A Healthy Attitude towards the Devil : An Introductory Response

     A little while back I was asked by a local Catholic High School to help review new potential theology textbooks. I certainly did not have the time to read cover to cover all of the books they wanted reviewed so I decided to investigate how each book addressed some controversial issues, and only if the book addressed the issue sufficiently would I read it in its entirety. When I reviewed books for the Scripture classes I paged through the book to see how it addressed Jesus curing the sick and performing exorcisms. Many textbooks explained away Jesus’ work by claiming the evangelists simply confused demonic possession with mental or physical illness or claimed that the evangelists used demons simply as personifications of evil in the world.

     Sadly today, often through not fault of their own, many people simply reject the notion that the devil is real. The problem with this view is it runs contrary to the New Testament, which speaks directly of Satan and the fallen angels as powerful intelligent beings capable of acting. St. Mark tells us “they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.”[1] and Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons.”[2] St. Mark clearly understood the difference between Christ’s healings and His exorcisms. Holy Mother Church also teaches us directly about the existence of the devil. The Catechism reminds us when we pray “deliver us from evil” in the Our Father it “is not an abstraction but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God.”[3]

     The devil is real, but while some scholars have gone to the extreme position of denying his existence others have gone to the other extreme and become obsessed with the demonic. Two weeks ago I was with the youth group at my parish at their weekly bible study and since they have been properly catechized they believed Jesus performed exorcisms and they were naturally interested in demonic possession. They had many questions because unfortunately many of us either don’t believe the devil exists or we have an unhealthy fear of the devil, so the topic is never seriously engaged. As we discussed the devil and demonic possession I warned each of them not to focus on the devil, but rather Christ, for any spirituality that is focused on the devil is not an authentic Christian spirituality. Certainly each of us has to face our own temptations in our personal battle with the devil, but the ultimate battle has been won by the resurrection of our Lord and the evil one cannot have power over us if only we are willing to seek communion with Him.

     “The joy of the Gospel is such that it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything.”[4] We no longer need to be downtrodden as some of the Old Testaments prophets, like Job were. All of us, who have been baptized, must live with hope, for our souls have been fortified from the devil and the only way for him to have any effect on us is if we let him in. We must be like sunflowers, always pointing ourselves towards Him who is the light. What happens to a sunflower in the dark? Of course it turns in on itself and dies; likewise when we take our eyes off of Light Himself, Christ, and focus on Darkness himself, the devil, we too die.

     While we want to recognize that the devil is real and we want to fortify ourselves against him, we must remember that the devil only has power over us if we give it to him. Provided we are striving to live virtuous lives, frequently receive the Sacrament of Confession and frequently partaking in the Holy Eucharist we have nothing to fear because no trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength.[5] “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”[6] Our best defense against the devil is to run from him. My brothers and sisters never forget the devil but keep your attention focused on Christ.

[1] Mk 1:32

[2] Mk 1:34

[3] CCC 2851

[4] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium par 84. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

[5] 1 Cor 10:13

[6] James 4:10

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