Archive for the ‘Satan’ Category

“I Believe in God”

February 20, 2021

1st Sunday of Lent

“I believe in God,
  the Father almighty,
  creator of heaven and earth.
  I believe in Jesus Christ,
  his only Son, our Lord.”

Thus begins the Apostles’ Creed, the earliest known Christian creed. Like the later Nicene Creed, it opens with a statement: “I believe” which in Latin is “Credo,” and from this the Church’s authoritative summaries of our Christian Faith are called creeds. The Apostles’ Creed is so named because it is rightly considered a faithful profession of the Faith the apostles believed and preached. Since our return to public Masses, we have been proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed together on Sundays and solemnities. For this season of Lent, I am going to do something I have never tried before. Beginning this Sunday and continuing through the 5th Sunday of Lent, I will be preaching a homily series on the Apostles’ Creed. Week by week, we will unpack this, “the oldest Roman catechism,” and explore its meaning and implications for us. The Apostles Creed begins, as all things began, with God.

I believe in God. The whole creed speaks of God, and when it also speaks of man and of this world it does so in relation to God. Each passage in the creed tells us more about him, much like how God has progressively revealed himself to us, who he is and what he is like, more and more throughout salvation history. Who is God? God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection. God is without beginning and without end. God is Truth who cannot lie. The beginning of sin and of man’s fall was due to a lie of the tempter who sowed doubt concerning God’s word, faithfulness, and love. God is love. God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God is an eternal exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They call us to share in their personal communion of love now and forever, but the choice whether to respond is ours.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. God the Father is the Father of all. He is the origin of everything, of the Holy Trinity in eternity and of all Creation in history. The Father fashions the material universe and the spiritual realms distinct from and outside of himself, and by his gift he creates new life inside of them, including the angels and us. God the Father is transcendent authority, perfectly just, while providing good things and loving care for all his children.

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood from the Book of Genesis communicates important truths. God is our Creator with sovereignty over all he has made. He is holy and hates sin in his creatures. God’s Great Flood aims to wash away sin from the face of the earth and then begin anew through a new covenant with Noah. Yet the consequences of the Fall were neither cured nor cleansed; Noah and his household carried sin with them onto the ark and humanity’s waywardness continued after they disembarked.

This represents a cautionary tale for us against a common human error or misconception about how evil might be cancelled or conquered in this world. In 1945, the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to a Soviet forced labor camp for his criticism of communist tyranny. After his release he went on to write his most famous work, “The Gulag Archipelago.” In it, the Christian Solzhenitsyn shares this true insight:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

We can and should work for change in this world, but advocacy for changing evils “out there” will prove ultimately futile without accompanying spiritual change within us. But how are we to accomplish this most difficult transformation inside our own hearts? Human history and our personal experience show we cannot achieve this on our own, so how shall we be saved?

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. On the cusp of his fruitful public ministry,

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
  and he remained in the desert for forty days,
  tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

After the Fall of man, the garden paradise is replaced by a desert. The animals, formerly tame in the Garden of Eden, have become wild in our fractured world. Humanity now had a great debt with God it could not pay, a vast chasm between him and us we could not cross. The first Adam died unatoned, but a new Adam has come. The Eternal Son of God entered time and space and became human to reconcile God and man and establish a new covenant between us. Jesus comes to undo the Fall, dwelling in the desert among the wild beasts, to be tempted by the ancient serpent, the devil. Jesus comes to reclaim the crown that Adam had lost. Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, would be the Lord of all. He comes and proclaims:

“This is the time of fulfillment.
  The Kingdom of God is at hand.
  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

During these forty desert days of Lent, Jesus invites you to approach him, asking his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. He invites you dwell with him, spend time with him, encountering him through daily prayer and the Holy Eucharist. Jesus would accompany and strengthen you in your earnest battles against temptation, growing you in his virtues. And he would perfect your love, forming you in his likeness, preparing you for more fruitful works on earth and for the supreme, communal joy of Heaven. Now is the time for Confession, for prayer, for the Mass, growth in virtue, and growth in love.

The Holy Spirit would lead you out to Jesus during this desert retreat of Lent. And everything Jesus does for you, everything he does within you, is to lead you back to God our Father. I believe and proclaim that this is the Father’s will for you. Yet, despite all of almighty God’s infinite, omnipotent power, only you can freely choose whether to answer him with your “Yes.”

When Demons Speak

January 31, 2021

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Devil Tempting a Young Woman” by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

Eve in the Garden of Eden, Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum, and St. Paul on the roads of Greece each encountered demons speaking. The words of these rebellious, fallen angels are dangerous because they cleverly combine facts and falsehoods to mislead us toward sin and division. Jesus called the demonic warlord, Satan, the Devil, “a murderer from the beginning… a liar and the father of lies,” and the Book of Revelation identifies him as “the ancient serpent… who deceived the whole world.

Satan was the serpent who approached Eve and asked, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know good and evil.

The tree’s attractive fruit looked useful for nourishment and wisdom, so Eve took and ate it; and she gave some to her husband who was with her, and Adam ate it too. It’s true that they did not die in that instant and they did gain new insights into evil and its absence, but by this act of mistrust and disobedience toward God the grace and harmony of original holiness died within them. Adam and Eve were now separated from God, divided from each other, and doomed to suffer and someday die. The devil’s half-truths led them to this.

Another demon was inside of a man at the synagogue in Capernaum as Jesus taught there in today’s gospel. The unclean spirit cried out through the man in front of everyone, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” It’s true that Jesus is indeed the “Holy One of God,” but what effect could hearing the demon’s other words have on the townspeople? “What have you to do with us… Have you come to destroy us?” The demon insinuates that Jesus is there to condemn and destroy, that all sinners should fear God’s Holy One and flee or fight the Christ who has come to save them. Jesus rebuked the demon, saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit could not resist Jesus’ command, and after a convulsion and a loud cry the man was freed. Demons are untrustworthy spokesmen to proclaim Christ and his gospel.

