Jesus didn’t just complain about the human condition.
He actually did something.
“He directly fought the devil!” said Father William Peckman, pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul parish in Boonville and St. Joseph parish in Fayette. “He acknowledged and did battle with the demonic forces that ceaselessly try to influence our behavior.”
Since July 7, Fr. Peckman and two other priests have been helping prepare thousands of Catholics to engage in spiritual battle, through an online program called “Let Freedom Ring: 40 Days to Freedom from the Devil.”
“This is about spiritual warfare,” Fr. Peckman insisted. “It’s about looking at the sins that are grinding things to a halt within our families, our parishes, our Church and society, and dealing with them head-on.”
The goal is to use the ancient, time-honored Christian tools of prayer, reflection and reparation to “purge the demonic from our families, parishes, diocese and country, so that there may be an explosion of faith and charity in our Church at all levels,” he said.
Each day of the program includes a reflection on a particular sin that prevents people from reaching the full potential of their relationship with God.
There are also prayers and actions of mercy and reparation, along with a solid regimen of fasting and physical exercise.
“We’re talking about personal freedom and engaging in prayer in order to overcome temptations and learn new virtues,” said Fr. Peckman.
“We must arm ourselves with prayer and the sacraments,” he said. “That is what ‘Let Freedom Ring’ is designed to do.”
Fr. Peckman, Father Richard Heilman of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, and Father James Altman of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, take turns writing the reflections.
Fr. Peckman has already written about “Freedom from Fear,” “Freedom from Predation,” “Freedom from Envy,” “Freedom from Belligerence,” “Freedom from Pornography” and “Freedom from Godlessness.”
“We see all these things and we feel helpless, and we’re not!” he said. “By the grace of God, these things are all conquerable.”
About 65,000 people have signed up for the program through the U.S. Grace Force website.
Thousands of others are taking part without signing up.
The program began on July 7 and ends on Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Fr. Peckman said people can join the program any day and then return to the beginning to make up the missed days.
“Jump in where we’re at,” he suggested. “It’s in no particular order. Over time, were recommend that you engage all 40 days and maybe from time to time, work through it again.”
Because not everyone can participate at the same level of intensity, there is:
The basic prayer regimen is the same for all levels. The differences between red, white and blue involve the intensity of fasting and other reparation activities.
The black level also includes more time for prayer.
“As priests, we who have been entrusted with the sacraments are supposed to be leading the spiritual battle,” Fr. Peckman stated.
“As a leader and a shepherd, it’s our job to be in that breach between the flock and that which would prey on the flock.”
The wrong enemies
Fr. Peckman emphasized the importance of Catholics understanding and reclaiming spiritual warfare.
“It’s what we’re made for,” he said. “The warrior is more himself when he’s engaged than when he’s cowering.”
He pointed to an observation Jesus made after driving out a demon shortly after His Transfiguration: Some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting.
Fr. Peckman noted that Pope Francis — like his predecessors, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II — speaks clearly about exorcisms and doing battle with the devil.
Fr. Peckman insisted that some of the most shocking evil in humanity’s history has taken place in the past 150 years.
It has coincided with the growing ambivalence to the reality of spiritual battle in the world.
“We have redirected the fight we used to take to Satan, and we now use it against each other,” he said. “Instead of seeing the supernatural forces that are tempting and provoking us, we now only see each other as the enemy and treat each other in the same way an exorcist would treat a demon — namely, ‘Be gone!’”
Fr. Peckman believes that’s why reasonable debates have given way to shouting and drowning-out of opposition — akin to exorcism.
“We do not merely want to silence but to eliminate,” he said. “The belligerence and ferocity of these divisions continues to grow stronger.”
All the while, Satan cackles.
“The demons laugh with glee,” said Fr. Peckman. “They operate almost unrestricted and let those they influence take the blame.”
“We no longer fight them as we once did,” the priest asserted. “We punish their earthly proxies.”
A way of life
Fr. Peckman noted that there are as many temptations and impediments to grace as there are people.
“Not everyone has the same problems,” he said. “But the devil knows exactly where to hit.”
Identifying and actively engaging the spiritual flashpoints of this life have made Fr. Peckman feel more human, more powerful, more Catholic.
“A week into this, I could already see a difference,” he said. “I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not intimidated. The temptations I struggle with are evaporating.
“My hope for the long run is that this becomes a way of life,” he stated.