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Who’s Your Enemy?

Politics can easily become infatuated with naming your enemy. Nothing says what you stand for like saying who your enemy is and what they don’t stand for. You see this, perhaps most clearly, during campaign season. It’s a popular tactic that brings in the votes and the money.

This tendency to paint human people—flesh and blood—as our enemies is a tendency that Joe Heschmeyer, Catholic Answers staff apologist, recently (and rightly) critiqued at our annual Bishops’ Pro-Life Banquet.

But on what basis did Heschmeyer make this critique?

The simple answer: Sacred Scripture.

Citing the Letter to the Ephesians, Heschmeyer reflected on these words of St. Paul: “For we are not contending against flesh and flood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

His point is that our enemies are not other human beings with whom we are contending, whether in the political arena or in some other context. Our only and truest enemies are “the principalities, against the powers, against the world rules of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

As one biblical commentary puts it: “Flesh and blood are Satan’s mere tools, the real foe lurking behind them is Satan himself, with whom our conflict is.” Or as St. Thomas Aquinas states it: “When flesh and blood attack us, it is not of themselves principally but from a higher moving force, namely, from the devil.” Or as the Angelic Doctor illustrates: “Evil men are horses, and the demons the riders.”

But how apt are we to keep this in mind and heart?

It’s too easy to focus on the visible and the fleshy in this earthly pilgrimage. For those reasons, it’s all too easy to name our enemy as our fellow man. This by no means should downplay the serious disagreements we may have with other people, especially on fundamental matters of social and political life. But it is only to say this: those humans with whom we disagree are not our enemy.

So, what to make of all this?

We are in a fight with the Devil and his demonic minions. And, as Heschmeyer noted, if we think we will win such a battle against a ferocious enemy with our wits and powers, we had best think again. As we know from a basic understanding of angels (including those that have fallen from the grace of God), they are extremely intelligent. They are cunning and conniving and can outwit us in an instant.

As St. Thomas Aquinas further comments: “[St. Paul] describes the snares [of the Devil] because, when an enemy is near at hand, there is not much reason to be on one’s guard or fear him if he is weak, stupid and the like. But when he is strong, evil and shrewd, then he ought to be dreaded.”

So, in this fight against such an enemy, what should be our source of help?

St. Paul exhorts us in the preceding verses: “Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord and in the power of his virtue. Put on your armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the Devil.”

Returning to St. Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Ephesians, it is critical that our reliance be on the Lord, first and foremost, and—then and only then—on us putting on the armor of God. We have a part to play in the combat against the Evil One. Thomas states: “[E]veryone must do what he can since, if an unarmed man went into battle, no matter how much the king protected him, he would still be in danger.”

All of this is to say: next time you go about thinking that your political enemies are the flesh and blood people around you, think again. Your fight is with a deeper and more powerful being, one that can only be defeated through the blood of Jesus Christ.

If we can adopt this spirituality in our political bouts, whether defending babies and moms, fighting for religious freedom, or protecting the poor, we can more deeply depend on the Lord, from whom all good things come.

My prayer for all of us is that we start seeing our true enemy for who he is—the Devil—and not mix him up with false enemies, as wrong as they might be on the fundamental issues of justice and peace.

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