About twenty years later, while St. Paul was doing missionary work in Greece, he and his companions met a slave girl who had a demon. The demon would pronounce oracles through her, generating large profits for her owners. (Demons reportedly do not know the future, but using their very high intelligence and powers of observation they can make keen guesses.) The girl began to follow Paul and his companions, shouting: “These people are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!” She did this for many days and Paul became annoyed. He turned and said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And the demon left her at that moment.

So what was wrong with what the demon was saying through the girl? In addition to yelling the message at inappropriate times, it contained a subtle, fatal flaw which – if uncorrected – could undermine the saving work that Paul was doing: “These people are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” If the Good News of Jesus Christ were merely a way of salvation, then you could take him or leave him, and opt instead to choose some other saving path. But as St. Peter preached, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.

As it was in the beginning and in the days of Jesus and his apostles, demons are still in our world today. Your baptism into Christ gives you great personal protection against them. You belong to Christ, so you should not be afraid, but I want you to be aware that the demons continue sowing seeds of sin and division in our time. Where are the demons active today? Where do we see the most harmful confusions and divisions? In so many teachings of our Catholic Faith the truth is a “both/and,” while the demonic errors and divisions of our time stem from false “either/or’s” and half-truths.

The demons either say that you need not change at all because you are loved by God, or that God will not love you until you become perfect. The truth is that you are loved by God as you are and called to repent and grow. The demons either tell you that God does not desire your happiness, or that you are entitled to avoid all suffering. The truth is God wills your greatest happiness and because of this he will lead you through trials. In this world, the demons encourage us to condemn one political party or politician and ignore the faults of the other, when the truth is both are flawed.

The demons don’t want you to see and promote full truths: that pregnant women need to be helped and unborn children must be protected; that immigrants should be welcomed and the rule of law should be respected; that all people are made for love, for intimacy with others, and sexual relations are meant only for holy matrimony; that there exists a God-given right to private property and a moral obligation to share with the needy; that we should live freely and use our freedom to honor God while safeguarding the good of others. Other examples are abundant around us.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and where truths are widely twisted and truncated demons have been at work with their old half-truth tricks. So do not conform to the demon-fueled factionalism of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind in the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Holy Catholic Church, that you may know and do the complete will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

How They All Went Wrong

May 3, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter—Year A

Why did Satan rebel against God?
Why did Judas betray Jesus?
Why did Peter deny the Lord three times?
The underlying answer is important for our present lives.

Why did the Devil rebel? Though mysterious, it seems that this angel proudly desired a greater “glory” than was found in God’s hierarchy. To be God without God. This was his suggestion in tempting our first parents; “you will be like gods”. Satan, being the most powerful of the demons, rules a fallen kingdom apart from goodness, truth, and God.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus? It might have been for the money; thirty pieces of silver was about five weeks of wages and St. John the Apostle reports that Judas “was a thief and held the [apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Yet St. Matthew writes that when Judas saw Jesus condemned he deeply regretted what he had done and returned the money to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Perhaps Judas never intended the Lord to die but had hoped that Jesus, with his back against the wall, would finally wield his mighty, miraculous powers to claim David’s earthly kingdom (and hand Judas himself a privileged place within it.) Yet Judas’ dishonest and disloyal scheming left him with nothing.

Why did Simon Peter deny the Lord three times during the Passion? St. John’s Gospel suggests he lied about having any connection to Jesus first to gain entry into the courtyard of the high priest, then to keep from being tossed out, and finally to avoid being physically assaulted by a relative of the man whose ear he had severed with a sword earlier that evening in the garden. St. Luke tells us that Peter, when he then heard a rooster crow, “went out and began to weep bitterly” over what he had done.

Satan, Judas, and Peter chose sin because they thought wrongdoing was the way to good things they would not otherwise have. But this is not Jesus’ way. In our second reading St. Peter writes of the Lord, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” He was “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” In our Gospel, Jesus declares:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. … Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.

Jesus is our gate. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Always come and go through this narrow gate, for many prefer to bypass it like thieves and robbers. “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Jesus’ sheep know his voice and are called to uncompromisingly follow it. Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The words of a Jewish proverb pray to God:

Two things I ask of you,
do not deny them to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the Lord?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.

In our present season of trial, the complacency of riches has withdrawn but other temptations draw near. This is a time of testing. Will I tell lies? Will I steal? Will I sin to possess or enjoy good things I might not otherwise have? Do not give in, do not compromise, do not capitulate to evil. This is Christ’s will for you. Remember and be resolved: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

But what if you do go on to fall, or what if you have already sinned? What then should you do? Due to their nature, the demons will never adjust their wills towards repentance. Judas deeply regretted what he had done but he despaired of forgiveness and forfeited his life. St. Peter however returned, repented, and renewed his devotion to his Savior. (“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”) St. John assures us about Christ, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

The commandments of Christ flow from his own divine nature — total truth, pure goodness, perfect love — and these must not be spurned. Yet realize that the essence of Christianity is not rules or laws but a personal relationship: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” Follow the Good Shepherd faithfully and goodness and kindness will follow all the days of your life and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Screwtape on Pandemics

March 25, 2020

I was introduced to the Christian writing of C.S. Lewis years ago during a time of temptation. Alone at my uncle and aunt’s home, I prayed to God for some kind of diversion. “Lord, give me something (to change where I see things are headed).” The next moment, scanning the living room shelves, I saw a book cover with the image you see here. That paperback preserved me that evening and would go one to become one of my all-time favorite books: The Screwtape Letters.

In these letters, a senior demon named Screwtape instructs a junior demon, his “nephew” Wormwood, in the tactics of misleading humans. Screwtape describes how to draw the soul of one’s “patient” away from God (“the Enemy“) toward the devil (“Our Father Below“). The book is not only often seasoned with ironic, dry humor, but also contains great insights into human nature and spiritual realities.

At the time of Screwtape’s fifth letter to Wormwood, Britain had just recently entered the Second World War. However, as Lewis observes in his preface, “The history of the European War, except in so far as it happens now and then to impinge upon the spiritual condition of one human being, is obviously of no interest to Screwtape.” What the demon has to say about the influence of war in the greater battle for souls contains spiritual reflections that apply to our current time of pandemic as well.

