Discerning Spirits

Homily for the Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Today’s first reading from the First Letter of St. John is one of my favorites in all of Scripture because it calls us to open our spiritual eyes and ears to see where the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and in the Church. But it also reminds us to be cognizant of how the Evil One is at work in the world. St. John is calling us to recognize the importance of the discernment of spirits in our daily lives.

I know I have said this in a homily before, but it bears repeating: spiritual warfare is a real thing, it is absolutely a real thing. As people of faith, we see it each and every day – all we have to do is turn on the news at night. We see how much hate, deceit, division, and discord is present in the world. At the same time, we are also called to not let our peace be disrupted by the presence of evil in the world; instead, we are called to embrace a deeper sense of trust that the Lord is with us in the midst of it. That’s where this discernment of spirits can really be helpful for us.

We know the tactics of the Devil…we know his tactics because He isn’t original. He uses the same things to always try to influence us. It’s the 4 D’s: Deceive, Divide, Divert, Discourage.

Deceive: One of the titles that we give to the Devil is the Father of Lies. He deceives us with many false and empty promises. Most of those relate to the lie that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we sin or deny aspects of the truth. This is why we have to test everything that we hear and think and compare it to what we know to be the Truth as revealed to us in Scripture and in the tenets of our faith.

Divide: The very word diabolical means something that cuts, tears, or divides. It’s no surprise, then, that the Devil likes to divide us – I think many of us have seen how this has played out in our world in just the last few months. The Evil One likes to work to divide us internally first. St. Paul even talks about how we sometimes do the things that we do not want to do. That does spill out into the community at times, though. Holding onto anger, resentment, fear, misunderstandings – those are all ways that division is sowed within our own hearts and within our communities. All the more reason why we have to strive to invite the Lord into those areas.

Divert: As Christians, our primary focus should be on the Lord. Our goal is Heaven and eternal life with the Father. The way we get there is by walking the journey of faith and being obedient to the Truth, putting into practice our love of God and love of neighbor. The Devil does all that he can to divert us from that path, to cause us to turn away from our one true goal. He wants us to focus on lesser things and avoid focusing on greater things and striving for holiness. It is our responsibility to focus on what matters most and to refuse to be diverted from that path of holiness.

Discourage: The devil likes to discourage. We sometimes put such high expectations on ourselves to live a certain way and when we don’t achieve those expectations, we get discouraged. The Devil loves when we get discouraged because he knows that’s the door for him to enter. The desire to quit or give up is not from God. Instead, we are called to embrace a true spirit of humility, recognizing that where we often times fall short and run to the Lord in those moments, allowing Him to pick us up.

We know how the Devil works. All the more reason why the lesson in our first reading today is an important one for us: “do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God.” May we always remain rooted in the Truth and trust that the Lord is never far from our side. All we have to do is turn to Him and continually ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us on our journey of faith.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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