Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 19, “The Enemy”

Dear friend,

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.


  1. I suppose I'll comment here to forgo the sinister "did you read my post!?!" comment I get in my preferred social medium of choice :)

    This is a complex subject. One of the most disconcerting precisely because some people implicitly or explitly deny it.

    Just because things happen that are bad does not mean they are evil. Natural disasters. We assume death and destruction of property are bad. That's actually rather silly why would they be bad?

    The Manson murders are not necessarily evil they could be seen as the "absence of good" e.g. through free will we make bad choices causing pain... up to grotesque acts... if we can't commit grotesque acts how are we free?

    Also not to be trifled with is a serious body of theology attacking the heresy of a 2-god (one good one bad) type of religion.

    Finally try and get anyone in CL to talk about this stuff. If all of reality is 'for us' to lead us to Christ then that actually precludes a force that would be preventing us getting there... rather all seemingly bad things are in fact good... we are purified by pain... we see the victory of Christ in our child's sudden death etc. etc. cl-ites never seem to call a spade a spade they look for the Christ in everything.

    So it strikes me that for things to be evil the bad stuff needs to be orchestrated. If there was no evil and only the absence of good then that would imply that the bad things that happen are random and haphazard.... not orchestrated into a toxic deliberate mess...

    And then there is also the fascinating and confusing thing, can't remember where this comes from, prob some dude like Aquinas (but also remember Bible passages around Pilate and Judas), that evil acts are 'permitted' by God. Clearly not designed by God ...yet allowed by Him as part of his unfolding plan. I mean think about it: the Crucifixion was planned... yet it required evil actions from evil men... how did that work... did God con them into using evil to achieve the crucifixion?

    Fascinating.... confusing...

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