Below is the text of that letter refashioned with pandemic being substituted for war.

 

My dear Wormwood,

It is a little bit disappointing to expect a detailed report on your work and to receive instead such a vague rhapsody as your last letter. You say you arc “delirious with joy” because [of this new pandemic.](1) I see very well what has happened to you. You are not delirious; you are only drunk. Reading between the lines in your very unbalanced account of the patient’s sleepless night, I can reconstruct your state of mind fairly accurately. For the first time in your career you have tasted that wine which is the reward of all our labours — the anguish and bewilderment of a human soul — and it has gone to your head. I can hardly blame you. I do not expect old heads on young shoulders. Did the patient respond to some of your terror-pictures of the future? Did you work in some good self-pitying glances at the happy past? — some fine thrills in the pit of his stomach, were there? You played your violin prettily did you? Well, well, it’s all very natural. But do remember. Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure. If any present self-indulgence on your part leads to the ultimate loss of the prey, you will be left eternally thirsting for that draught of which you are now so much enjoying your first sip. If, on the other hand, by steady and cool-headed application here and now you can finally secure his soul, he will then be yours forever — a brim-full living chalice of despair and horror and astonishment which you can raise to your lips as often as you please. So do not allow any temporary excitement to distract you from the real business of undermining faith and preventing the formation of virtues. Give me without fail in your next letter a full account of the patient’s reactions to the war, so that we can consider whether you are likely to do more good by making him [a reactionary extremist of one kind or the other.](2) There are all sorts of possibilities. In the meantime, I must warn you not to hope too much from a [pandemic.](3)

Of course a [plague](3) is entertaining. The immediate fear and suffering of the humans is a legitimate and pleasing refreshment for our myriads of toiling workers. But what permanent good does it do us unless we make use of it for bringing souls to Our Father Below? When I see the temporal suffering of humans who finally escape us, I feel as if I had been allowed to taste the first course of a rich banquet and then denied the rest. It is worse than not to have tasted it at all. The Enemy; true to His barbarous methods of warfare, allows us to see the short misery of His favourites only to tantalise and torment us — to mock the incessant hunger which, during this present phase of the great conflict, His blockade is admittedly imposing. Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this [worldwide pandemic.](4) For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and [greed.](5) But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew. Consider too what undesirable deaths occur [in plagues.](6) Men [die](7) in places where they knew they might [die](8) and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy’s party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died [of old age](9) in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which [pandemic](3) enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. [During a plague](6) not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

I know that Scabtree and others have seen in [plagues](10) a great opportunity for attacks on faith, but I think that view was exaggerated. The Enemy’s human partisans have all been plainly told by Him that suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption; so that a faith which is destroyed by a war or a pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying. I am speaking now of diffused suffering over a long period such as the [pandemic](3) will produce. Of course, at the precise moment of terror, bereavement, or physical pain, you may catch your man when his reason is temporarily suspended. But even then, if he applies to Enemy headquarters, I have found that the post is nearly always defended.

Your affectionate uncle
SCREWTAPE

 

Endnotes:

(1) – Originally, “the European humans have started another of their wars.”

(2) – “an extreme patriot or an ardent pacifist.”

(3) – “war”

(4) – “European war”

(5) – The original word here was “unchastity,” but the levels of that sin during this pandemic appear either decreased or the same as before. An intense and selfish attachment to material goods and wealth seems the more tempting vice at this time.

(6) – “in wartime”

(7) – “are killed”

(8) – “be killed”

(9) – These words are my insertion as a contrast to those dying in nursing homes from the Coronavirus.

(10) – “wars”


For more of The Screwtape Letters, I highly-recommend this excellent illustrated series on YouTube.

Satan’s Old Tricks — 1st Sunday of Lent—Year A

March 3, 2020

After his baptism in the Jordan, but before the start of his public ministry, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Did Satan realize at that time that Jesus was God? He says, “If you are the son of God… If you are the son of God.” But if Satan knew, it’s strange that he would attempt the impossible: to try tempting the all-holy God into sinning and doing evil. Old Testament prophesies allude to the promised Messiah, the awaited Anointed One, as being “Son of God.” God says in the 2nd Psalm:

“I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain….
You are my son;
today I have begotten you.”

And in Psalm 89, God says:

“He shall cry to me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock of my salvation!’
I myself make him the firstborn,
Most High over the kings of the earth.”

Old Testament Jews had been told their Messiah would at least figuratively be the Son of God; so, whether or not Satan knew Jesus was divine, he at very least suspected that this man from Nazareth was the Christ.

Jesus evidently went on to tell his apostles of the devil’s temptations in the desert—for how else would anyone know to write about them in the Gospels? There may have been additional temptations, but three are retold in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels. Jesus is on the verge of beginning his public ministry. What kind of Messiah will he be? The devil’s three temptations seek to corrupt his mission from the start. Satan seeks to lead the Christ off track so as to derail the plan of God. He did this first in the lush Garden of Eden, and here he seeks to do it again in the desert.

If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, “command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Jesus was hungry, but if he does this miracle the next question may be, “So you feed yourself, do you? How now can you refuse to give bread to everyone?” Satan wants Jesus to be a materialistic Messiah who must focus on nourishing bodies to the neglect of their souls. Jesus calls his disciples to practice material charity; today the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world; teaching, healing, clothing, housing, feeding, but this is all of secondary importance to its spiritual work. For what would it profit us to have all of our material needs fulfilled if our spiritual needs went unaddressed and we ultimately died separated from God? How do these things personally apply to us? Well, did the recent stock market drops ruin your week? Or are you too afraid or possessive to share, to tithe, to give to good causes? Or are you too busy working to pray? Jesus answers, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Next we hear how the devil takes Jesus to the roof edge atop the temple in Jerusalem and challenges him: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Satan is quoting Psalm 91. This goes to show—and serves as a warning—that not every Bible quote teaches what some people claim it does. True Scripture interpretation must be in union with the mind of Christ, and one with the Body of Christ, that is his Church.

