August 10, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Holiness means battling with the devil in our lives

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives”
(Pope Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” #158).

As Adam and Eve learned in the Garden of Eden, “the devil made me do it” is never an acceptable excuse for our sinful choices. We have the gift of free will combined with the powerful assistance of God’s grace. We do not have to sin.

And yet, the temptations of the devil are powerful. They confront us at every turn, especially when we are weakest and most vulnerable. Our Lord taught us to pray fervently that we would not be led into temptation, that we would be delivered from the grip of the evil one. Jesus took the devil seriously, and he asks us, his disciples, to do the same.

Pope Francis acknowledges the threat posed by the devil to our efforts to be holy people and live blameless lives. In his apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), the Holy Father speaks directly about the “constant battle” we are engaged in as missionary disciples of Jesus called to proclaim the Gospel and serve the needs of all our sisters and brothers, but especially those who are most vulnerable (#158).

“We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil” (“Gaudete et Exsultate,” #159).

Our modern culture does not admit the existence of the devil. Many regard him as a mythical figure, even a cartoon character, and they either deny his influence or they reduce it to psychological factors that they believe cause us to make wrong decisions.

Pope Francis warns against this kind of deceptive thinking: “God’s word invites us clearly to ‘stand against the wiles of the devil’ (Eph 6:11) and to ‘quench all the flaming darts of the evil one’ (Eph 6:16)” (“Gaudete et Exsultate,” #162).

These expressions are not melodramatic, the pope says, because our path toward holiness requires us to anticipate and overcome all the obstacles placed in our path by the one who would prevent us from reaching our goal, which is to lead holy and blameless lives.

During the Easter liturgy each year, all Catholics are invited to renew the promises that form the core elements of what we believe. One of these promises is to renounce Satan and all his works.

When we renew this baptismal vow, we are not renouncing “a tendency” or “a psychological influence.” We are rejecting the personification of evil (Satan), and all the evil consequences of his destructive reign as the prince of evil.

We know relatively little about the devil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God” (CCC, #414).

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, Satan is often portrayed as an advocate, someone who exercises immense skills of persuasion. The devil’s mission is to persuade us that our own desires are preferable to God’s will for us.

What we want, the devil tells us, is better for us than the rules and regulations of society or the Church, or even the divine commandments of our God. If Satan can persuade us of this in little things, he will ultimately prevail in bigger things. In the end, a life that is gradually given over to Satan and his empty promises becomes lax, lukewarm and spiritually corrupt—a condition that Pope Francis says “is worse than the fall of a sinner, for it is a comfortable and self‑satisfied form of blindness” (“Gaudete et Exsultate,” #165).

If we aren’t vigilant—on our guard against the devil’s persuasive influence—we will give in to temptation even as we tell ourselves we are good Christians who have committed no serious sins.

“Everything then appears acceptable,” the pope says, including: “deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (“Gaudete et Exsultate,” #165, cf. 2 Cor 11:14).

Let’s pray for the courage to resist the devil’s temptations and for the grace to follow Jesus on the journey to holiness. †

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