Square Zero

Of Demons and Diapers

Posted by Eric (September 5, 2006 at 5:09 pm)

Michaelangelo's Last Judgement (detail)I came upon a post recently by one Father Joe, priest in Maryland, in which he criticized the notion husbands and wives confront a demonic struggle in the midst of their marriage, and that to be victorious in this struggle they would do well to employ fasting, singled out by Jesus as particularly effective for casting out demons. Fr. Joe writes:

“Marriages are not principally about powers and principalities, they are about dirty diapers, crying babies, doctors’ bills, making beds, fixing the car, going to church as a family, sleeping as husband and wife naked together under the covers, and so much more.”

Unfortunately, my comments in reponse to this passage were removed from the blog. I offer them here—not to give new life to my dispute with Fr. Joe about what he wrote, which was in response to a particular set of circumstances, but because I wish to share what I hope are a few worthy thoughts.

I put it to you [I wrote to Fr. Joe] that you are presenting here a false dilemma. These simple aspects of marital life are the very plain upon which the battle between good and evil takes place, where one’s guardian angel and those devils whose special task it is to seek the ruin of one’s soul struggle for decisive influence.

Satan hates marriage, just like he hates each one of us, and he’s going to try to break through every chink and crack he can. Changing diapers! How easy it is for a man to leave this to his wife—selfishly. And how easy for a wife to resent him for it—bitterly. Even this seemingly mundane thing can be matter of real spiritual battle.

To say that a paritcular issue doesn’t involve the “cosmic battle” is, in fact, to say that it doesn’t involve grace. If the battle between good and evil doesn’t involve diapers, then there’s no grace involved in diapers, and any mother or father could tell you—and I speak here as the father of seven—that it’s only through grace that you survive the diaper years.

Fixing the car! I know all too well how Satan tempts me when I’m working on a mechanical repair. He would love nothing more for me to lose my temper, swear, rudely rebuke the son who’s too slow getting me the wrench I need.

Doctor bills! A man is a fool not to pray for patience before discussing doctor bills with his wife; and no, not because she tries his patience, but because he is a hot-headed fool whose real worry for his families financial state is perverted all too easily into angy words.

And is it necessary to say that the spiritual battle is waged in the midst of that nakedness between the sheets. Pope John Paul II of happy memory said just that:

“Becoming one as husband and wife, they find themselves in the situation in which the powers of good and evil fight and compete against each other” Wed. Audience, 6/27/84.

He connects this fight directly to the marital embrace itself, noting the prayer of Tobiah before lying together with Sarah as her husband.

John Paul II knew that Satan wants nothing more than to undermine the harmony of husband and wife in the marital bed. Tobiah knew it. You ought to know it too.

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3 Responses to “Of Demons and Diapers”

  1. Father Joe says:

    Dear Eric,

    I have nothing against fasting and think that a restoration of the old discipline regarding abstinence on all Fridays might be a useful discipline for our people. Indeed, in the context of prayer and sacrifice, such mortification of the flesh can strengthen us for all sorts of moral and spiritual battles.

    The criticisms I made at my Blog were in reference to spiritualizing the challenges and difficulties of life and marriage in such a way that the nitty gritty elements were dismissed or eclipsed. They also centered on a particular essay and an inexact description of a modern movement. You must really want a confrontation, and yet I find no great fault in your post, OF DEMONS AND DIAPERS. I absolutely agree that the focus, even for our repudiation of the demonic, takes place on an earthly and human plain– of dirty diapers, doctor’s bills, fixing the car, the family table and so much more. Indeed, the seemingly mundane things of life and marriage can, and are often, occasions of grace.

    I have reviewed your site and even left comments for a few posts that I found interesting and informative. You have a good Blog and you seem to be right on the mark about the many facets of our Christian (Catholic) faith. It is unfortunate that we got off on the wrong foot, but I trust we are in sync regarding essentials.

    May God bless and watch over you and yours,
    Father Joe

    Comment posted September 5th, 2006 at 5:58 pm
  2. Eric says:

    Fr. Joe writes: “You must really want a confrontation, and yet I find no great fault in your post, OF DEMONS AND DIAPERS.”

    Dear Fr. Joe—Thanks for commenting on my post. No, I’m not looking for a confrontation, I promise you. In fact, in my original draft of this post I did not use your name or link to your blog at all; I just wanted to publish my remarks above about the cosmic struggle between the forces of light and dark that takes place in the small things of married life.

    However, that approach proved rather wordy and frustratingly ambiguous. I named you and linked to your blog because it seemed necessary to provide a brief context for the rest of the post.

    But perhaps that context was too brief, not sufficiently laying out the particular issues and trends that you were responding too. I have edited the second paragraph of my post accordingly.

    I’m glad that we agree, and actually not that surprised. I suspected you were simply overstating your case in seeming to draw a line between the struggle with principalities and powers and the daily struggles of married life.

    In fact, I wish that the discussion could have been continued in the comments section at your blog, because I actually think you’re onto something in objecting to the tendency to “spiritualiz[e] the challenges and difficulties of life and marriage.” But I don’t know if this blog is the place. As you might have noticed, I have avoided naming the circumstances to which you were responding; I do not want to help give further life to a scandal I think best left alone.

    I hope there are no hard feelings on either side, and perhaps we’ll get the chance to shake on it someday—possibly at the March for Life next year.

    Comment posted September 5th, 2006 at 7:27 pm
  3. Father Joe says:

    Just a quick correction, Eric, I did not remove your comments, I simply moved them when I reorganized certain Blog material. I divided the large posts into smaller ones, allowing them to be more easily read. I kept your comment regarding the estranged couple and then also inserted two fairly large comments into a special page (not a dated post) on E5 Men. As the family communicated with me more of the facts of the “particular” case, I stopped posting or seeking comments, for reasons of confidentiality. Peace!

    Comment posted December 10th, 2007 at 11:26 am