We don't like to talk about unclean spirits -- and with good reason. It is striking -- and even jarring -- how the unclean spirits in today's Gospel know who Jesus is. The evil one knows a good thing when he sees it. And the evil one knows well who Jesus is.
It should come as no surprise to us that the most modest of Lenten resolutions have a way of seeming to be Herculean tasks by the second or third week of Lent -- if not before. At first a new endeavor seems manageable and easy but as time passes, the resolution becomes harder and, very often, our motivation seems to wane. Whenever we set our hearts to follow the Lord more closely and take deliberate steps to do so, it attracts the attention of the evil one. When we make a resolution to be kind to someone whom we find troublesome or when we arrange our day to make a little more time for prayer or spiritual reading we open ourselves to the grace of God -- and, we attract the attention of the evil one. Very often, the discouragement we feel, the lack of motivation to persevere, etc., are all manifestations of the evil one trying to keep us from growing in holiness. In the same way that the "unclean spirit" in today's Gospel recognized Jesus, it recognizes our desire for Jesus when we set our hearts and our minds to grow closer to Him.
We cannot, of ourselves, overcome temptations of any kind. Only the Lord can steel our hearts against evil, "unclean" spirits. We can only remain as calm and unaffected as possible, trusting in the Lord's care for us. (Much easier said than done!) St. Francis de Sales, in a letter to St. Jane de Chantal had the following to say about such temptations:
"And are we to get anxious about it and change our attitude? Oh, no, never! It is the devil who is roaming around our soul, spreading confusion and prying to see whether he cannot find some door open somewhere. . . . Let him kick his heels outside, and keep all the doors and windows tightly shut; he will get tired of it in the end, and if he does not, God will make him raise the siege."