Light To See The Devil

There is a scene in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ where Christ is walking the Via Dolorosa. The people are in an almost party mood as they watch the condemned carry their crosses to Golgotha. Both sides of the street are lined with people, revelers mostly but some sadden by the spectacle.  Mary is walking parallel to her son watching in agony. On the other side of the street is a grotesque figure, if not Satan then one of his minions doing the same as Mary, only it is enjoying the spectacle.  What strikes me most is that Mary is the only one that sees this creature for what it truly is. She is aware of the evil among us, Satan’s manipulations.

On this Holy Day of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God I am reminded of two undeniable facts.

Satan is real, and he and his hoards do walk among us affecting evil in our world. Maybe by direct action but mostly by whispering in our ears to move us farther from God.

God is real, and he is calling us back towards His path and Heaven. But it is important to understand, as in the scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that the closer we get to God the more clearly we see the world for what it is and what it should be. The more we are bathed in the light of Christ the more we see and understand God’s plan for us; but also see the manipulations of the evil one in our world. God’s light doesn’t blind us from evil it reveals it. The closer to God we become the more we see clearly both the good and the bad.  This is ok; it not bad. Though we might not wish to be aware of Satan, we need to be. To be blinded from his mechanizations is to allow him to succeed. We just need to be strong and call his actions for what they are, be heralds against Satan. This is especially important in our age where our society is pushing God from the public discourse – which removes him from the personal consciousness. His light is dimmer which means Satan is now in the background, in the shadows, hidden – making it easier for Him to work against us.

Brothers and sisters, this might seem frightening but we can rest assured that we have the better of him when we are living within the light of Christ, as Mary did. God’s light doesn’t protect us from evil but His love does, and where His light shines so does His love – in our hearts.

Merry Christmas!

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Howling

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today we celebrate what to some might seem a gruesome thing.  The Cross of Crucifixion; the most advanced weapon of torture and death that the Romans could use. It is still considered a most heinous discovery by mankind.  It is a terrible mark on the history of mankind.

And on top of this we celebrate the one cross that was used by mankind to perpetrate deicide, murder of God.  That man could stoop so low as to kill their creator must have made Satan howl in delight. This should frighten us – that we could kill God; and maybe that is why God allowed Himself to be murdered.  Martin Luther, said ‘that man must be first be frightened of himself so he can find the right way.[1]  Our self-smug complacency allows Satan to lead us down a path to a Godless place.  We needed something strong to shake us out of that stupor.  In this case mankind wasn’t understanding what God was about, didn’t discern from almost two thousand years of revelation through the prophets just what it took to be with God.  But, God had the plan – He had the crucifix – He had love.  He came and let us see what Isaiah’s suffering servant prophecies meant.  The death of God, was the lowest point of mankind and the start of recovery.

So, back to the title of today’s Feast ‘The Exaltation of the Cross’ what are we exultant about?

God, taught us love.
We learned what love is about.  The cross showed us what love entails: concern for others, selfless activity on behalf of others, willing the good for those around us – sacrifice; and finding the joy that this brings.

God, is constantly with us.
By His cross we are in constant touch with our loving God.  We look to the crucifix and remember, and in remembering are spurred to embrace Him.  We can struggle with our lives and we can turn our view from the gift God has given us – BUT – it just takes us to look back at the Cross to understand who we should be, who we are now, and who can help us close the gap.  We are not alone in our journey.

And finally, as we exult the gifts that the cross enabled us to receive we can hear the howling of Satan through the ages.  We hear his howl that screamed across eternity the second Christ breathed His last.  The howl of rage, frustration and betrayal.  When Christ dies Satan realizes that his joy in God’s death, the ruination of mankind towards their creator and the creator towards them betrayed him.  God, with this act put death to death, eliminated the chasm between Him and His creation; brought the prodigal mankind home to the Father.  Lucifer would not bring mankind down with him – he would now be alone (to the extent that not all mankind would follow).

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[1] Martin Luther quote used by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) Salt of the Earth

Four Comforts from the Fathers

It is a sad fact that most Catholics don’t take an interest in the writings of our great thinkers.  That most Catholics have never read writings from the Fathers or Doctors of the Church is not a surprise since most couldn’t name one of them. My fear is that this lack of interest starves our brothers and sisters from nourishment offered from Holy Mother Church by missing a chance to dive deeply into her wisdom. They are content with skimming over the surface of our faith by only listening to people like me try to give insight – missing the chance to deepen their relationship with God.  Now, nothing takes the place of prayer; it is the life blood our relationship with God; but if the faithful would only take the time to meet these thinkers and listen to them in their words then their journey would be all the more healthier. For instance today’s Gospel reading shows us, among other things, the devil’s cunning and through his temptations on Christ we are warned that he does the same to us. This can result in an unnerving realization of the seriousness of our situation.  But there is so much more that this passage can give us. For instance – through the Fathers of Church I find great comforts in this reading – let’s listen to some thoughts by two of the Church Fathers on today’s Gospel. 

First Comfort
Father David today mentioned how jealous the Devil is of mankind’s relationship with God.  The Gospel reading today shows to what extent Satan will go to interfere with our relationship.  Make no mistake, Satan hates our relationship and he bends his total effort in trying to slice through it.  His attacks are directed mostly at those baptized and most intensely at those who try to live out their relationship with God. St. Hilary of Poitiers said: ‘the temptations of the devil are specially directed against those who have been sanctified: for victory over the just is more desirable to him.’ Satan is out after our souls – more so because we have accepted the gifts of God and yearn for His embrace. That our Lenten exercises are to help with this constant barrage from the devil; and that we need to train and strengthen ourselves to fight off this attack – is a given from Gospel this reading.  But, as St Hilary’s comment points out, these attacks should also give us comfort because Satan’s barrage on our persons means that he sees us as worthy (if I may use that phrase) of special attention – we are following the right path.

Second Comfort
In today’s Gospel we see Christ, who in desiring to be like us in all things but sin, is going out to meet the devil to experience this constant barrage that mankind is under.  But whereas the Devil comes to us – Christ must go to him because as St. John Chrysostom puts it ‘The devil goes out against man to tempt him. But since the devil cannot attack Christ, Christ goes out towards the devil.’; and this fact should also give us great comfort – Christ loves us and desires to be one with us so much that He actively puts Himself within our experiences.

Third and Fourth Comforts
At the end of the temptations we hear: ‘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.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.’  St. John Chrysostom points out that the devil withdrew ‘though not as it were in obedience to the command, but because the divinity of Christ…drove him from thence.’ And this should comfort us because Christ’s strength is greater than Satan’s and because, again St. John Chrysostom: ‘What affords us personal consolation is that the devil tempts those who serve God, not as long as he wills, but only as Christ permits.’ Christ is always watching our efforts, and through His being one of us knows our limits and our strengths.

Finally, St. John Chrysostom continues: ‘He did not say, ‘and the angels descending’, that he might show they were ever present on the earth.’  This is a comfort knowing that though we can’t see them, the angels are fighting alongside us, they are not bystanders in heaven watching our battle – they are with us side-by-side in this eternal battle for our souls.

In today’s Collect Prayer we asked the Father
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.

These great Church thinkers, Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and many others broaden and deepen our understanding of God’s Word, they allow us sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil of revelation which makes for stronger witness and healthier fruit.  My hope and prayer for each of us is that we take the time to listen to those who came before us so that we might strengthen ourselves and pass to those who come after us an even stronger faith.