God does not want Jesus to jump off buildings, but the devil wants the Messiah to demand that God protect him from all harm or hardship. Satan wants Jesus to be a Christ who is unwilling to suffer, who will refuse to drink any bitter chalice. The devil knows doing God’s will in this broken world will necessarily entail some sufferings for his faithful ones. If Jesus is unwilling to sacrifice then God’s people will never be saved. Are you trying to force your plans upon God? Are you pleased to serve God only so long as you experience no pain? Are you demanding that your salvation come without embracing your cross? Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

Lastly, we hear the devil takes him up to a very high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and says, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” Satan wants Jesus to be a compromised Messiah who will pursue good things by doing, by serving, evil. The tempter says, “It’s only a little thing, just lay down, just say the words, just take a small bite, everything will be so much easier and better if you do.” Or else the tempter lies in the opposite extreme direction, “You have no choice – it’s a sin but there’s no other way – this must be done!” What sins do you still commit in hopes that good will result? Where do you bow down and side with Satan against the will of God? Jesus answers, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.

By God’s providence, the temptations of Jesus in the desert foreshadow Christ’s Passion to come. Jesus is not a materialist Messiah, changing stones to loaves of bread. But, beginning at the Last Supper, he feeds the world by changing bread into himself “for the life of the world.” Jesus is not a Christ who refuses to sacrifice. At the Temple he endures trail and condemnation by the Sanhedrin and accepts the bitter chalice of his Passion according to his Father’s saving will. And Jesus is not a compromised Messiah, committing sins for false and illusory gains. Christ becomes the magnificent, sinless king of all nations, atop Mount Calvary enthroned upon the Cross.

In this season of Lent, in these forty days of penance, we are in the desert with Jesus, learning from him, and being strengthened by him, so that we can stand straight and strong and not fall for the temptations and traps of the enemy, the same tricks he used against of Adam and Eve, that he attempted with Jesus Christ, and that he still uses in our day. This Lent, instead of falling for Satan’s same old tricks, let us grow closer to Jesus Christ in relationship and resemblance, closer in his friendship and closer to his holy likeness.

Returning to Dust & Rising From the Ashes

March 11, 2019

Funeral Homily for Daniel G. Zwiefelhofer
by Fr. Victor Feltes on March 7, 2019

The Fall of Mankind and Expulsion from Paradise
by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words were heard many times yesterday on Ash Wednesday as ashes were applied to foreheads. There is another phrase the ash-bestowing minister can say, but “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is the classic option. Where does this phrase come from? It’s from the story of Genesis, following the Original Sin, the Fall of Man.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, punishments were placed on them and their descendants. To the woman God said, “I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” And to the man God said, “In toil you shall eat the ground’s yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And God announced a punishment upon the wicked serpent too: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

We still feel the consequences of sin and observe of the brokenness of our world. Birthing babies is painful and raising children is challenging. Daniel learned these truths firsthand alongside Marion. And, as a lifelong farmer, Daniel experienced firsthand that farming is hard work. Growing food, from beasts or fields, demands the sweat of one’s brow. And today, after eighty-one years of life on this earth, we gather for Daniel’s funeral; for we are dust, and to dust we return. If these things were all that we saw and knew we would be left in sad despair, but this is not the end of the story; for Genesis, for Daniel, or for us.

I mentioned earlier that there’s another phrase option for ash-distributors to say on Ash Wednesday: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Gospel is a message of living hope and it was proclaimed from the beginning. The Church teaches that the Protoevangelium, or “First Gospel” promising salvation was announced in the Garden of Eden. Recall how God said to the serpent, in the presence of Adam and Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” This is speaking to more than the natural hatred between humans and deadly snakes – it’s a prophesy. That “he,” the offspring of the woman, was to be Jesus. The ancient serpent, the devil, struck out at Jesus’ lowly flesh (as at Jesus’ heel) in the Passion. But Jesus the New Adam, triumphed through his Passion, death, and resurrection, crushing the enemy’s head.

Jesus is the New Adam. Tempted in a garden (the Garden of Gethsemane) Jesus did not falter. Called to lay down his wife for his bride (the Church) Jesus did not balk. And by the sweat of his brow (even sweating blood) he has provided her bread, in the Most Holy Eucharist, which is himself. He accepted a crown of thorns from a world turned against him, but by his toil of carrying his Cross Jesus has produced a fruitful yield on earth. Jesus was placed into the dust of the earth — entombed at death, but Jesus was not abandoned to the dustbin of history. The New Adam triumphs over death.

And the New Eve, his bride the Church, continues (with toil and pains, but also with joy) to bear forth children who live and die with faith in Christ, like Daniel. And, as Daniel’s prophetic namesake says in our first reading, “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; and some shall live forever…” Likewise, in our second reading, St. Paul proclaims to the Thessalonians: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The first Adam, by sinning, and gave death to all his descendants. But Jesus Christ, the new faithful Adam, offers life to all who follow him.

On Ash Wednesday and at any funeral, we are reminded that are dust and to dust we shall return. But we must also remember to repent and believe in the Good News of the Gospel. As night lead to dawn and sleep to arising; as winter leads to spring and Lent leads to Easter, so the dying of friends of Jesus leads to joyful resurrection.

The Mercies of Two Adams

February 24, 2019

In our second reading this Sunday, St. Paul compares the First Man to the Last Adam. In our Gospel, that Second Adam (Jesus Christ) shares teachings on forgiveness which have reshaped the world. Catholic spiritual tradition holds that when Jesus descended to the Abode of the Dead on Holy Saturday he found Adam and announced that the gates of Heaven were now open to him and all the Old Testament’s friends of God. If Adam went to Heaven we know he practiced forgiveness himself because Jesus says “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” I’d like to begin by reflecting on three people from Adam’s life whom he had to forgive; and each one has a practical lesson for us touching on forgiveness.

One person Adam had to forgive was his wife, Eve. “She saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam had to forgive her for doing this, but he also had to seek her forgiveness. He had been charged by God with protecting her and the garden. He was with her as the Serpent spoke, and he failed in his duty. Adam and Eve had to forgive each other.

