Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of March is dedicated to increased devotion to St. Joseph, the Spouse of the Virgin Mary, and Foster Father of our Lord Jesus. Let us go to St. Joseph, open our hearts to his love for us and experience his great kindness! This weekend I share with you a reflection on the Dogma of the existence of the devil. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“The existence of the devil and his activity. The devil exists and acts in people and society. His activity is mysterious, but real and effective: Again the devil took Him to a very high mountain …Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, satan!’ we read in the Gospel for Holy Mass. (cf. Matt 4:8-11)
The devil exists. Holy Scripture speaks of him from the first to the last of the revealed books, from Genesis to the Apocalypse (Revelation). In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Our Lord affirms that the weeds, whose purpose is to suffocate the wheat, were sown by the enemy. (Matt. 13:25) In the parable of the sower, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown. (Matt. 13:19)
Some people are inclined towards a superficial optimism and think evil is merely an incidental imperfection in a world which is continually evolving towards better days. Nevertheless the history of man-kind has been adversely affected by the devil’s influence. We find in our day all the features of an intense evil which cannot be explained in terms of human behavior alone. The devil, in all sorts of ways, wreaks havoc on mankind. There is no doubt that the whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so Our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history up to the last day. (Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 7) The devil does this in such a way that he provokes incalculable harm of a spiritual nature and, indirectly even of a physical nature, to individuals and to society. (St. John Paul II, General Audience, 13 August 1986)
The devil’s activity is mysterious but at the same time real and effective. From the first centuries, Christians were conscious of diabolical activity. St. Peter admonished the first Christians: Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seek-ing someone to devour. Resist him firm in your Faith. (1 Pet. 5:8)
With Jesus Christ, the devil’s dominion has been reduced, for He has freed us from the power of satan. (Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 6) As a result of the redeeming work of Christ, the devil can only cause real harm to those who freely allow him to, by consent-ing to evil and separating themselves from God.
In many passages of the Gospel Our Lord shows Himself overcoming the devil, freeing many people from diabolical possession. We place our trust in Jesus, and He does not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13) The devil will try to reduce the human spirit and lead it to violate God’s precepts, little by little darkening the hearts of those who try to serve Him. This he will do to make them forsake the true God, turning to himself instead as though he were a god indeed. (St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 5) He does this at all times, in a thousand different ways. But God has given us the means to overcome all temptation; nobody sins necessarily. Let us consider, in depth, during this Lent what that means. As well as this, in order to
free us from the devil’s influence, God has given us an Angel to help and protect us. If you call upon your Guardian Angel at the moment of trial, he will protect you from the devil and will bring you holy inspirations. (J. Escriva, The Way, 567)
Who the devil is. His power is limited. We need divine help in order to conquer: The devil is a personal, real and individual be-ing, of a spiritual and indivisible nature, who separated himself from God forever by his sin, because the devil and the other demons were created naturally good by God; but they became bad of themselves. (Fourth Lateran Council, Dz. 800 )
He is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), of sin, of discord, of affliction, of hatred, of all that is absurd and evil on earth. (cf. Heb. 2:14) He is the astute and envious serpent who brings death to the world (cf. Wis. 2:24), the enemy who sows evil in man’s heart (cf. Matt. 13:28-39) and the only being we have to fear if we are not close to God. His sole purpose in the world, which he has never renounced, is our perdition. Every day he will try to achieve that purpose through all the means at his disposal. It all began with his rejection of God and God’s Kingdom, when he usurped his sovereign rights and tried to overturn the economy of salvation and the very ordering of creation itself. This attitude can be found reflected in the words of the tempter to our first parents: ‘You will be like gods’. This is how the evil spirit endeavors to transplant into man the attitude of proud rivalry, of insubordination and opposition to God that has become the motivating force of his own whole existence. (St. John Paul II, General Audience, 13 August 1986)
The devil is the first cause of evil and of the disorders and ruptures which are produced in families and in society. For instance, suppose, says Cardinal Newman, a sudden darkness were to fall upon the streets of a crowded city in day-time, you may fancy without my telling you what a noise and clamor there would be, foot passengers, carriages, carts, horses all being mixed together. Such is the state of the world. The evil spirit, which worketh in the children of disbelief, the god of this world, as St. Paul says, has blinded the eyes of them that believe not, and hence they are obliged to wrangle and debate, for they have lost their way; and they fall out with each other and one says this and one says that, because they do not see. (Cardinal J. New-man, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent - The World and Sin)
In his temptations the devil has recourse to deceit, because he can present only a false good and a fictitious happiness, which inevitably turn into loneliness and bitterness. Outside of God true good or happiness do not exist; they cannot exist. Outside of God there is only darkness, emptiness and endless misery. But the devil’s power is limited, and is also under the dominion and sovereignty of God, Who is the only Lord of the Universe.
