Some people seem to exist specifically to make us miserable. A student, a teacher, a classmate, a teammate. A kid you actually gave birth to. Someone whose very existence is a nine iron and you a golf ball eternally buried in the sand. They hit you over and over: just the sound of their voice, or the arrogant way they enter a room. Their insistence on being correct all the time. Their clueless fashion choices. Their too-perfect fashion choices. Their hair, their teeth, their smile. Everything about them. Other people, let’s be clear, are truly horrible.
But Paul declares that our true struggle in life is with evil spirits. Not with flesh and blood. Not with other people. They aren’t horrible. The evil spirit is.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius describes the evil spirit as that which causes the soul to be restless and agitated, depriving someone of faith, hope, love. Everyone has felt this.
What we loathe in others often has more to do with things we can’t stand about ourselves. That is the evil spirit at work. We don’t need to change other people or rage at them. We need to ward off the evil spirit in our life that can give others such power over us. Even if it feels archly medieval to call something an “evil spirit,” it is a reality that truly exists. Naming it where it lives is the first step to overcoming it.
—Joe Hoover, S.J. is a Jesuit brother writing and acting in New York. He serves as poetry editor of America magazine and also works at St. Ignatius Grammar School.