Now a foolish person insists that other people are completely at fault one hundred percent of the time. After a conflict, even if I didn’t sin (even if I did nothing intentionally that I knew to be wrong at the time) I can still reflect upon how I could have expressed myself or handled the situation better. Mistakes are not sins—we can only sin on purpose—but we should learn from our mistakes.

Another person Adam had to forgive was his son, Cain. Because he felt snubbed, Cain was filled with jealous anger towards his brother. “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out in the field.’ When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” This was the first recorded murder, and Adam had to forgive his son for it.

In 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. St. Pope John Paul the Great nearly died, but two years later after he had recovered he went to visit his would-be assassin in prison. I remember being amazed as a kid in CCD class to learn that the pope sat at an arm’s length from the unshackled man who almost killed him in order to personally forgive him. Significantly, the pope did not ask Italy’s leader or government to release Ağca at that time. Ağca served twenty-nine years in prison until his release in 2010. Similarly, God showed his mercy and did not destroy Cain the murderer, but God did place punishments on him.

Sometimes withholding punishment is not kindness because we need discipline, to experience just consequences for our actions, for our own good. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he chastises every son he acknowledges. … At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Mercy and forgiveness do not rule out experiencing any consequences.

A third person Adam had to forgive is one you might not expect: Adam had to forgive the Serpent. Was the wicked Serpent sorry for what he had done? No, but Adam had to forgive for Adam’s own sake. Unforgiveness is a bitter poison we drink in hopes of hurting someone else. Renouncing our claims to vengeance against another actually sets us free.

Jesus said we must forgive to be forgiven ourselves, but some people think they can’t forgive because they think forgiveness means something it doesn’t. Forgiveness is not to say that the sin wasn’t wrong, or that it’s no big deal, or that it doesn’t hurt anymore, or that it never really happened, or everything can go back to how it was before. Forgiveness means loving someone despite their sins, even if prudence may require us to keep a healthy distance from them (as with the Devil.)

Does God hate that ancient serpent, the Devil, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning? Amazingly, no. As the Book of Wisdom says, “you [Lord] love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate. [And] how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours…” God hates what Satan does, but loves him still. God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. In the end, the wicked will not be annihilated, made to no longer exist, but given the disassociation and space away from God they desire forever. God hates no one and neither should we.

In several places in the New Testaments, St. Paul draws parallels between Adam and Jesus. St. Paul wrote the Romans: “just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” The First Adam gave life to all his descendants, and the Last Adam gives life to all who follow him. The Old Adam, by his selfish sin, condemned the world; but the New Adam, by his holy self-sacrifice, redeems us. The First Adam, as we have seen, practiced forgiveness, but Jesus Christ is personified Mercy.

Consider how autobiographical Jesus’ Gospel teaching on forgiveness is. Jesus says, “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” During the Passion, at his Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin, “they spat in [Jesus’] face and struck him, while some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?’

Jesus says, “From the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.” “When the [Roman] soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be…’

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” The religious leaders sneered at Jesus as he hung on the Cross. Even the soldiers jeered at him. But Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you,what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Jesus says, “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High…” Jesus gave of himself knowing that many would give him nothing in return, he loves sinners knowing that many will not love him back. But Jesus is his Father’s Son, merciful as he is merciful, loving as he is loving, good as he is good, and generous as he is generous. And Jesus invites us to also be children of the Most High like himself.

So let’s be generous in every way towards Jesus, who gives us mercy, our every blessing in life, and his very self in the Eucharist. Jesus’ teaching at the close of today’s Gospel is true not only for financial giving but for every gift to God, for God is never outdone in generosity: “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Let us be merciful and generous like Jesus is towards us.

Reintroducing the St. Michael Prayer

October 22, 2018

Our Bishop William Callahan has asked that we begin regularly reciting the St. Michael Prayer at the end of our parish Masses. In last week’s pastoral letter he wrote that “this prayer, given to us by Pope Leo XIII, is a sure defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. Now as much as ever we need the assistance of St. Michael to help rid us, the Church, of its current evils.” So, we will be praying this prayer together at each Sunday and weekday Mass following the final blessing (and preceding the closing hymn.)

Who is St. Michael? He is a mighty archangel, a leader among God’s angels. He has several appearances in the Bible, but most famously in the Book of Revelation. There he is beheld leading good angels in battle against the Devil (referred to here as the dragon): “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven.” (Revelation 12:7-8) St. Michael’s name is Hebrew for the phrase “Who is like God?” Tradition says that this was Michael’s challenging battle cry against the proud, rebellious demons – for no creature is equal our all-glorious God.

The St. Michael Prayer was written by the long-reigning Pope Leo XIII. In 1886, he instituted that it be recited after the celebration of Masses. Though the inspiration for this prayer is uncertain, many historians accept accounts that it followed from Pope Leo experiencing a profound vision. A cardinal from that time explained, “Pope Leo XIII truly had a vision of demonic spirits, who were gathering on the Eternal City (i.e., Rome.) From that experience… comes the prayer which he wanted the whole Church to recite.

Since the St. Michael Prayer in English is a translation from the original Latin text, some versions of the prayer slightly differ from one another. (For instance, some translations ask St. Michael to “cast” Satan and all the evil spirits into Hell, while others use the word “thrust.”) To keep everyone on the same page, please refer to the prayer cards at the end of the pews or the version below. Together, let us pray for aid in our battle against the iniquitous spirits active within God’s Church and our world.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against
the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

Reflections on Martyrdom

December 29, 2016

I have not seen and cannot recommend the recently-released Martin Scorsese film Silence, but reviewers describe it as haunting and unsettling for believers and non-believers alike. It is set in Japan during a fierce persecution of Roman Catholics in the mid-1600’s. In one scene, a Jesuit missionary is forced to watch arrested Japanese Christians be cruelly tortured before him. The young priest is told that these men and women’s sufferings will cease if he would only step on an image of Christ and renounce his faith. What does Jesus want his followers to do if faced with such a choice?

