It’s been a miserable winter for many people, with record-breaking snowstorms and chilling temperatures. As I write this, we are about to get hammered with yet another snowstorm, and nearly every face I see seems to carry a scowl. It’s the kind of atmosphere that is ripe for desolation. St. Ignatius gives us some tips on resisting the “evil one” who seeks to undo our efforts toward goodness and love: “The enemy acts like a woman, in being weak against vigor and strong of will. Because, as it is the way of the woman when she is quarreling with some man to lose heart, taking flight when the man shows her much courage.” (Sp. Ex. 12th rule)
Let’s admit that it’s a sexist image that the evil one is a like a woman who stops arguing with a man when he finally puts his foot down. However, if we can forgive Ignatius for being a 16th-century man, his underlying insight is crucial: the evil one flees in the face of courage. Our temptation is to make the evil one stronger than he really is. Yes, evil can be like a wild beast assaulting us. God’s goodness is always greater, but we have to cooperate too. Ignatius is clear: we must each individually face the temptations of the evil one with courage.
How do we resist? First, we should not change our plans made in times of consolation. Instead, we should remain firm in our prior commitments to family, friends, service, prayer, and so on, for when we resist temptations with courage, the enemy flees. Second, Ignatius suggests finding trusted spiritual friends with whom to share our struggles, so that they are out in the light rather than hidden in darkness (rule 13). Third, we need to have enough self-knowledge to understand our own weaknesses, which the enemy analyzes like a military defense, which he seeks to invade (rule 14).
If we can shore up those weak spots with support, we will be less likely to react out of those places. We can actively resist the enemy by remaining with our prior good commitments, sharing our feelings and struggles with our friends, and remembering that Jesus is our strong ally who overcomes all evil.