Summoning angelic legions in life’s great battle
A classic military strategy is to find an enemy’s weakness, and attack it. In spiritual warfare – yes, it exists – Satan and his demons have known since the Fall of Adam and Eve that human beings have a particular moral weakness when it comes to sexuality and being tempted to sin against the Sixth Commandment.
“So it just stands to reason that the enemy would attack us in this area,” said Dominican Father James Brent, a philosophy professor at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
Father Brent is also the official promoter of the Angelic Warfare Conference for the Dominican Order’s Province of St. Joseph, which encompasses the Northeastern United States and several other states in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.
The Angelic Warfare Conference is one of the Dominican Order’s three ancient confraternities. It has statutes and indulgences connected to its mission. It began in the 14th century, a little more than 100 years after the death of its patron, St. Thomas Aquinas. Pope Benedict XIII officially recognized the confraternity for the entire Church in 1727.
“This is an official organ in the mystical body,” Father Brent said. “It’s not just a private prayer group.”
The confraternity is described as a “supernatural fellowship” of believers who pray for themselves and each other to live the virtue of chastity. Members wear a blessed medal with St. Thomas Aquinas’ image and a blessed cord around their waist that is modeled on the “girdle of chastity” that tradition says the Angelic Doctor received from angels which preserved him from sexual temptation.
Daily prayer promise
Upon enrolling in the confraternity, members promise every day to say 15 Hail Marys and two special prayers for purity through the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas. Members testify to the Confraternity’s power in helping them to cultivate chastity.
“You are joined with thousands of other people who are all praying together, for one another, specifically for chastity and purity,” said Dr. Joe Eble, a radiologist and member of Legatus’ Tulsa Chapter.
Dr. Eble, the managing partner of Fidelis Radiology in Tulsa, Oklahoma, joined the confraternity last year, and said hundreds of other Catholics in Tulsa have since become members. He spoke of a growing awareness among the faithful that a spiritual war has been raging all around them since before the dawn of creation. They know Satan and his evil spirits are still “prowling the world, seeking the ruin of souls,” as the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel says.
Every person at war
“If a person does not know that they are at war, then they are losing the battle,” said Dr. Eble, 38, who is married with a young daughter. He added that spiritual warfare today manifests itself in many ways, including divisions in the Church and in society, especially in the family.
“That we are in a spiritual battle is dawning on more people and priests,” said Father Brent, who credits Pope St. John Paul II with inspiring faithful catechesis and theological inquiry on the subject after decades of teachings that downplayed or denied the supernatural.
Father Brent said chastity is an important battleground in spiritual warfare because Satan knows that people, weakened by Original Sin, have always been predisposed to misusing their sexuality. That vulnerability is magnified several times over in modern times because of the legacy of the Sexual Revolution and the availability of Internet pornography, which is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States.
“The lack of good moral norms in our society and the widespread availability of pornography on demand has left a lot of people in bondage,” said Father Brent, who added the struggle for chastity is creating “a special demand” for the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.
“When people heard about it, they joined and they found it very helpful,” said Father Brent, 44, who was appointed as his province’s promoter for the confraternity shortly after his ordination in 2010. In researching the confraternity, Father Brent said he was struck by how old it was and how quickly it first spread among the faithful. Early in his priesthood, he noticed it was again growing in popularity.
“It was almost like I was experiencing the very phenomenon I was reading about in the history of the confraternity, about its power and how quickly it spreads when people find out about it,” Father Brent said.
As to why the confraternity can be so powerful, Father Brent said it gives members a sharing of the grace of chastity that St. Thomas Aquinas received. Tradition holds that St. Thomas Aquinas received that special grace after chasing a woman out of his room whom his brothers had paid to tempt him in an attempt to sabotage his plans to join the then-new Dominican Order.
Accord with St. Thomas
After his death, the faithful preserved St. Thomas Aquinas’ cord of purity and venerated it. Today, the cord is kept in a Dominican church in the Italian town of Chieri, just outside Turin. Over the centuries, people have visited the cord to pray for purity, often touching their own cords to the relic.
Members of the confraternity still wear cords, which today they can order online and have blessed by a priest during an enrollment ceremony. The cord and a blessed medal of St. Thomas Aquinas that members also wear speak to the power of sacramentals such as scapulars, blessed rosaries, icons, holy water, and crucifixes.
“I just think we have forgotten the power of sacramentals, generally speaking, in the Church,” Father Brent said. “People really need to remember that blessings and sacramentals are really powerful, and that they make a huge difference in our lives.”
Cooperating with grace
The members’ prayers also generate substantial graces for themselves and each other, as do the regular Masses that priests like Father Brent regularly offer for the confraternity. Still, enrolling in the confraternity does not automatically remove temptation altogether from someone’s life or even guarantee that one will never sexually sin again. Members still need to “put in the work” to cultivate the virtue and avoid the near occasion of sin, such as not watching certain movies or not surfing the Internet late at night.
“People grow into chastity gradually by praying, actively asking for it, and also taking the measures they need to take in order to avoid falling into sin,” said Father Brent, who added that people should also not be discouraged if they fall into temptation
“We need to be patient with ourselves, and accept that it generally takes time to grow, and we need frequent recourse to the sacrament of penance,” Father Brent said. “If a person has a fall, they need to fly to the sacrament of penance.”
Dr. Eble echoed the sentiments of many members in saying that the Angelic Warfare Confraternity reminds one that he is not alone in the battle for chastity. Just like in physical combat, the Devil looks to isolate people and make them believe that they are surrounded and outgunned.
“You can’t do it on your own, and you don’t have to do it on your own,” Dr. Eble said. “In fact, Our Lord wants you to implore Him for His grace. He is sitting and waiting for you to ask, and He will pour His grace into your life and into the lives of all those whom you touch.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.