Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Devil Made Me Do It (A Theological Editorial)

We live in a time of abundant confusion and controversy.  Politics, the Church, society (in general), all seem to be taking sides and settling into one camp or another.  Is this just a matter of changing times or is there something greater behind it all?  Something cosmic perhaps?  As we see obvious manifestations of heroic good and extreme evil in the world, do we wonder about an ultimate cause or origin of it all?

If God’s essence is love and goodness, then where does evil come from and why is it permitted to exist?  These are questions that have undoubtedly plagued every person or society willing to be reflective and to search for truth.

Coming from a Catholic background, I can sum up the basic perspective of traditional Christianity regarding these matters.  God, a Trinity of Persons who existed for all eternity, created everything out of nothing.  The hierarchy of God’s creation exists at various levels:  the purely spiritual beings (angels), those with body and spirit (humans), other living, moving creatures (animals), other living, growing things (plants) and non-living material (minerals).  Some of God’s creation received both intelligence and free will (angels and humans), attributes elevating them to resemble God.
The angels were tested first to ascertain their complete loyalty to God.  Some angels passed the test while others, including Lucifer (Satan), rebelled against God.  One interpretation of the angels’ test speaks of God’s revelation of His plan for humanity to the angels. Jesus was to become a human being (the Incarnation).  The insubordinate response of some angels then followed: Non serviam! “I will not serve [God]! —especially if He were to lower Himself to become a mere man.  Lucifer and his followers, because of their unbridled pride, were banished (yet not obliterated) from God’s presence for all eternity.  This place of banishment from God’s presence is hell.  There is no God, no love there.
Humans are also tested to see if we will respond to God and His love for us.  The first human beings also failed with the evil influence (a temptation) from Satan.  Thus, sin entered the world by an act of the will of the first humans.  However, out of love for humanity, redemption for mankind was to follow through Jesus and his salvific death on the cross.  From the very beginning, however, Satan has tried to coerce humanity to rebel, to disobey and to reject their dependence on God as he did.  Ultimately, he seeks the destruction of all humanity.  He and his followers hate us, despise us.

Does this evil intention to devastate all humanity still exit?

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.  (1 Peter 5: 8-9)
Satan is very real.  As God is the essence of love, the devil, in contrast, is pure evil.  Again, he hates humanity.  He tries to destroy it, debase it, confuse it, cause it to abandon the true God and serve false gods.

[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him.  (John 8:44)
If we try to observe how the intended destruction of humanity has played out over the centuries, we can see examples such as the great and lesser wars, child (human) sacrifice to demons and false gods, murder, terrorism, and perhaps the most tragic of them all—abortion.  The number of human pre-born children killed from abortion worldwide (estimated at over 1.5 billion in the last 40 years by Human Life International) has surpassed the number of people killed by all wars throughout history combined.

At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century. Estimates for the total number killed in wars throughout all of human history range from 150 million to 1 billion. (July 6, 2003, New York Times)
Not only is there the intention to destroy humanity but also it needs to be debased or denigrated.  We should realize how many influences within our society make us more like animals than human, try to bring us down to a pitiful wretchedness rather than raised to an elevated dignity and holiness.  Pornography—especially with easy and home-penetrating access on the internet—has humans performing the most perverted, disgusting acts that are everything but love-making.  Contrast the “actors” or “performers” in this multi-billion-dollar industry with the concepts of being a true gentleman or being lady-like.   Next, far too many deaths and destroyed lives are occurring from the current opioid crisis, involving both legal and illegal drug sources.  Addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, sex, smoking/vaping, food, internet, etc.) is rampant and illustrates how the shackles of over-indulgence and abuse, many times in conjunction with habitual sin, have enslaved person after person.  (There is indeed too much of a searching for love, happiness and fulfillment in all the wrong places.)  Finally, we should not leave artificial contraception (and abortion as its ultimate backup) out of the equation because this also is a misguided attempt to control—rather, to eliminate—our fertility and to throw it back in the face of God.  No one is going to tell me what I can or cannot do with my own body—not even God!  Non serviam!

The root of the word diabolical (from the Greek) is to “cast apart”—implying that confusion or division is caused.  Do we live in a time of confusion?  My truth is not your truth”—an expression illustrating Modernism in all its glory.  In society and in the Church there are concerted efforts to redefine family and marriage.  The integrity, motivation and honesty of people is questioned. (Observe closely the recent Supreme Court Justice nomination of Justice Kavanaugh and the battle surrounding it.)  Politics is bitterly divided. The Church is embattled as well.  The Church is plagued with clergy sex-abuse scandals.  Accusations exist of deep-rooted, active homosexuality among clerics.  Cardinals question other cardinals, bishops distrust other bishops, Archbishop Vigan√≤ (2) (3) makes charges against Pope Francis, et. al.  The moral credibility of the Church hierarchy is severely undermined.  Confusion?  Division? Diabolical?  You betcha!

