There are some well-intentioned believers who complain that their priests never talk about the devil, sin and hell. I refrain from assessing the validity (or invalidity) of their claim. But you know that you cannot say that about me. I can read on some faces that my mentioning sin (several times) in every single homily seems a bit too ….too negative!
As far as hell is concerned, I have told you countless times that the Lord God created us free and that we are indeed choosing practically at every waking moment, good or evil, to be with God or against God, to obey him or to disobey him, to be militating in his camp or in Satan’s camp. So, you see how, logically, inescapably, hell exists by the necessity imposed by our being free: with God = heaven; away from God = hell! In death our choosing ends forever.
Today, Holy Mother Church wants us to focus our attention on the devil because of how much he affects our choices and how much he is…hell-bent on getting us to switch sides.
His work of devastation started from the very beginning of humankind and it is such that the Holy Spirit-inspired authors of the Bible had to resort to myths to cover the most sinister aspects of Satan’s attacks. Now, do not be alarmed: the term “myth” for Catholic biblical scholars means exactly the opposite of what is commonly understood by that negative term.
Myth is a set of existential truths that are so laden with meaning and significance and so complex and multi-faceted that they can be told only in veiled forms through improbable stories so that the salvific message can be discovered by exploring beyond their immediate and colorful details.
We all know of course, that snakes do not talk, but the image of a serpent is used in this “myth” to indicate that Satan is insidious, tricky, and surreptitious in his attacks. Exploring this familiar story a bit more deeply, we can realize what kind of devastation the devil can cause in our mind, heart and soul by looking at what he caused in the life of our progenitors.
They were created naked, but were not ashamed (cf. Genesis 2: 25) because they were in harmony with God’s law, united in their mutual love and the devil had yet to begin his work of sabotage. Through outlandish lies, tricking Eve into disobedience to God’s order, Satan made them aware of their nakedness experienced for the first time as the total poverty, the total powerlessness and the total emptiness that sin brings into people’s lives.
This story of the original fall displays openly also the disunity and the contentious spirit that are some of the consequences of Satan’s successful work.
Adam refuses to own up to his poor decision and blames Eve. Eve refuses to own up to her poor decision and blames the serpent. And the serpent is very pleased with the result of his work of disharmony, discord, dissention and conflict even after being condemned by God to an eternal life of misery.
Now, let me point out some simple facts that show how the devil is working overtime and his successful modus operandiis still the same because we, mere humans, are dense and careless and some of us are even so foolish as to deny his existence.
At any rate, we learn, almost daily, about egregious scandals, crimes and cases of corruption that make us feel angry and frustrated.
While we might be reluctant to own up to our responsibility for negative results of our poor choices, we invoke justice and retribution in notorious cases.
We decry that nobody is held accountable and so many get off scot-free. Hello; anybody home? Don’t you see Satan snickering? In today’s Gospel passage (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus mentions disharmony, discord, dissention and conflict as the work of the devil.
The rates of divorce are almost as high for Catholic couples as they are for other couples. There are sad cases in which the children of a deceased attend the same funeral Mass but in separate clusters because of their feuding, mostly over money. As things are, I guess it is easier to see where the devil has yet to succeed with his trickeries than to list where he is working hard and overtime! But we cannot be discouraged or unduly alarmed if we embrace Jesus as Lord and Master of our house and live out the core of his greatest Gift; the Gift of himself in Holy Communion.
Our ancestors in the faith knew all about Jesus as the strong man and as the Father’s weapon to foil the work of Satan and unite all of the Father’s children into his global family.
Our ancestors remembered that, as he was giving himself to his disciples in the humble forms of bread and wine, Jesus prayed in earnest to the Father for unity and mutual love for all those in his Family. They saw the significance of the symbolism of many grains of wheat ground to form one loaf and the many grapes crushed to make one heavenly drink.
Hence, today we decide to take some time out to assess the damage that the devil has wrought to our family, parish community, city or town, Catholic Church, nation and world. We ask for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that he may burn away all that is creating dissention and division, especially arrogance, selfishness, inflexibility, unwillingness to forgive and clothe our nakedness with his divine gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
In union with Christ Jesus and docile to the will of Father, we will be able to foil the guiles of the devil, be formed into the Father’s new Family and bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control for the good of our earthly family, parish community and the whole Church, the Father’s new Family.