Time for some depressing thoughts on demons and demonology! Demonology is one of my favorite topics in theology (I know. Freaky). I’m not obsessed with it, I simply treat it as a piece of spiritual and practical knowledge, because hey, the Devil exists!
Saint John Climacus, also known John Scholasticus, John Sinaites, and John of the Ladder, was a 7th-century monk who lived on Mount Sinai. He is famous for his classical writing The Ladder of Divine Ascent or simply the “Climax”. The Ladder is an ascetical treatise on how to reach a state of “feelinglessness” vital to the monastic life. While many things in the book are not immediately practical and need to be greatly adjusted to the modern life, his reflections on the nature of temptation to help us become more aware of the snares of our terrible Enemy.
Here are the 3 traps set by Satan against goodness, according to St. John Climacus.
1. Prevent good from being done
This is the first and most obvious trick of Satan. He will set external circumstances so that they become barriers for good things to occur. Or, he will trick us into thinking it is impossible to do good. We get fatigued, frustrated, discouraged, and finally we choose not to do it at all. If this discouragement persists, we eventually become a pessimistic soul. We no longer see the use of trying, because we are convinced that the poor will still be poor, natural disasters will still happen all the time, and undeserving people still get rich and popular.
2. Ensure that things are not done according to the Will of God
This trap is more difficult to discern unless we have known God and His ways in our life to a certain extent. Maybe we desire to do certain good things for society. We may even dream of doing great things for the world, noble things that we think must be pleasant to God and beneficial to others (which, in themselves, may indeed be pleasant to God and beneficial to others). Armed with this confidence, we push through boldly, not caring about what other people say, not listening to our heart, and consequently we become dangerously stubborn.
There are as many ways to do good as there are charisms and vocations – from renouncing all material wealth and live in a secluded monastery, to remaining as a CEO who implements Catholic moral principles into the company’s rules and uses personal income to help build an orphanage, to becoming a devout housewife and homeschooling mother. Not everyone is called to be a Mother Teresa, a Joan of Arc, or a Padre Pio. Sometimes our true vocation may not be likable or may even be alarming to us at first. But we need to keep in mind that doing God’s will is what pleases Him the most and what will give Him the greater glory. We are called to holiness; the question is, how we get there.
3. Drag us down through pride
If we have successfully navigated our way to a godly life, the last stumbling block to holiness is pride. Pride is the sneakiest, most dangerous sin, because it can seep into all the seven virtues. The temptation can take many forms: well-meaning compliments from others, admiration from the society, certain fortune after we do good, or just a general sense of accomplishment that swells in our heart. We start to rationalize our behaviors and our thoughts, and we no longer feel the need to go to confession. Nothing gives the demons such power over us as nourishing and hiding them in our heart unconfessed.
We must be wary of this last pit, the pit of pride, because it is like a worm hidden inside the fruits of our good work.