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It's Lent, and different people have different means of devotions. There are those who say fifteen decades of the Rosary, others who recite the Stations of the Cross, many who find special sanctification from receiving Communion on the tongue and do so all year round. All devotions in conformity with the Church should be respected and have power because they go to piety and discipline.

Discipline is a sacrifice and also a safeguard. It protects us against sin, attacks from the devil (including on the battlefield of our minds), and spiritual contamination.

It is Lent, and at the beginning of Mass we confess not just actions but also thoughts.

What about thoughts? Which of them need to be confessed? Do you examine your conscience about them? Which are sins and which are an assault by the forces of darkness?

Or as an author named Jeffrey J. Steffon puts it, "Have you ever had sinful thoughts come into your mind for no apparent reason?

"It seems as if these thoughts suddenly appear out of nowhere," writes Steffon in Spiritual Warfare for Catholics. "They are out of character, bizarre, and shocking. For example, having a sudden urge to steal, to be unfaithful to your spouse, or to engage in some violent or abusive behavior.

"These are not deliberate, planned thoughts, but impulsive and startling. From  where do these thoughts come? Sometimes we can wonder what is happening to us. Why am I plagued by these sinful thoughts? What is wrong with me?"

Where are they originating? Do we need to confess them?

Lenten questions, those. We know from  the very prayers at the beginning of Mass that we often need to seek forgiveness not just for what we say or do but what we think.

"We must remember that we live in not only a material world, but also a spiritual world," says Steffon. "There is an interaction between us and spiritual beings. We interact with Jesus Christ when we are in prayer and following His commands. We also interact with the demons of darkness when they try to draw us away from God.

"Excessive or unfounded irritation, bitterness, lustful impulses, jealousy, fear, thoughts of suicide, doubt, rage, and hatred -- all these thoughts are attacks upon us. The attack comes against our minds and emotions. Paul called these thoughts flaming arrows. Our own weaknesses can be triggered by certain tensions; Satan wishes to prey upon those areas.

"The flaming arrow by itself is not sinful. Its purpose is to lead us into sin; it becomes an agent of sin when we dwell on the thought. First we allow ourselves to think about it. Then as we dwell on it more and more, we begin to plan how to act upon it. Finally, we deliberately act upon what at first was only an inclination."

In other words, we don't sin unless we adopt the thought as our own.

"This is difficult to discern," adds Jeffrey. "For me, I know my own sinful tendencies. My own sinful desire is familiar to me and has predictable patterns. That knowledge comes through prayer and allowing the Holy Spirit to convict me of my sins.

"The flaming arrow of Satan is different. This attack comes from outside of me. It is as if it comes from out of the blue, with a very strong intensity. It can be a one-time flaming arrow, or it can come repeatedly, with greater or lesser intensity."

The key: tossing such a thought out immediately -- with no hesitation -- or it will root like a weed, but at the speed of a thought. Scripture tells us to don the "helmet of salvation" (Ephesians 6), as well as the shield of faith; we are in a time when we desperately need more piety.

Every time we have an evil thought, the author advises, we can pray, "Jesus, I take authority over this thought and I make it captive to You."

"When we make the flaming arrows of Satan captive to Jesus Christ, these sort of attacks will eventually leave," says the author.

Similarly, we should be on guard against "spiritual contamination."

This comes, he says, not only by way of thoughts, of course, but when the spirits around a place or another person latch onto us; somehow, we have left an opening.

In a bookstore, we may carry a spirit back from merely passing by all the volumes on the occult -- as happened to Jeffrey, who says sudden fatigue can be a sign of contamination, which is how he knew he was under attack. "I sat in my car for a few minutes and prayed. I put on some Christian music to help lift my spirit. As I sang the music, I began to feel a strengthening in my spirit. It was as if things were clinging to me from the store. As I prayed and sang praises to God, these things began to lift. I shared this experience with a couple of friends. as we prayed, we realized that the evil spirits in the store tried to harass and attack me. That was why I felt spiritually drained. Through the praise of God, the evil spirits were forced to flee.

"In spiritual warfare we also battle against the world and the flesh. We not only face the flaming arrows of Satan and spiritual contamination; the world and the flesh are areas that Satan can use to dissuade us from following God."

[resources: Spiritual Warfare for Catholics and Lenten books; Medjugorje pilgrimage, Michael Brown: purification, future, self-illumination]

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