I also contend that we live in a time of tragic (silent) apostasy.  Should we not worry when many or most baptized Catholics in this country (and others) no longer practice their faith regularly, see themselves as spiritual but not religious, list their religious practice as none, or are indifferent or apathetic towards all things sacred.  Others outright deny the existence of God or are agnostic. 

The false gods of this day, as in the past, vary in kind from material possessions, to physical pleasure, to worldly power, to narcissistic adulation.  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die is, perhaps, as common a philosophy of life today as any other more novel perspective.  A lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll might be slightly modified also to include hip-hop, gangsta rap, or some other innovation or variation of “music.”  The almighty golden calf is continually in flux as is the concept of truth.  Our sports venues are our modern cathedrals.  Athletes and actors are paid obscene salaries for their “talents”.  Too often we then suffer from their celebrity, filled with unabashed, moral decadence and extreme, narcissistic, duplicitous babel.

Confusion continues within the modern Church.  Our Church has often become complacent with preaching a watered-down, sugar-coated Gospel.  All are welcome is the current mantra, forgetting, however, that repentance, conversion and picking up your daily cross are all necessary tenets of the call to authentic discipleship.  Look with me, for a moment, at a few passages from Sacred Scripture that sometimes are de-emphasized or omitted in current preaching:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.  (Mt. 7: 13-14)
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.  (Mt. 10: 28)
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.  (Mt. 25: 41-46)
Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  (Eph. 5: 5)
I have not tried to be a strict hell, fire and damnation preacher, but have tried to approach the Sacred Scriptures with a more wholistic approach.  However, my charge as priest has always been the care of souls and their eternal salvation.  (How much more so for bishops and the pope!)  If I take the approach that everybody is going to heaven, why bother urging conversion, repentance/penance, sacrifice, or self-denial?  Is there any real need for our missionary efforts in the world?  Immoral behavior should not concern us.  Martyrdom was a most futile witness.

If you question my train of thought here, pay close attention to the contemporary (Catholic) funeral where the deceased is immediately declared “in heaven with God,” “is in a better place,” or “is looking down on us now.”  I sincerely doubt there will be any reminder of praying for the dead or a mention of (gulp!) purgatory.  The condition of the person’s soul, whether he or she even set foot in a church, prayed, or tried to live a good life, etc. is of little or no concern.

I remember being told years ago about the Marian Apparitions at Fatima and the vision of hell that Lucia and her cousins received and which she later described:

As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and so sadly: You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.
Then there was the description of hell I read in the diary of St. Faustina Kaowalska:

Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it – a terrible suffering, since it is purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin. (Diary of Sr. Faustina, 741)
What should a person of faith make of these writings?  Were these people telling the truth?  Were they crazy?  Personally, I think that we should pay very close attention.

My assertion is that the devil and his demons are cleverly, wickedly, hatefully acting and influencing all matters human, very much behind the chaos that we are experiencing today.  Yes, humans absolutely retain their free will.  However, through the various decisions that we make against the will of God (sin), which assuredly damage our spiritual well-being and imperil our eternal salvation, the world is in grave danger spiritually.  Evil can and does penetrate through any chink in our armor, any vulnerable area in which it is permitted to enter.  When a person, a society, a world no longer pursues the one, true God or truth or goodness, and embraces one of the lies spewed out from the Father of Lies, chaos is bound to occur.

Many good people suggest that something notable is happening supernaturally/spiritually at this point in history.  They can sense it.  I am not quite sure of the specifics.  However, I am quite certain of the final outcome: [Jesus Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)

In the meantime, a battle for souls is still going on daily.  Some words from a former pope and a current saint might be worth considering:

This battle against the devil which characterizes the Archangel Michael is still going on, because the devil is still alive and at work in the world. In fact, the evil that is in it, the disorder we see in society, the infidelity of man, the interior fragmentation of which he is a victim, are not merely the consequences of original sin, but also the effect of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man's moral equilibrium.  (St. John Paul II, May 24, 1987, Monte Sant’ Angelo) 

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.

Fr. Ed Namiotka
Memorial of St. John Paul II
October 22, 2018

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