Matthew Murdock was both a lawyer and a superhero. Losing his sight in a childhood accident left him with a heightened, and even superhuman, sense of hearing. And losing his father in a violent crime when he was just a boy left him with a thirst for justice. Murdock was raised Roman Catholic and remained so even as he sought to practice law and fight crime in the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Murdock would regularly visit Fr. Lantom, his parish priest, for Confession and advice.
One day Murdock asked Fr. Lantom an important question: “Do you believe in the Devil, Father?” “You mean, as a concept?” Fr. Lantom replied. “No,” Murdock said. “Do you believe he exists, in this world, among us?” “You want the short answer or the long one?” Fr. Lantom asked. “Just the truth,” Murdock replied. Fr. Lantom then went on to say that while in seminary he thought that the devil was “inconsequential, a minor figure in the grand scheme,” and perhaps even a creation of theologians, “propaganda…to drive people into the church.” But later, Fr. Lantom said, his experience as a priest taught him otherwise. It taught him that the devil is real, that he does exist, and that he indeed walks among us (Daredevil, Season 1, Episode 9).
Although I never had doubts about the devil’s existence while in seminary, my experience as a priest has been similar to Fr. Lantom’s. My experience in the Confessional, as well as outside of it, has taught me that the devil is real, that he does exist, and that he indeed walks among us. Besides “the devil,” the enemy is given several other names in Sacred Scripture. He is called “Satan,” which means “adversary” in Hebrew. He is also called the deceiver, the accuser, and the father of lies (e.g. John 8:44, Revelation 12:9-10).
All of these are appropriate titles. All of these are appropriate descriptions of how the devil operates in the world and in our lives. In our daily struggle with temptation and sinful habits, we experience the devil as our adversary, the enemy of our human nature and our relationship with God. In our struggles with guilt and shame, we experience him as the accuser, who tells us that we are too sinful, too broken, and too damaged for God to heal and forgive. In our consumption of media, especially news media, we experience him as a deceiver and father of lies, whose only intent is to spread doubt and despair, division and desperation. For he is indeed the devil—from the Greek diabolos—meaning to “throw apart” or “cast asunder.”
The devil is not inconsequential. He is not a minor figure in the grand scheme of things. And, yet, he is only a creature. He is not the Creator. And our Creator God, our Heavenly Father, has given us a sure help and strong defense against our adversary the devil. He has given us “the Advocate,” the Holy Spirit, who is “the Spirit of truth.” “The Advocate”—in Greek, “the Paraclete”—has a wide range of meanings. It literally means “one who is called to your side.” The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, comes to our side to defend us against our adversary the devil. If our lives were a legal drama, the Holy Spirit would be our defense attorney and the devil would be the prosecution. The devil would come to court to accuse us of our sins, and he would ask for the death penalty. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would present a compelling case in our defense. He would call one witness on our behalf, bring forward one piece of evidence to acquit us. The witness, Jesus Christ; the evidence, His Blood shed for us on the Cross.
Jesus Christ is our first Advocate. That is why Jesus says that He will “ask the Father [to] give you another Advocate.” The Holy Spirit is our second Advocate. And to defend us against our adversary the devil, the Holy Spirit always presents our first Advocate, Jesus Christ. St. John, the author of our gospel today, says this in his first letter: “My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 John 2:1). Jesus Christ is our first Advocate, and the Holy Spirit, our second Advocate, always calls Him forward in our defense against our adversary the devil.
The Holy Spirit does this especially when we receive the Sacraments and pray with Sacred Scripture. These are the Holy Spirit’s best moves as our defense attorney. For Jesus Christ is made present in the Sacraments through the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is the Divine Author of Sacred Scripture, which is the very living Word of God. Whenever we receive the Sacraments or pray with Scripture, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, becomes present and fights on our behalf. And with Him, we cannot fail to win our case. We cannot fail to be acquitted. In any legal battle of the Advocate—or really the Advocates—versus the adversary, the Advocates always win.
As we prepare for the coming the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let’s strive to call on our Advocate the Holy Spirit in our battles against our adversary the devil. I’d like to suggest two ways of doing this. The first is to make a private appointment for Confession. Our adversary likes to work in secret, because his lies and deceptions are harder to perceive in the dark. But when they are exposed in the light of Confession, and when we call upon the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of our sins, the devil takes flight.
Second, I’d like to suggest memorizing an aspiration. An aspiration is a short prayer, often taken from Sacred Scripture, that can be helpful to say when we are feeling attacked by the devil. “Aspiration” literally means “the action of drawing breath,” and we can think of these prayers as drawing the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, into our lungs. Some of my favorite aspirations include: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13); “Lord I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24); “Lord, say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation’” (Psalm 35:3); and “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). Find a short prayer like this from Sacred Scripture and memorize it. Then, we you are feeling attacked, call upon the Holy Spirit by saying it.
We can’t forget about the devil or think him inconsequential. But we also can’t forget about the Holy Spirit. Jesus has asked His Father and He has given as “another Advocate to be with [us] always, the Spirit of truth.” And if we call upon this Advocate, He will lead us “to all truth” (John 16:3), to the Truth who is Jesus Christ Himself, who is our sure help and strong defense.