A person might think there is little harm done in trampling the crude likeness of someone, or by insincerely mouthing a few words, but Jesus told his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (1) At the very start of his ministry it seems that Jesus himself was confronted with the film’s test; the temptation to deny God so that human suffering would end.

After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” (2) But Jesus firmly refused. Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness by James Tissot 1886-1894.What was so wicked about the devil’s suggestion? What could be wrong with alleviating hunger? Imagine if Jesus had relented, waving his hand over a nearby brown stone and then biting through its soft crust. Then the devil could accuse him, “So, you have provided food for yourself—how can you now refuse to wield your power to feed the whole world!?” Satan also pressured Jesus to insist that the Father spare him from death: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from this great height]…” But Jesus again refused. The tempter preferred Jesus to be a messiah who would give people an abundance of material wealth and safety while leaving them in their sins, separated from God forever.

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus accepted suffering with and alongside us as a crucified savior-king and never surrendered to the temptation of becoming an earthly ruler who had denied God and bowed to Satan. Jesus Christ understood that he would be Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” as St. John the Baptist proclaimed him. (3) Even as his desert tempter invited him to end all earthly hardship, Jesus in some sense foresaw the multitude of suffering martyrs who would follow his path after him. Jesus did not waiver. Jesus refused to capitulate to evil for this world’s fleeting, lesser goods because was not the will of God, his Father.

These reflections came to mind last week on the December 28th Feast of the Holy Innocents, those little ones who died in place of Jesus Christ. When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. (4) Modern biblical scholars estimate Bethlehem’s population was around 1,000 at that time, which means that up to about twenty infants were slain. (5)

These babies and toddlers have been venerated in the Church since the first century.  Early Church Fathers, including St. Irenaeus of Lyon and St. Augustine, and the liturgical tradition of the Church have celebrated them as saints and martyrs. (6) This pair of titles is remarkable for those “who, though still unable to profess [Jesus] in speech, were crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth.” (7) None of these young Jewish boys were baptized or made a conscious decision to die for Jesus, but they were all saved through Christ.

Jesus spoke of the importance of baptism for salvation, for instance saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (8) Yet he also said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (9) The Church, lacking an explicit teaching from Christ about children who die unbaptized, “can only entrust them to the [great] mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.” (10) Perhaps the Lord, knowing his own provisions for their salvation, has kept us in our uncertainty lest we employ the twisted logic of Herod, Pharaoh, or Pilate to rationalize the intentional killing of little ones. In any case, it has been the firm conviction and long tradition of Christ’s Catholic Church that the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem now dwell with him in Heaven.

Jesus Christ and his martyrs, from Bethlehem to Japan, reveal and witness to strengthening truths: That this life, however long or short, is not all that there is. That God can bring salvation out of evil, even from crimes and disasters that break our hearts and surpass our understanding. And the martyrs affirm that, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Suffering is better than sinning. There is more evil in a drop of sin than in an ocean of affliction. Better [to] burn for Christ, than [to] turn from Christ.” Whatever terrible crosses may afflict us or those we love we can remember that our crucified Lord has suffered likewise and is always with us. Jesus tells us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (11)

26-martyrs-of-japan

A memorial to “The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan,” a group of Roman Catholics executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki. Their feast day (i.e., St. Paul Miki and companions) is February 6th.

Footnotes:
(1) –  Matthew 10:32.
(2) –  Matthew 4:1-11.
(3) –  Isaiah 52:13-53:12, John 1:29 & 1:36.
(4) –  Matthew 2:16.
(5) – Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp.104–121.
Donald A. Hagner, World Biblical Commentary, Matthew 1–13, pg.37.
“Holy Innocents” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. 
(6) – Hugo H. Hoever, Lives of the Saints, pg.525.
(7) –  Opening Mass Prayer for The Feast of the Holy Innocents.
(8) –  Mark 16:16.
(9) –  Matthew 19:14.
(10) – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261.
(11) – John 16:33.

 

Catholic Teachings About The End Times

November 10, 2016

Catechism of the Catholic Church #668-679

I.  HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY
Christ already reigns through the Church…

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca, 1450-1463.        “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” for the Father “has put all things under his feet.” Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled.

        As Lord, Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. “The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery,” “on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom.”

        Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at “the last hour.” “Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

…until all things are subjected to him.

      Though already present in his Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the king’s return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated definitively by Christ’s Passover. Until everything is subject to him, “until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God.” That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ’s return by saying to him: Marana tha! “Our Lord, come!”

        Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love, & peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.

The glorious advent of Christ, Israel’s hope

        Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent, even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed.”

        The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel,” for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles,” will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” in which “God may be all in all.” 

The Church’s ultimate trial

The Devil Tempting a Young Woman by André Jacques Victor Orsel, 1832.

        Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

      The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

        The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

II. TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

The Resurrection by El Greco, Madrid, 1596-1600.      Following in the steps of the prophets and John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

        Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world. He “acquired” this right by his cross. The Father has given “all judgment to the Son.” Yet the Son did not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives according to one’s works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love.

Who is St. Michael the Archangel?

November 12, 2015

(Based on his 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia entry)

St. Michael is one of the principal angels. His name (translated from Hebrew, “Who is like God?“) is the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the devil and his followers. His name is recorded four times in Scripture:

Daniel 10 — Gabriel says to Daniel, when he asks God to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem: “The Angel of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me … and, behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me … and none is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince.

Daniel 12 — An angel speaking of the end of the world and the Antichrist says: “At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who stands for the children of your people.

Jude 1 — St. Jude alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses: “[The archangel Michael] did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon [Satan] but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!’”

Revelation 12 — St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Following these Scriptural passages, Christian tradition gives to St. Michael four offices:

(1)  To fight against Satan.

(2)  To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.

(3)  To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.

(4)  To call men’s souls away from earth and bring their souls to judgment.

Regarding his rank in the celestial hierarchy opinions vary; St. Basil and other Greek Fathers place St. Michael over all the angels; they say he is called “archangel” because he is the prince of the other angels; others believe that he is the prince of the seraphim, the first of the nine angelic orders. But, according to St. Thomas Aquinas he is the prince of the last and lowest choir, the angels.

