Stacy A. Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She teaches chemistry and physics for Kolbe Academy online homeschool program. She teaches “Reading Science in the Light of Faith” at Holy Apostles College & Seminary and “Catholic Theology of Science” at Seton Hall University. She is author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Her new book is Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Ave Maria Press). Her website can be found here.
For all human history, Satan and his demons have tempted us to turn away from God. Satan was in the Garden of Eden, Christ drove demons out of possessed or oppressed people, and even now as you read this demons battle for our souls.
It is a strange idea for a newbie though. Let us be logical. If true, then there is no battle more important to fight than for the salvation of souls from eternal condemnation. Spiritual warfare trumps all mundane safety measures, be they child-proofing, vitamin-taking, calorie-counting, or seatbelt-buckling. Yet, spiritual warfare seems so intangible, so otherworldly, and it is hard to figure out how to deal with it.
I had a mix of feelings about demons resonating between paralyzing fear and ambivalent disbelief when I first converted. I mean, how are Catholics supposed to respond to demons anyway? “Demons! Oh, no! Demons! I’m never leaving my closet! AAHHH!” Or, do we just say it but not mean it? “Demons waging war all around us? Yes, of course, theoretically but how wifty really. Bagel anyone?” Personally, as a chemist, I was already comfortable exploring abstract realities. I visualize the air I breathe as a system of intermolecular attractions and bonding orbitals in molecules. Grasping that a transcendental war rages between opposite angelic beings all around me was merely a transfer of a familiar skill, except beings and atoms are certainly very different kinds of objects.
Nevertheless, I was committed to the Catholic faith enough to follow the logic to its end. My reasoning was such: if I believe the Bible, then I believe angels exist, for they clearly are not figurative, and if angels are spirits without bodies, then both good ones and bad ones are more powerful than humans will ever be, encumbered with our fingers, eyes, and brains as we are. Reason convinced me that teaching my (then) small children to pray was of extreme importance. So, I did what any good scientist would do. I changed a variable and measured its effects. That is, I implemented a bedtime routine, taught my (then) toddlers to pray 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys, and 3 Glory Bes each night, and observed what happened over time.
One night, kneeling around the bed, one daughter asked what “deliver us from evil” means. I was studying St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatise on the angels in the Summa Theologiæ (in a theology course) and I had just completed a course on liturgical history, so I formulated a kid-appropriate answer. As a side note, this juxtaposition of learning from the intellectual treasures of the Catholic Church while tending to the very corporeal needs of small children caused me to assimilate theology in a, shall we say, earthy way. I came up with a collection of mini-explanations I call the Mamma Theologiæ, which I would like to someday compile. Anyhow, here is how this one goes:
“What does ‘deliver us from evil’ mean? Well, evil is not just a thing; it is a person — Satan, the Evil One. He was a good angel who chose, out of pride, to reject God, and so he fell from grace. Other angels followed him, and they act as his demons. Demons try to turn you away from God so your soul will be lost to hell after you die. They can’t control you, but they can pressure you, suggest bad thoughts. That’s why I say you must be careful about what you watch on TV, for example, so you don’t let evil into your mind.”
“So,” she said, “it means we are asking for protection from Satan?”
“Yes. Demons are more powerful than humans.”
As soon as I spoke, I realized that I could not leave her in the dark with that thought, so I added, “Demons are more powerful than humans, but demons are not God, who is all-powerful. Satan is not God. As much as he wants to be God, it is impossible. Christ, who is God, already prevailed against Satan. It’s just that in our life as fallen human beings we have to fight spiritual battles for the salvation of our souls.”
“We pray. We can pray the Our Father and ask to be delivered from the Evil One. And we learn to recognize temptation for what it is. Sometimes when you feel depressed or anxious, it could be the temptation of demons trying to make you doubt yourself. Pray! Sometimes when you feel scared or angry, it could be the demons trying to distort the truth. Pray! When you pray, you surround yourself with God’s grace, and you can ask his good angels, especially your guardian angel, and the saints to surround you with protection too. Your prayers tell God that you choose to love, to know, and to serve Him. You have to pray often and you have to never stop trying, but you can rest assured that you are protected when you pray.”
“Like a shield, Mommy?”
“Yes, sweetie. Like a shield of love and light that will sustain you through your hardest and darkest times. Never, ever forget that. Goodnight, little warrior. No bad dreams allowed.”
I have been testing the effects of prayer in the laboratory of my life for a decade now. I believe this shield is real, not in a fideist sense but in a most empirical, lived proof. I have experienced the protection as I matured in faith. It is paradoxical but not one bit confusing.
On one hand, I have gained a heightened, intense perception of being surrounded by angels constantly, the ones sent to aid us on earth as well as the demon spirits who fight to tempt our souls to sin, anger, bitterness, fear, resentment, hatred, and despair. I feel the temptation, like a force pressing all around and trying to take the souls of the people I love. I have learned to never let my prayer-guard down.
On the other hand, I have an unshakable sense of calmness, strength, and even joy because—do not ask me to explain it too much because it is like trying to explain why photons have momentum—I am aware of the protection I pray for, not in a how-many-angels-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin way, but as a supernatural confidence, a reality I live with, an armor I have tested time and again with convincing results. I will not go into personal details, nor do I need to because we all suffer in our own ways, but I have survived much more than Stacy A. Trasancos is capable of surviving on her own.
Because of this deliverance from evil, I have no fear of the most dreadful beings that exist on this earth, which rather straightens my perspective of everything else. Sure, I am afraid of things on the surface like politicians, criminals, illness, prankster clowns, et cetera, but deep down I fear nothing. The God who holds electrons in their orbitals is the same God who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven for our salvation. Without doubt, I know that a life of faith is the only way to live free of fear.
As for the children, I am still raising them so that test is ongoing. I shield them in prayer as they navigate life and hope to God they discover this freedom too. Mostly, I long for an eternity with them and all my loved ones, safely united before the Holy Trinity in communion with the choir of angels and all the saints—because logic demands I hope for nothing less.