Friday, 15 August 2008

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 56:1.6-7; Romans 11:13-15.29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Almost every Monday night at 7pm we have an evening in the presbytery for those who wish to become Catholics or who wish to update their knowledge of the Faith. Actually it’s one of my favourite times of the week.

Last Monday we studied the doctrines of the Catholic Church on the Blessed Virgin: the Immaculate Conception, Mary as the Mother of God, the virginity of Mary, and the Assumption. We read also from the book of Genesis where God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel (Gen 3:15).

The serpent is Lucifer, the fallen angel now known as Satan.

In her mystical book City of God Mary of Agreda tells us that when God revealed to the angels that he intended his Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, to become man through a human woman, Lucifer objected and grew angry with God. He claimed that since angels were higher than humans and since he was the greatest of the angels he, Lucifer, should be chosen for this honour. For this rebellion Lucifer was cast out of heaven and ever since has been working to ruin the plan of God.

Indeed there is enmity between Satan and the woman. She is totally without sin; he is pure wickedness.

By the merest coincidence we are taking a break from the hard work of the catechumenate this Monday to watch a movie – The Exorcism of Emily Rose. It is about diabolical possession and is based on a true story but handled in a very honest and acceptable way. It can be said to be a wonderful story, in fact, and has a wonderful ending. There is a growing number of visitors to the grave of the young hero and even reports of miracles.

Well, since the Gospel this week conveniently speaks of a woman coming to Jesus and shouting, 'Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.' I thought I would continue the theme today and say something about the Church’s teaching on the devil. Actually, for the most part, I’ll let the Catechism of the Catholic Church do the talking and just make some comments.

391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice…

Yes, that’s so true - a seductive voice! Satan is above all a seductive voice in our lives, tempting us to take paths other than the one God wishes for us. The devil is a fallen angel and he wants nothing more than to make others fall along with him. This is what the Catechism says:

The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: "The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing."268

392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels.269 This "fall" consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter's words to our first parents: "You will be like God."270 The devil "has sinned from the beginning"; he is "a liar and the father of lies".271

393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels' sin unforgivable. "There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death."272

The tragedy is clear enough. The devil and the other demons were created good but freely chose to reject God and this choice was irrevocable, or, in other words, permanent. Even now, given the chance, the demons would not change their mind. The Catechism continues:

394 Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls "a murderer from the beginning", who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from his Father.273

Can you imagine that? Satan, in his pride and conceit, imagined that he could tempt the Redeemer into rebelling against God’s Will, just as he had done. All through history he has been tempting others and ensnaring them in his own evil.

395 The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God's reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature - to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but "we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him."275

Now, I’m imagining that some of you are a bit lost in all of this and I want to quickly tell you that it’s not because you are simple it’s because this is really complex and dense writing. It’s meant to be a summary of Catholic teaching, not a leisurely and developed explanation of each of the many points that are involved. To find such explanations we need to go to a good catholic bookshop and do further reading.

Occasionally I hear it said we shouldn’t focus on Satan because it ‘frightens’ people. Well, we should at least be informed and certainly alert to the dangers of his presence. Satan is real and therefore should not be ignored. He is working flat out – 24 hours a day – without sleep, because he doesn’t need sleep.

We should be careful to avoid anything to do with the occult, even so-called ‘harmless’ games involving the occult because they are far from harmless. Stay away from all occult practices. Ouija boards, Tarot cards, mediums, witches, any practitioner of the occult. These things are sinful and an invitation to Satan and his demons to approach us.

Satan leads his victims step by step and the first steps are usually small ones. The more we open ourselves to the occult the greater the danger we are in and then we too might one day find ourselves like the daughter in today’s Gospel – tormented by a devil.

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