I recently took a trip across the country, and, as it happened, found myself in a certain chapel (under the care of one of the traditional Catholic priestly societies in good standing) for the Third Sunday of Lent. As the homily began, my ears immediately perked up at a quotation from 1 Peter 5. What followed was the single best sermon I have ever heard preached on the devil, and our never-ending battle with him. Hearing those words at that time felt distinctly providential, and I knew immediately that they needed to be widely shared.
I reached out to the homilist, who graciously provided me with a transcript of his sermon and the permission to publish it. He requested, however, that he be left anonymous, so I will share no details about his identity or the particular chapel. – Steve
“When He had cast out the devil, the dumb man spoke. …And the crowds marveled.” (Luke 11: 14)
In today’s Gospel, our blessed Lord exorcised a man possessed by a demon. We know from history that His apostles also cast out devils, and even today, the Church has exorcists who rid the possessed of the demons that torment them. Sacred Scripture also warns us of them. Each night at Compline, the Church reads this passage from St. Peter’s first epistle: “Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5: 8] Who is this ancient fiend that haunts our steps and sets snares to entrap us? What methods does he use as he plots our eternal ruin? How can we keep ourselves free from his clutches? Is he just some figurative symbol of evil, as the modernists say, like Uncle Sam symbolizes the U.S. government? But no, he is a real person.
Before creating the material world, God created the angels—pure spirits having no material body, imbued with intellect and free-will. As pure spirits, they have great knowledge and power. So that they could merit the Beatific Vision, God put them to a test. Two-thirds guided by St. Michael would remain faithful to their Creator, loving and serving Him. One-third led by Lucifer rebelled and were cast out of heaven. The devil corrupted his purpose, and so himself as the Church solemnly teaches “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.” [Lateran IV; DS 800] Think of everything wonderful about the angelic nature: an intellect that seeks after Truth and communicates it, a will that loves Goodness and wants its diffusion. Now think of its corruption: an intellect that flees from Truth and spreads lies, a will that hates Goodness and wants its eradication. Being of angelic nature, once they made a decision, their will was forever fixed, and so the demons to this day go about rebelling against the order established by God, inciting hatred of Him and destroying His likeness in man. Compared to us: the devil is more cunning; he has no need for sleep; he can be anywhere in an instant; he has been around for very long time.
Ever since we were born, he has studied you and me, noting our weaknesses, seeing our desires, plotting our fall. His methods are always the same: confusion and deceit. He is the Father of Lies. He uses confusion to destabilize us, for if we know clearly what the truth is we will not fall for his tricks. He clouds the mind, making absolute truths look not so absolute, making intrinsic evil look not so bad. He then deceives so as to tell us what is–is not, and what is not–is. Good is bad, bad is good. Total revolution! Reality was created by God, and so the devil hates it. If reality is that a certain action is evil, he will persuade us that it is not if we can get something desired from it. It may be fine to live a long life, but if I kill a man for his organs? It is good to have a healthy baby, but if I stifle an unhealthy one in the womb or corrupt the purpose of the procreative act so as to avoid defective offspring? The devil is a manipulative person, and so, he will say what flatters our desire and suggest what induces our weakness to get us to join his rebellion against our loving Creator.
If we reflect upon a manipulative person we have known, we notice that his interactions with others was always of a sort to make others do what he wants. How he had to control others. The rage that swelled when he couldn’t. Such also is the devil whose revolt against God must be total. God leaves us at liberty to freely choose to love and serve Him. The devil, however, wants to dominate over us. Once he has us, he will not let go. His allies, the flesh and the world, will do what they can to keep us ensnared. Accordingly, St. Paul warns us in today’s epistle: “For know you this, and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean or covetous person…hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words!” [Ephesians 5: 5-6] In our days, how much we hear those vain words!
How are we to withstand the vain words and deceits of the devil and his minions? We must heed the words of St. Peter: “Resist him steadfast in the Faith.” [1 Peter 5: 9] If the devil spreads his tyranny through lies, then we must cling all the more to the Truth. We must believe firmly in what God has said through His only begotten Son. It is an act of humility to submit our minds to what God has revealed, even if we do not understand it fully, an act of humility which confounds Satan’s pride. But our faith should not be a dead one, but enlivened by hope and charity. So we have to pray and keep the commandments. For this, look to the ever blessed Virgin Mary, whom the woman in today’s gospel praised. She indeed heard the Word of God and kept it: the Eternal Word in her virginal womb and also the divine grace in which she persevered all her life. Ask her to guide you and help you see through the devil’s lies.
The devil is an intimidating enemy and much more powerful than we. And we would have every reason to tremble like the pagans who worship him through their idols. However, we have Christ, who cast out the demons, who has the final victory over Satan through His holy cross. With Him we will also be victorious over our wicked enemy.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.