The reality of the devil was one of the hardest things for me to accept when I returned to the Church. When I made my choice to assent and submit to all the Church teaches, I knew I had a long road ahead of me. I knew that much pride and intellectual vanity and modernist funk would have to be scraped away before I could conform myself fully to the Church.
This process of death to self and the world in order to allow a new life in the Spirit to take root is not easy, and indeed it is ongoing. Each Catholic is in a different places in his or her journey. If you would have questioned me about my faith in my early 20s, I would have dismissed many key elements of Church teachings and sounded like a typical cafeteria Catholic. Faith is not a static thing. It’s organic. It has its seasons of growth and seasons where it seems to lay fallow.
And we all have those weaker moments. Not moments of disbelief, necessarily, but of weakness, of a lessening ardor, of a gentle fading of the passion for the Lord. The distractions and pressures of the world batter us and threaten to push faith to the fringes.
That’s the place where Satan wants us. When we aren’t looking, when we are distracted, when we are weak or sick in body or mind, when we have doubts: those are moments for him to do his work.
Families are organic, and thus they, too, have their cycles from fallow to fruiting. The Church is always under attack, from within and without, and the family is an image of the Church. Why think it could be any less under attack? One look around us shows a society where the meaning of marriage has collapsing. Gay marriage didn’t do it. That was just a final bullet to the head after the damage wrought by no-fault divorce and other family-destroying policies and social trends.
So when Francis speaks of the family being under attack by the Devil, he’s speaking a truth more need to hear:
Families are the home Church where Jesus grows. He grows in the spouses’ love and in the children’s lives. For this reason, the enemy attacks the family so much. The devil does not want it. He tries to destroy it, to prevent love from becoming free. Families are the home church. But married people are sinners like everyone else, they do not want to go in faith, in its fertility, in children and the faith of their children. May the Lord bless the family, and make it strong in the face of the crisis by which the devil wants to destroy it.
We need to start acting like the devil is real and threatening, particularly in our families. The Church cannot stand without the family. One is a reflection of the other.
The problem is that we don’t like to think about demonic activity in our world, and we certainly don’t like to talk about it. When was the last time you ever heard Satan mentioned in a homily? I don’t think I ever have. The recent controversy about the Black Mass at Harvard pushed it forward and forced us to deal discuss it in the open, and we shouldn’t let that moment go to waste.
There’s one basic fact you must accept: you cannot be a Christian and reject the existence of the devil. It’s that simple. Jesus talks about the devil more than anyone else in scripture. He’s not a metaphor. He’s not another word for evil or sin. He’s a fallen angel, and he’s real.
That’s tough stuff for modern man to grasp. The devil was used so effectively as a boogeyman for so many years that eventually the real understanding of his existence was lost, and only the boogeyman remains. And what do parents tell frightened children? “There is no boogeyman.”
Satan’s had a pretty good run lately. A look around the world seems to show that it’s pretty much his playground. We see it the broken families and broken lives. We see it in the anxiety and doubt of faithful Catholics and the boldness of the forces of disbelief. We see it in a government and society that dehumanizes the individual.
And yet we see hope, too, and though it’s never as flashy or as evil, it’s a powerful thread binding us all together in the Catholic community, the larger Christian community, and in human family. We’re all either tending upwards towards heaven or downwards towards hell.
In the face of so much evil at work in the world, the differences separating Catholics from each other and even Catholics from Christians and other faiths shouldn’t occupy as much energy as they do. We have a common enemy, and it’s trying to destroy faith and destroy families, since it knows it can’t destroy the Church is itself. Convincing the world he didn’t exist was Satan’s most powerful act, but shattering Christian unity and fomenting discord runs a close second. We can’t fight him and each other at the same time.
Let’s begin by taking the devil seriously. If you don’t already pray the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel every day, you should start. Teach it to your children and students.
Indeed, it’s well past time that we returned the prayer to its rightful place at the end of each mass. It keeps the enemy always in sight, and reminds us that we are not alone in this struggle against the powers of this present darkness.
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.