‘The Devil in the Castle’ Is a Battle Plan Against the Evil One
BOOK PICK: Dan Burke’s latest read focuses on spiritual warfare and the wisdom of St. Teresa of Avila.
The Devil in the Castle
St. Teresa of Avila, Spiritual Warfare, and the Progress of the Soul
By Dan Burke
Sophia Institute Press, 2022
192 pages, $21.95
To order: EWTNRC.com
Prayer is essential for a relationship with God. Beyond us talking to God, many of the saints have spoken of contemplative prayer, where God speaks to us in the silence.
In her classic book The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite mystic and doctor of the Church, shared her experiences with contemplative prayer, describing seven stages of growing union with God, comparing it to a castle with seven “mansions.”
Alongside profound reflections on such things as humility, self-knowledge, detachment, and suffering, she also addressed devilish ploys tempting us to retreat from God. In his new book, The Devil in the Castle: St. Teresa of Avila, Spiritual Warfare, and the Progress of the Soul, Dan Burke guides readers through the spiritual advancement of the seven levels, explaining the demonic strategies to divert us specific to those levels. Burke’s own path of advancement includes serving as past president and chief operating officer of EWTN News, before focusing full time on educating and inspiring others as president and founder of the Avila Institute, offering studies in spiritual theology for both religious and laity in 72 countries and for seminarians in 14 dioceses. He is also co-host of Divine Intimacy Radio at EWTN Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
“Have you ever considered that the devil is active in your prayer life,” Burke asks in the introduction. It’s a startling question. Isn’t prayer a guarded communication between us and heaven?
What many do not know about St. Teresa,” he writes, “is that she also observed the actions of demons working with militant force to lead even good souls astray.”
Pointing out that this doctor of the Church could also be called a doctor of spiritual warfare, Burke explains that St. Teresa wrote of how the devil engages with those seeking God and sometimes manages to lead them off course. “The saints are given to us by God not only to show us how to become saints, but to help us fight the daily battle against the father of lies and his legion of demons.”
Burke uses St. Teresa’s wisdom as a guide through the devil’s adept schemes tailored to the progressive nature of the life of a soul. Chapters are divided into themes according to St. Teresa’s seven “mansions.” For instance, in the first mansion, Burke explains that the devil’s goal is to keep souls lukewarm, lacking passion for God. “The demons are very happy with ‘nice Christians’ but not with Christians who are ready to become brave warriors standing against the demons’ nefarious cause.” He quotes St. Teresa’s reassurance that God will strengthen the soul who seeks him while, at the same time, the devil fights against the soul striving for union with God.
Examples of these traps include distraction, temptation and division. Burke lays out the real-life ways we experience this when seeds of the Gospel are choked off by thorns of worldly distractions. It could be a shallow practice of the faith, where a person is not all-in for God, or a slipping away entirely by getting caught up in things of the world.
Each chapter summarizes the battle to expect at the various levels with suggestions for how to fight back. In the first mansion, suggestions include more frequent Mass attendance and confession, a daily examen of conscience (included in the book, along with a confession guide), guarding against a critical spirit of others, and keeping our own final judgment before us.
At higher levels, demonic tactics become more sophisticated to distort or mimic supernatural encounters. These can distract and tempt one to pride, such as thinking you are, in some way, the cause of spiritual experiences, leading to self-deception. “At this stage,” Burke advises, “be open to the movements of God but always hesitant to trust your own judgment of them.”
Additional insights Burke shares are: the marks of authentic contemplative encounter with God, why dryness in prayer and desolation can be used to advance a soul’s progress, discerning God’s will, and 11 ways to test the authenticity of charismatic gifts.
The Devil in the Castle is a battle plan against the devil for the faithful as they strive to draw closer to God. It is a reminder not to get complacent and overconfident in our own abilities. For although the devil’s cunning is relentless, we’ve been given the spiritual tools needed to overcome it and journey toward union with God, in the Easter season and always.