As catholics we believe that the devil tempts us to sin. How does the devil do this? Can our mind and thoughts be read? Could the devil understand our feelings and anxieties and tries to somehow capitalize on this? Does the devil somehow make unconscious suggestion into our will or thoughts so that we feel compelled to act on such insinuations?
It is stated in the New Testament that prayer and fasting can overcome the temptations of the devil. I know it is a simplistic question, but why is this the case?
In prayer and fasting we turn to God. And God has already claimed the victory over satan. The devil doesn’t like that, so uses any way he can to get us to turn away. In this fallen world satan can put doubts and such into our thoughts. Then there is the line, “Oh, one time won’t hurt.”
I don’t want to sound too simplistic, but every decision we make is either toward God or away from Him. The Mary Foundation (catholicity.com) has an excellent CD on confession. It explains things alot better than I can.
The devil cannot actually read our minds – but have you never correctly guessed someone’s thoughts or intention by watching his body language or listening to the tone of his voice?
The devil is old and evilly wise. He knows a lot and can guess a lot by observation.
He can introduce suggestions into our minds, and try to get us to think they’re our own thoughts. He can try to distract us when we should be doing or thinking good things.
But no, he can’t actually read our thoughts.
The devils tempt us through our passions, that is by inciting certain emotions in us and by suggesting thoughts to us, and by suggesting things into our imagination, images, etc. They can give us dreams as well.
For example, a devil can cause you to feel the emotion of ‘love’ for someone else and fall in love with that person. A devil can suggest a heretical thought to you. A devil can give you a dream at night that is a nightmare or a seduction.
While a devil can pressure you emotionally and with obsessive thoughts, they cannot directly control your will, they can only pressure you to make a decision or tempt you.
The typical modus operandi is: temptation into sin, slavery to the sin (addiction), leading others into sin through your life, and eventually despair and suicide.
The knowledge of an individual’s interior life of the devils is somewhat debatable, they have a -certain- amount of knowledge of what we think, but it is incomplete. What we hold in our deepest heart to heart, they do not know directly, but can only infer. They are however very very good at inferring what we are thinking, and can watch all the exterior signs that betray habitual thoughts in us that they are familiar with.
Most of what the saints write when you get down into the nitty gritty of it is about: love of God, love of fellow man for God’s sake, avoidance of sin, overcoming the passions, victory over: the world, the flesh and the devil. They also focus on discernment of spirits, that is being able to discern between angelic and Godly guidance in our interior life and diabolical, from our own.
A suggestion to begin with: If you will a thought directly, it is yours: If it is spontaneous and unwilled, then perhaps not.
There’s a lot of detail in how to overcome the passions with virtues and triumph in the interior life the battle against the devils.
Generally, to gain success over sin and in the spiritual battle: you will be aiming for: Continual prayer, a life free from sin and the occasion of sin and desire for sin, and mortification and penance, the latter two of which fasting is a part of.
I think all of the answers so far have merit. I’ve always thought that he knows our weaknesses better than we know them ourself, and exploits them to the max with conscious or subconscious “suggestions”.
My understanding is that demons (and angels) cannot read our minds since they are not omniscient, but because of their intelligence and many generations of observing human behavior, they are experts at guessing what we might be thinking.
I felt recently, without a shadow of a doubt, that the devil was tempting me and he is very clever! I wrote down everything I felt and experienced that time to help me in future times of need. My thoughts are; if what he wants you to do, is the opposite of love or will bring hurt and pain to others, it is him. If he makes it sounds very reasonable and justified and basically for your own good, it is him. If you resist, it may be that the suggestion is twisted into another form, to tempt you in a different way. Once I knew it was him, I called on Jesus for help and filled myself with love for Him. I also had my ‘Treasury of Novenas’ close at hand so I started reading from them which was the Word of the Lord and helped my heart to fill with love, until I couldn’t feel the temptation anymore.
I hope some of this helps you in some way.
They say that the cleverest thing the devil ever did was to make us believe he wasn’t real. Well, until yesterday, I was one of those people. Not any more. Praise Jesus!
God bless you,
His greatest and most used method is discouragement. About anything.
He uses suggestion over and over to wear us out.
He knows us because he has watched us sin in the past and uses our specific weaknesses against us.
He wants us to think that having a temptation is a sin.
The number one way to break temptation is the sign of the cross performed reverently and thoughtfully.
The miraculous medal or other religious objects that are blessed by a priest(church) should be kept on us as their presence is hated by satan; baptismal water especially.
These are objects of our faith and our dependence on God which makes the churches blessing effective. Jesus said to his apostles, “what you bind on earth is bound in heaven.”