Portions of the following are from an article in the July 24, 2020, issue of The Catholic Missourian:
Father William Peckman wrote one-third of a new Catholic devotional book on rooting out evil, one day at a time.
It’s called Let Freedom Ring: 40 Days for Freedom from the Devil.
It’s a collection of daily meditations Fr. Peckman and two other priests wrote for usgraceforce.com last summer.
It’s about spiritual warfare and conquering temptation.
“This is in many ways a long and detailed examination of conscience,” Fr. Peckman, pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul Parish in Boonville, recently wrote to his parishioners.
More than 12,000 copies of the book were sold online in less than three weeks.
Fr. Peckman noted that the way to kill a tree is to target its roots, rather than its fruit.
“We waste a lot of time forming circular firing squads when we need to aim and fire at our own personal demons who drag us into sin,” he stated.
He pointed out to The Catholic Missourian last summer that Jesus didn’t just complain about what was going on around Him, He did something about it.
“He directly fought the devil!” the priest stated. “He acknowledged and did battle with the demonic forces that ceaselessly try to influence our behavior.”
Breaking the chains
The idea for the online program that became Let Freedom Ring came together in less than a week.
Fr. Peckman was near the end of a weeklong private retreat when he saw an online post from Father Richard Heilman of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, who was thinking about doing something to promote devotion.
Both priests had written extensively online about morality and Church history.
Fr. Peckman had spent that week rereading The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, a book that St. Francis de Sales kept in his possession at all times.
“I had also spent the week praying about things going on in my own life, in my parishes’ lives and what I saw going on in society and the Church,” said Fr. Peckman.
Fr. Heilman’s post got him thinking.
Fr. Peckman contacted him that evening with a rough sketch of a 40-day program.
It would draw on themes from The Spiritual Combat, works by the late Pauline Father Gabriele Amorth and other authors.
“Fr. Heilman jumped all over it,” said Fr. Peckman. “In 24 hours, we had laid out the groundwork.”
Their working title, Let Freedom Ring: 40 Days for Freedom from the Devil, never changed.
“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.”
Fr. Heilman called on Father James Altman of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, to help with the daily reflections.
Their goal was 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,” said Fr. Peckman.
Each day of the program would include a reflection on a particular sin that prevents people from reaching the full potential of their relationship with God.
There would also be prayers and actions of mercy and reparation, along with a solid regimen of fasting and physical exercise.
Fr. Peckman agreed to write 16 of the chapters, which included topics such as “Freedom from Fear,” “Freedom from Predation,” “Freedom from Envy,” “Freedom from Belligerence,” “Freedom from Pornography” and “Freedom from Godlessness.”
“We’re talking about personal freedom and engaging in prayer in order to overcome temptations and learn new virtues,” he told The Catholic Missourian at that time.
“We must arm ourselves with prayer and the sacraments,” he said. “That is what ‘Let Freedom Ring’ is designed to do.”
The authors announced on July 4 that the series would start on July 7 and continue through Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An estimated 75,000 people partook of the online offerings each day.
Because not everyone could participate at the same level of intensity, each day’s entry included:
The basic prayer regimen was the same for all levels. The differences between red, white and blue involved the intensity of fasting and other reparation activities.
The black level also included more time for prayer.
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.”
The project helped make Fr. Peckman aware of his own flashpoints and of God’s power to heal them and give him strength.
It made the priest 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.
“40 Days to Freedom” turned out to be so transformational and impactful that the three priests decided to compile the daily meditations into a book to reach more people.
“As ‘children of light,’ we are called to put on the armor of God so that we may stand firm against the tactics of the devil,” Fr. Heilman stated, citing Ephesians 6:11. “The tools in this book give us our weapons back and enable us to fight the darkness.”
The first run of 2,400 copies sold out in less than two days.
“We ordered 3,000 more books in time for Lent,” said Fr. Peckman.
He surmised that 2020, with its plentiful manifestations of evil and isolation, helped create a demand for something challenging, spiritually engaging and powerful.
“We see all these things going on around us and we feel helpless, but we’re not!” he stated. “By the grace of God, these things are all conquerable.”
The wrong enemies
Fr. Peckman emphasized the importance of Catholics understanding and reclaiming spiritual warfare.
“We’ve got job to do as a Church that desperately needs to be done,” the priest stated. “It’s what we’re made for. 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.”
Let Freedom Ring: 40 Days for Freedom from the Devil is available online at romancatholicgear.com.