BEND – The Conference which I attended in Chicago this week dealt with the spiritual activity in the Church known as deliverance ministry and exorcism. I wrote about this last year after I had listened to a series of tapes from a conference on the same topic which was held in 2007. Many aspects of deliverance and exorcism were covered in the course of the four-day conference including the canonical, the theological, the psychological, the spiritual and the personal. At the very foundation of the conference stands the truth that we live in a world surrounded by spiritual beings and those spiritual beings, including angels, saints and demons, interact with us in a variety of ways. Some of that interaction is very helpful and supportive, some of it is not. Obviously any interaction with satanic or demonic spiritual beings is fraught with spiritual danger and we as Catholics need to be aware of the reality of Satan, aware of his wickedness and snares, and live in such a way that we do not fall under his sway or influence. Just as we were accustomed, perhaps more so as children than at present, to recite the Guardian Angel Prayer asking for our Angel’s light, guardianship, rulership and guidance so we should also pray to be protected from the “wickedness and snares of the devil.”
In the course of the conference I was pleased to engage in a conversation with a young priest who reminded me of a book on the activities of the devil which is very much a classic. The book, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, is a series of one-sided letters written by senior devil Screwtape to his nephew apprentice devil, Wormwood. Uncle Screwtape gives guidance and direction to a sometimes hapless and quasi incompetent Wormwood who repeatedly fails in one way or another to properly ensnare his assigned subject. It is a wondrously topsy-turvy world in which, from the devil’s perspective, blessedness is devilishness, success in resisting temptation is failure, and human causes of genuine joy are disastrous losses for Satan. Repeatedly the despicable (which is a high compliment) Screwtape chastises Wormwood, who is perhaps too good (what a horrible insult) for his failure to be devilish or shrewd enough in his assigned duty as junior tempter. Besides being quite entertaining, the book awakens the reader to the reality of the spiritual or supernatural world and very imaginatively portrays the machinations and strategizing of the evil one in “winning souls.”
While there is a great deal of interest in and curiosity about the devil in the realm of possession and exorcism, there is much less interest in him in the realm of one’s day-to-day life. Indeed, in the realm of our own lives. For the most part, people of America generally proceed with their daily lives as if Satan did not exist at all. An undue fascination with the details of possession is perhaps not spiritually healthy but neither is ignoring the existence of the devil and the reality of evil. We can be sure he is not ignoring us.
The devil is insanely jealous of us. He is jealous because God, bypassing the angelic spirits, chose to link His Divine nature with our human nature in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The singular purpose of Satan then, with a fervor which is fed by jealousy, is to sabotage as many of the individual relationships with God as possible. We are assured that those who maintain a strong relationship with the Lord in prayer and sacraments are extremely unlikely to fall prey to possession but we are all victims of ongoing temptation. It is this role of tempter which C.S. Lewis explores in The Screwtape Letters. A sensitivity in the spiritual life needs to include an awareness of the tactics of the devil and a firm resolve to avoid and resist the wickedness and snares of the devil. This is precisely the purpose of the prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. In that prayer, we acknowledge that we are involved in a battle with the forces of evil, “Saint Michael, Archangel, defend us in battle” and we ask his specific intervention, “be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” We then go one step further invoking God’s own direct assistance, “May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,” and then back to Saint Michael and all the angels, “and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits.” Then at the end of the prayer we take note of the reason why we have sought the intercession of the great Saint Michael in the first place. This is because those evil spirits are the ones “who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” These souls whom Satan and his evil minions prowl about the world seeking to destroy are not anonymous other souls but rather our own souls and those of our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
It is certainly important that we not become excessively consumed or obsessed by the presence and activity of the evil one but it is also most important that we not be oblivious to his presence or activity, for it is real. All one needs to do is look at the state of moral confusion which reigns in our present society. The killing of the sick or elderly because they want it is being promoted as some kind of right or good but this can be so only in the topsy-turvy world of Screwtape and Wormwood. When taking the life of an innocent pre-born child is seen as right and a right and when the preservation of precisely that right becomes the object of a political campaign, I suspect the letter from Screwtape to the demon master of that campaign would be filled with praise. When a whole society begins to question whether marriage really requires one man and one woman, faithfully committed to each other in an exclusive and child-centered relationship, Satan must be very pleased indeed. Screwtape’s letters to the untiring tempters who pulled off that coup would have to be filled with devilish pride. For that kind of confusion and moral inversion to have made this kind of progress in our society, it was and is necessary for Satan to have been very active and at the same time to remain very hidden. When he is so subtly hidden, there is no limit to the wickedness and snares of the devil.
When we look at our society and see the depths of depravity to which it has already sunk we must, like in the parable of the wheat and the tares, come to the unmistakable conclusion that “an enemy has done this.”