Sunday, September 23, 2012
The Lord: Chapter 19, “The Enemy”
Until 1964, it was traditional to say a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of the Catholic mass. Some still recite it in private devotions, some at the end of the rosary; I have even been in churches where the prayer continues to be said after the final blessing. It goes like this:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
As a relatively new-minted Catholic, I have had some catching up to do, learning age-old prayers and traditions like this one. My sophisticated, liberal friends may scoff and smirk, but frankly, such traditions are part of the charm and challenge for me of being a Catholic. The Catholic Church asks its followers to go all-in, not to pick and choose the pieces of liturgy and dogma that appeal to individual taste but to try our best to swallow the thing whole.
Of course, this is challenging. You bet it is. It’s fair to say that many if not most Catholics live in some degree of tension between what the Church teaches and what personal sense seems to suggest. That doesn’t make the Church wrong. It only means that there’s still a gap between God and man. Of course, I don’t understand everything.
Few Catholic beliefs are more alarming to our modern mentality than the idea that evil is a person. Angels like Michael haven’t been entirely abandoned by the New Agers, but those who still believe in the Devil, Satan himself, as a real, fallen being are few and far, far between.
“Modern man has done away with Satan and his realm,” Romano Guardini writes in this chapter. Yes, we’ve done away with the idea, but how about the reality?
On July 20, 1969, the summer of our graduation together from boarding school, the first human set foot on the moon. We had brought heaven down to earth, building another bridge across the gap between us and God. Massive telescopes were searching the farthest reaches of space, and He wasn’t there either, obviously.
Twenty days later, America witnessed a truly Satanic event: the Manson murders. In a way, these horrific homicides were a more telling preview of coming attractions than the moon landings. We’ve stopped sending up Apollo spaceships with men aboard, but the outbreaks of terrifying violence like those of August 9 and 10, 1969, at the Tate and LaBianca homes in California, have accelerated in the 40-some years since.
Jeffrey Dahmer, Columbine, the Virginia Tech massacre—We don’t have to invoke 9/11 to prove there’s evil personified in the world. It’s prowling right here at home.
As psychologist James Hillman has it in one of my favorite book titles, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—and The World’s Getting Worse. Maybe we’d all be better off viewing evil not as the result of child abuse or bad DNA but the personal mischief of that ol’ devil, Lucifer himself.
But then we might have to admit God—a personal God, and not just a symbol—back into our lives as well. As Guardini writes, “The clever will of course smile at this.”
This series of posts continues here with chapter 20.