third book in the trilogy?

Fr. Spitzer: Yes, I decided to write a book called The Moral Wisdom of the Catholic Church: A Defense of Her Controversial Moral Teachings, because I think a very, very sound, good defense can be made for any Catholic, and then for any non-Catholic.  If the Catholic Church's interpretation of Jesus is just a mere anachronism, just a prudish church that's gone wild with rules, then we shouldn't expect to find any of what we're finding.

Indeed, the secular world's interpretation of morality and freedom and justice is destroying us, and it will destroy us.  They'll destroy our culture.  They'll destroy individual lives.  They'll destroy our marriages.  They'll destroy our children.  It's just a big bogus bag of tricks — from whom?  Well, from us, but a lot of it inspired by the devil.

All of which is to say: it had to be a trilogy!

CWR: The subtitle of the first book is "The Cosmic Struggle Between Good and Evil."  So why is it important that we be prepared for this struggle?

Fr. Spitzer: A lot of people will say "Yeah, I believe in evil.  That's when I do something that harms somebody, and that has real effects."  Yes, that's right.  But it's not just that you're harming somebody and you're having some kind of here-and-now concrete bad effect.  But it's also harming your spiritual life — not to mention, by the way, everything that St. Paul is saying about how we live in the mystical Body of Christ and we affect everybody and everybody affects us.

What's on the line here is a huge struggle.  It's not just a struggle for me doing the right thing in this concrete situation — it also has huge implications.  The reason I use J.R.R. Tolkien is because people get the sense that Frodo Baggins is an everyman.  He's not a particularly smart hobbit, he's not a wizard — yet he represents every one of us.  When we are putting the ring into the volcano, even if it's just our personal ring, we are having an effect on the whole.  Whether we like it or not, our lives have this huge cosmic significance in this huge struggle that goes way beyond us.

It's a cosmic struggle that is touching every life, but if we through our efforts, if we through our teaching of our children, are participating and throwing the ring of power into Mount Doom, we are going to make a difference to the whole cosmic struggle.

Alternatively, if we submit, if we go into the darkness, if God can't depend on our efforts — of course we will fall along the way and will sin and will need the sacrament of reconciliation.  But the more we resist God, it's not just affecting that individual, but also simultaneously it's affecting the entire Mystical Body.  Jesus has already won the victory (I make that very clear in volume 1), but it is up to us, because we are still free agents, what is going to happen as we move along that road.  We can either lead people to the road of perdition or we can lead people right up to the road to heaven.  We are involved.  We have cosmic influence in our lives, every last one of us is a Frodo-everyman.

We don't just live in the here and now.  God has given us, through our freedom, the ability to participate in this huge struggle, where it's the mystical body of Christ vs. the kingdom of Satan, and we're involved.  And either we're on the side of light or the side of darkness.  And that's why I put it in those terms.  It's about the whole cosmos.  We're involved.

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Editor's note: In Part 2 of this interview, Fr. Spitzer further discusses the nature of the struggle against evil and the role of the saints and sacraments in combatting sin.

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Acknowledgement

Paul Senz. "Fighting Satan and escaping the darkness of evil: An interview with Fr. Robert Spitzer." Catholic World Report (July 5, 2021).

Reprinted with permission from Catholic World Report. Image credit: The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Luca Giordano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Author

senzpPaul Senz  graduated from the University of Portland with his Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry. He lives in Oregon with his family.

Copyright © 2021 Catholic World Report
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