Thoughts About FOX’s “Lucifer”

August 7, 2015

So the FOX network plans to launch this new show in 2016:

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but previews for movies and TV shows these days tell us plenty about what to expect. Based on this trailer and its synopsis, I’d like to share my first thoughts about FOX’s Lucifer.

What “Lucifer” Gets Right
Giving Their Devil His Due

Our first encounter with FOX’s Lucifer is in a form such as we should expect him to appear. No horns, tail, or pitchfork. Nothing in his appearance to make us flee from him in horror. He’s attractive, wealthy, well dressed, and speaks with sophistication. He drives through the night self-satisfied, solitary, and yet pleased to have others serve him and line up eagerly at his door. His popular club is named “Lux” (Latin for “Light.”) “And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) He draws many to himself by means of human sensuality.

His name, “Lucifer Morningstar,” is drawn from Isaiah 14:12.
Church Fathers wrote that “Lucifer” was never the devil’s proper (or “God-given”) name but that it signifies the glorious state from which he fell. However, I give the show creators credit for a pretty good name choice.

FOX’s Lucifer is a denouncer, reviling “this human stain” and “your corrupt little organization.” This is in keeping with him being ‘the accuser of the brethren, who night and day accuses them before God’ (Revelation 12:10) as he did with righteous Job. (Job 1:9-11, 2:4-5) In fact, his most well-known titles highlight this trait: “Devil” comes from the Greek word for “Slanderer,” while “Satan” is Hebrew for “Adversary” or “Accuser.”

Lucifer is willing to transgress laws whenever it benefits him. Perhaps this is why FOX’s Lucifer will premiere in 2016 driving with expired tags on his license plate (but it’s more likely just a production mistake.)

What “Lucifer” Gets Wrong
The Devil They Know is Better
Than the Devil They Don’t

If there were people in the entertainment world who didn’t believe that Adolf Hitler really existed, I could imagine someone reenvisioning him to be some TV drama’s charismatic hero. Many people would be understandably offended and concerned about what evils could flow from presenting the leader of the Third Reich — a spreader of hate and murderer of millions — as primetime television’s next charming protagonist. Ordinarily, aware of Godwin’s Law, I would avoid drawing comparisons to Hitler. Yet as bad as Hitler was, the devil is much worse. The worst thing the show’s creators will get wrong about the devil is that he is certainly not, and will never be, ‘a demon with a heart of gold.’

When a young, dispirited pop star returns to Lucifer he counsels her, “Pull yourself together,” and comforts her. Following her sudden death, he looks on her lifeless body with shock and concern. He asks of the LAPD homicide detective, “What is your corrupt little organization going to do about this?” Later, he tells a female confidante, “Someone out there needs to be punished!” She replies, “Stop caring, you’re the devil.” Indeed, this does not fit with his true character. Unable to strike out at the Almighty, the devil attacks the human race God loves. The devil would not mourn the death of a young woman lost in her sins, he would desire her unhappy end and encourage it, as he did the suicide of Judas Iscariot. The devil hates us all.

Lucifer meets the police detective again and offers his assistance: “We should be out there punishing those responsible. Come on, I’ll help you.” However, the real devil does not accuse sinners and will their damnation out of a devotion to truth or justice. He tempts and condemns out of envy, to prove that others are no better than himself. “[B]y the envy of the devil, death entered the world…” (Wisdom 2:24) Jesus said of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

If you want to see something of what the devil is like, I suggest Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. (*) Heath Ledger described the Joker as “an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown,” and his portrayal of evil will be long remembered. However, I doubt the same will be true for FOX’s Lucifer.

Why I Doubt “Lucifer” Will Last
The Devil Has No New Tricks

What type of show is Lucifer? It’s a sometimes light-hearted police procedural with supernatural themes and a “will-they-or-won’t-they” romantic subplot. FOX’s Lucifer is basically like The X-Files with angels instead of aliens. However, I’ll be surprised if it survives beyond its first season. I am dubious about how original and well-written the show will be since it borrows so much from previous works:

— We saw charming, talented eccentrics tagging along with cops to solve crimes in The Mentalist, Castle, and Monk.

— We saw snarky jerks growing in their humanity in CommunityHouse, and Sherlock.

— We saw a fallen angel embracing human life and love in Los Angeles in Nicholas Cage’s City of Angels.

— We saw a brazen angel in human form magically attracting women in John Travolta’s Michael.

— We saw a female love interest be uniquely impervious to a dangerous hunk’s powers with Bella and Edward in Twilight.

— We even saw a demonic vanity license plate (“BAD 1″) in Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley’s Bedazzled.

— At least FOX’s Lucifer plays piano instead of a mean fiddle.

Will these recycled elements gel into a successful hit? Will solving crimes, landing insults, exposing hypocrites, titillating women, and facing-down CGI angels and demons be a long-winning formula? I’m skeptical, but either way, I don’t plan to be watching.

How We Should Respond
Resist the Devil and He Will Flee

In the preface to his spiritually insightful and quite funny book about demonic temptation, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

As it is with devils, so I think for this show. In the coming year, I expect it to attract more heat and noise of controversy, and I suspect the show’s creators will welcome the free publicity. We may be told that everyone must watch the series in order to form an opinion — as if forms of entertainment were somehow entitled to our time and focus. On one hand, we do not want to lend this show inordinate attention. On the other hand, ignoring its existence would be a mistake. We should respond to FOX’s Lucifer with both true teaching and prayer.

FOX Lucifer ImageJust like with the inaccurate history of Dan Brown’s
The Da Vinci Code, this regrettable new TV show will bring with it
opportunities for catechesis; to teach about angels and demons, temptation and discernment, and the war that is fought for every human soul. (Teaching can be as easy as sharing an article like this one.) We can discourage others from tuning-in but, whether we like it or not, questions will come our way and we should be well-prepared to answer with the truth.

