Very early in Holy Scripture we are confronted with the presence of an evil personality, Satan, who comes to Eve in the form of a serpent. His appearance strikes a discordant note after an account which assures us of the intrinsic wholesomeness of the universe. Genesis informs us that at the end of each day of creation, God surveyed His work and “saw that it was good” (Gen 1). It is only as the Scriptures unfold that we learn that Satan belongs to a faction of an angelic order which, made in the image of God and blessed magnificently with Sanctifying Grace, had forfeited friendship with the Creator through an abuse of freedom of choice and an act of rebellion.
In the New Testament, Our Lord identifies the devil as “a murderer from the beginning” and the “father of lies” (Jn 8.44). We see how the devil earned this title in his first engagement with the human race, promising Eve that if only she and Adam would disobey God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then they would never die and would be like gods. Silly Eve forgets that she and Adam have already been blessed with immortality and that, being in a state of grace, they possess a supernatural likeness to God Who has shared His own divine life with them. In other words, the devil’s intention is to deprive the human race of the very goods which he is promising them. And because they prefer the word of the serpent over the promises of God, man falls from grace and sickness and no end of suffering become part of human existence.
A terrible and radical consequence of that original sin is death, in which man’s body returns to decay in the dust from which he was created and his soul becomes a disembodied entity. This is really a violation of what we human beings are at the most essential level of our being. In tempting us to sin, the devil achieves his aim of disfiguring the image of God which is emblazoned on our souls, spoiling God’s plan for our immortality and depriving us of the Sanctifying Grace which the devil threw away for himself forever.
Mercifully for us, this was not to be the end of the story. While the third chapter of Genesis deals with the calamitous fall of man, the rest of Holy Scripture is the account of God’s rescue plan. It culminates in a revelation of God’s love for mankind which confounds all intellectual powers of comprehension, with the God of all transcendence uniting Himself with our frail human flesh in the Incarnation, with God the Son opening His arms wide on the Cross to receive us into the harbour of His Sacred Heart, with His death, Resurrection and Ascension body and soul into Heaven. He leaves this earth in His visible form with the assurance that He remains with us in His Church, and with the promise that He will return in majesty and power to judge the living and the dead, when our bodies will be raised from the earth to be reunited with our souls in eternity (His desire is for this to be in Heaven and he will give us all the means needed to achieve this, but He respects our freedom and so our ultimate destination will depend on the choices we make now). The best news of all is that our Creator’s plan is for us to enjoy an existence more sublimely joyful and fulfilling than anything experienced by Adam and Eve in Paradise. And the King of Kings has established the beginnings of the Kingdom of Heaven already on earth, with the Beatitudes as the charter for making it a reality around us now.
A happy ending then. However, that sin of our first parents gave to Satan an entrée into human society, and anyone with eyes to see will recognize that the devil is all too present and all too active in the world around us. Our societies seem to facilitate his increase whenever they enact legislation which violates the very laws which God has written into human nature and which He gave to Moses amid thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, and wherever oppression of the most needy and vulnerable, such as the unborn, becomes institutionalized.
We must never forget that Satan is the father of lies. His intention is always to deprive us of the very goods which he promises us. He betrays his hand most obviously in conflicts between nations and in the degradations and miseries that accompany war. More subtle than all the beasts of the earth, however, he also acts insidiously within our ostensibly civilized institutions. He undermines the family and the education of the young in the name of equality and diversity. He convinces us that the only way of exercising responsible stewardship of our planet is by means of essentially misanthropic programmes of population control enforced through contraception and abortion. He promises us happiness if only we learn to be spiritual without being religious, knowing full well that authentic Catholic religion is the means that God has granted us to share in His divine life now and to enjoy perfect happiness in Heaven for eternity. The devil, by the way, is the ultimate personification of one who is “spiritual but not religious”. As a fallen angel he is pure spirit, but He refuses to genuflect before the Word made Flesh Who makes Himself present on the Altar at Holy Mass. As the father of lies he is quite capable of assuming the guise of humility and meekness in order to fool us, but he has made himself incapable of obedience to God’s commandments. In addition to tempting us as individuals, we can be sure that he also tempts the Church to abandon the Gospel of salvation through the way of the Cross in favour of political posturing, just as he tempted Our Lord and Saviour in the wilderness. His proposals for enlightenment, freedom and quality of life conceal his malicious agenda to ensnare us in a reign of darkness, enslavement and the culture of death.
Ultimately, however, the devil can only be as powerful in our lives as we allow him to be. Compared with the might and omnipotence of the Holy Spirit, he is miserably puny. Next to the beauty and splendour of the Holy Angels, he and his army of renegade demons are as dismal little germs. However, just as a minute bacteria can cause havoc in our body if it gains entry through some abrasion or ingestion, so may the devil bring ruin to our soul if we allow ourselves to flirt with his beguiling promises in preference to the word of God. He may even take possession of us if we are foolish enough to open the doors of our hearts to him by dabbling in the occult. Any exorcist will tell us that fortune telling, Ouija boards and other forms of esoteric divining are like an open invitation to those elements of the spiritual realm with which we would not wish to have any contact if only we saw them in their ugliness.
In our Baptism, we have been claimed for Christ, and restored to that supernatural likeness to God which was forfeited to the human race by the sin of Adam and Eve. The devil’s burning ambition is to deprive us of this Sanctifying Grace by means of mortal sin. After Baptism, the Sacrament of Penance is the most mighty weapon that Our Lord has provided to liberate us from the power of our enemy, along with devout reception of Holy Communion, always in a state of grace. Pray daily to St Michael and the Holy Angels, before whom demons tremble and flee. In our morning offering, invite our holy Guardian Angels to read the innermost secrets of our hearts to give them the advantage over our spiritual adversaries who have not been granted such a prerogative. Best of all, we are blessed with the loving care of a Mother in Heaven, the Second Eve Whose Immaculate Conception and whose fiat to St Gabriel at the Annunciation mark decisive victories in the invincible reversal of the consequences of the Fall. Ask Her to protect us always, keeping us close to Her like little children within the folds of Her garments. This most meek and gentle handmaid of the Lord fights with the ferocity of a tiger to protect Her young ones from predators and to bring us back to safety whenever we stray. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for us. Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle.
Fr Julian Large