Spiritual Warfare and the Discernment of Spirits
By Dan Burke
Sophia Institute Press, 2019
105 pages, $14.95
To order sophiainstitute.com or (800) 888-9344
To be human is to discern. And it is serious business. Consider that it is discernment of spirits, or lack thereof, that pits people against one another on the abortion issue. Both sides think they represent truth and justice, but only one is right. That is, only one side has properly discerned the spirit of truth.
Discernment is our task when planning for the future or when determining if a bad feeling is from the devil, trying to stop us from doing God’s work, or if it is from God, directing us away from something.
Walking with Our Lord requires ongoing spiritual discernment to keep pace with him and avoid the pitfalls laid by the devil.
In his latest book, Spiritual Warfare: Discernment of Spirits, Dan Burke presents a manual to help the faithful overcome obstacles laid by the enemy and to recognize the voice of God.
Based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and insights from Catholic mystics, Burke presents steps to move from sin to sanctity and navigate through spiritual conflicts and desolation to peace.
The battle for our souls is unavoidable and never-ending and one that Burke fought fiercely in order to emerge from a dark childhood. It is mentioned briefly, without drama, to let readers know that regardless of circumstances, there is hope. “You can and will find peace if you seek the peace that He bought and paid for by His own torment and sacrifice on your behalf,” Burke writes.
Before getting down to what he calls the “Thirteen Rules for Spiritual Discernment,” he establishes a few important points, beginning with a warning against counterfeit remedies outside the Catholic Church.
“So we have Buddhism mixed with the Sacrament of the Present Moment as if they are somehow compatible,” he writes. And although Mindfulness and Transcendental Meditation and other un-Christian Eastern ideas have gotten a lot of media attention, they can actually be spiritually dangerous, according to Burke, who states that science does not bear out their claims. Rather than the illusions pulling so many people in, Burke invites readers into true healing — one he himself received.
“The way to win the war was to avail myself of the power of God to destroy the lies that the enemy had sown into my mind,” he writes. “Our central strategy, by the power of God, is to take every thought captive — to make them obedient to Christ.”
The key, Burke explains, is to separate the “Lies I Believe” from the “Truths of God.” He bases this concept on James 4:7-8, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Thinking one is worthless is transformed into, “I am a child of God” (John 1:12). As fear, anxiety, despair and narcissism lift, truth moves in.
The next step leads readers through necessary foundational truths for closer union with God.
It is crucial, Burke states, that “we must have an authentic ‘yes’ in our heart to God to begin and complete the journey of healing in heaven … to know him intimately.” To support that Yes, the sacraments of the Eucharist and confession are essential as both a remedy and protection. Then, prayer, following the example of the saints — particularly the Rosary and mental prayer — is the third foundational element to effective discernment.
The fourth element, which he refers to as the “saint-making machine,” is the daily exercise of the deliberate effort to move away from sin and toward God.
“As we begin to implement these practices, we will lay a foundation that is, in and of itself, the most powerful healing force we can know,” Burke writes.
“We will begin living by what is known in Catholic Tradition as a ‘rule of life’ or what we call in our community a ‘plan of love.’” And, finally, there is the examination of conscience in a way that is focused on God’s redemptive power and mercy, and not human weakness.
Once the groundwork is in place, Burke moves readers through the “Thirteen Rules for Discernment of Spirits” that prepare them to be spiritual warriors, growing stronger through the battle.
Through learning how to discern God from the enemy, readers discover:
— how to take captive every negative thought and make it obedient to Christ;
— St. Ignatius’ revelations exposing how the devil seeks to influence people;
— the three ways to discern good spirits from bad spirits;
— the three principal causes of desolation and what one must do when afflicted; and
— proven methods for moving away from sin and toward self-giving love of God and neighbor.
These exercises teach readers how to arm themselves in order to live in peace and union with God.
As Burke explains, the spiritual life is ongoing, so he advises reading the book a second time and offers ongoing support through his Avila Institute without additional cost. He also includes a list of other recommended resources.
In the end, Burke says that as long as one continues to seek God through “his endless well of wisdom and grace in the Church, nothing can stop you on your path to healing and spiritual growth.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.