The devil - and our angels - cannot penetrate our innermost thoughts if we do not want them to. The unclean spirits cannot know the nature of our thoughts, they can only conjecture at them from an out-wardly perceptible indications, or else by examining our dispositions, our words or the things they notice that we tend towards. On the other hand, what we have not chosen to exteriorize so that it remains hidden within our souls, is totally inaccessible to them. Even the very thoughts that they suggest to us, the reception we give them, the reaction they cause within us… they cannot know any of this because of the very essence of our soul… except, in every case, through our movements and external manifestations. (Cassian, Conferences, 7)
The devil is unable to violate our liberty so as to incline it towards evil. It is a certain fact that the devil cannot seduce anybody if he does not freely give to the devil the consent of his will. (ibid.)
The holy Cure d’Ars says that the devil is a great chained dog which puts people to flight, which makes a great noise, but which only bites those who come too close. (St. Jean Vianney, [The Cure d’Ars], Sermon on Temptations) To sum up: No human power can be com-pared to his; only God’s power can vanquish him and only God’s light can unmask the snares that he lays. The soul that would over-come the power of the devil will not be able to do so without prayer, nor will it recognize his deceitful traps without the aid of mortification and humility. (St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, 3, 9)
Jesus Christ vanquishes the devil. Trust in Christ. Means that we have to use. Holy Water: Jesus’ life was summarized in the Acts of the Apostles in the words, He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil. (Acts 10:39) And St. John, speaking about the cause of the Incarnation, explains, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
Christ is the true victor over the devil: Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out (John 12:31), Jesus will say at the Last Supper, a few hours before His Passion. God decided to enter into the history of mankind in a new and definitive manner by sending His own Son in human flesh, so that through Him He might snatch men from the power of darkness and of satan (cf. Col. 1:3, Acts 10:38). (Vatican Council II, Ad Gentes, 3)
Nevertheless, the devil continues to retain a certain power over the world, in so far as men reject the fruits of the Redemption. He has dominion over those who in one way or another voluntarily surrender themselves to him, preferring the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Grace. (cf. St. John Paul II, loc. cit.) This is why we should not be surprised if we often see evil apparently triumph and justice cruelly wronged here and there.
It should give us great confidence to know that Our Lord has left us many means by which to conquer and to live in this world with the peace and joy of a good Christian. Amongst these means are prayer, mortification, the frequent reception of Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Penance, and love for Our Lady. We are always safe in Our Lady’s company.
The use of Holy Water is also an effective means of protection against the devil’s influence. Y ou ask me why I always recommend, with such insistence, the daily use of Holy Water. I could give you many reasons. But there could be none better that that of the Saint of Avila: ‘From nothing do evil spirits flee more precipitately, never to return, than from Holy Water’. (J. Escriva, The W ay, 572)
St. John Paul II exhorts us, when we pray, to think more about what we say in the last petition of the Our Father; Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from Evil - from the Evil One. Do not let us give in, Lord, to the infidelity towards which the one who has been unfaithful right from the beginning entices us. (St. John Paul II, loc. cit.) The best way we have of showing that we want to replace the non serviam of the devil with our personal Serviam: I will serve Y ou, Lord, is by making a special effort this Lent to improve in our faithfulness to what we know God wants of us.” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Victory, St. Joseph, the Terror of demons, St. Michael, St. Paul, and our Guardian Angels, may our good Lord grant us the victory over every temptation from the devil!
In Christ through Mary,