We must also pray. In 2012, an 24-year-old gunman with red-dyed hair, reportedly self-identifying as “the Joker,” killed 12 people and injured 70 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing the third film of the Batman trilogy. On the human level, the responsibility for this crime lies with its perpetrator, but just as a movie can inspire an unstable person to imitate a villain, so a show about the devil can both lead the unwary into exploring the occult or subtly persuade others that the devil’s just a myth. Against such evils we should pray; not only for the impressionable viewers among the audience of millions, but for the creators of such art itself.

Spiritual connections are mysterious and rarely certain, but dabbling with satanic things can open doors to evil and burn us. Six months after the release of The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger, the actor who had immersed himself into the persona of the demonic Joker, was dead from a drug overdose. At one infamous concert in 1969, during which an audience member was later killed by “Hell’s Angels” working security, The Rolling Stones’ performance of “Sympathy for the Devil” was interrupted by a fight and the song had to be restarted. At the time, Mick Jagger remarked onstage, “We’re always having—something very funny happens when we start that number.”

For the good of everyone involved, I will be praying that the cast and crew of FOX’s Lucifer may soon find themselves safely employed in other work and, if Lucifer ever comes to air, that its harm may be minimal and a better show may quickly take its place. I invite you to join me in praying for the same by invoking the help of St. Michael, who fought the devil and the demons out of Heaven. (Revelation 12:7-9)

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us
in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray;
and may you, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.   Amen.

Three Crosses Line Break

(*) — Like the devil, the Joker in The Dark Knight is a liar, telling incompatible tales about his scars. He loves fire, chaos, violence, and death. Alfred the butler says of him, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Joker is an accuser of all: “See, their morals, their ‘code’…it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down, these — ah — ‘civilized people?’ They’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” In the Joker’s climactic final scene, he is angered that those on neither ferry have blown the other up. Batman asks him, “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you?!” The Joker tells Batman that they have been locked in “a battle for Gotham’s soul” while the camera films him, from an inverted perspective, having the likeness of one in an everlasting fall.

By Satan’s Power — Friday, 27th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

October 10, 2014

Readings: Galatians 3:7-14; Luke 11:15-26

Some in the crowd said of Jesus, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” In a certain sense, those people would be right.

Satan’s power in the world led to Jesus’ Passion. The devil probably thought he was winning by getting Jesus crucified, for ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’ Yet Jesus surprised him by turning this curse into ‘a blessing for all nations.’ Jesus suffered Satan’s power, but brought good out of the evil. In this way, by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, Jesus drove out demons from the world.

Originally posted on October 8, 2010

“Get Behind Me” — 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

August 31, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.  Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

In Hebrew, “satan” means “adversary.” Peter is not the devil, but in opposing the Father’s true will for the Messiah, Peter is acting as an adversary and an obstacle to Jesus. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, during the temptation in the desert, Jesus told the devil, “Get away, Satan!” Later, in describing the Last Judgment, Jesus tells the unrighteous goats on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed…” Yet to St. Peter, Jesus says, ‘You are my friend, so get behind me… Stay close to me, and follow my lead.”

Three Temptation Tactics — 1st Sunday in Lent—Year A

March 8, 2014

Readings: Genesis 2:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11,

1. Observe the focus of the devil’s first temptation against Jesus:

He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

The devil attacks Jesus where he perceives him to be the most vulnerable.  The tempter behaves as St. Ignatius of Loyola describes in his Rules for Discernment:

[The enemy of our souls] behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires: for, as a captain and chief of the army, pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defenses of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us.

Imagine your king has made you the captain in charge of your walled-city’s defenses. Having lived there your whole life and having witnessed many previous sieges against the city, you should know its vulnerabilities well. Before the next hostile siege (which will surely come) would it not be wise to petition the king to reinforce wherever the walls are weak and to send the troops he can provide, and for you yourself to be an especially vigilant watchmen at the place where the next attack is most likely to come?

So it is for us. We have a lifetime of experience to know where we are weakest. Therefore, we should pray to the Lord to provide his strengthening grace where we are weak and to send his angels to help defend us, and to be especially vigilant at where the next temptation is most likely to come.

2. Imagine if Eve had said, “What you say, Serpent, is very different from what the Lord told us. My husband and I will discuss this with him the next time he visits us.” That would have entirely derailed the serpent’s wicked plans. Again, St. Ignatius:

[The enemy of our souls] acts as a licentious lover in wanting to be secret and not revealed. For, as the licentious man who, speaking for an evil purpose, solicits a daughter of a good father or a wife of a good husband, wants his words and persuasions to be secret, and the contrary displeases him much, when the daughter reveals to her father or the wife to her husband his licentious words and depraved intention, because he easily gathers that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun: in the same way, when the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wants and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to his good Confessor or to another spiritual person that knows his deceits and evil ends, it is very grievous to him, because he gathers, from his manifest deceits being discovered, that he will not be able to succeed with his wickedness begun.

Therefore, we should bring our secret, hidden temptations out of the festering darkness and into the disinfectant light with a spiritual person we can confide in.

3. Observe how Eve responds the serpent’s sinful suggestion:

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it…

The more Eve entertained the serpent’s temptation the more inevitable her fall to sin became. Contrast this with Jesus’ unyielding responses to the devil, including:

“Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

As St. Ignatius says:

The enemy acts like [an unvirtuous] woman, in being weak against vigor and strong of will. Because, as it is the way of the woman when she is quarrelling with some man to lose heart, taking flight when the man shows her much courage: and on the contrary, if the man, losing heart, begins to fly, the wrath, revenge, and ferocity of the woman is very great, and so without bounds; in the same manner, it is the way of the enemy to weaken and lose heart, his temptations taking flight, when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things opposes a bold front against the temptations of the enemy, doing diametrically the opposite. And on the contrary, if the person who is exercising himself commences to have fear and lose heart in suffering the temptations, there is no beast so wild on the face of the earth as the enemy of human nature in following out his damnable intention with so great malice.

Therefore, let us be firm and uncompromising against temptation from the start, giving it no opportunity grow on us. Instead, let us focus on doing that vice’s opposing virtue. In the face of such firmness, the temptation will depart.