By Tom Quiner
[In light of recent events, I am re-running a blogpost from 2013 which features timely commentary by Antonin Scalia and Pope Francis.]
I don’t recall ever hearing a homily on the subject of Satan in the Catholic Church.
I’ve attended over 2000 Masses since I converted to the Church years ago. Satan isn’t a subject that most people are comfortable talking about. Many people will dismissively roll their eyes if you invoke the subject. The sense is something like: “you superstitious fool, time to enter the 21st century.”
Some people are frightened of the subject. Others perceive Satan as an abstraction rather than a specific evil being.
Interestingly, two prominent people were just in the news acknowledging their belief in Satan: Supreme Court Justice, Anthony Scalia, and Pope Francis.
Vatican Radio reported on the Pope’s homily a few days ago:
Christians must always guard against the deceit of the devil, said Pope Francis at Friday’s morning Mass in Casa Santa Marta. The Pope underlined that Christians cannot follow the victory of Jesus over evil “halfway”, nor confuse or relativize truth in the battle against the devil.
Jesus casts out demons, and then someone offers explanations “to diminish the power of the Lord,” he said. The Pope focused his homily on the day’s Gospel and immediately underlined that there is always the temptation to want to diminish the figure of Jesus, as if he were “a healer at most” and so as not to take him “so seriously”. It is an attitude, he observed, that has “reached our present day”.
“There are some priests who, when they read this Gospel passage, this and others, say: ‘But, Jesus healed a person with a mental illness’. They do not read this, no? It is true that at that time, they could confuse epilepsy with demonic possession; but it is also true that there was the devil! And we do not have the right to simplify the matter, as if to say: ‘All of these (people) were not possessed; they were mentally ill’. No! The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil.”
The Pope simply confirms scripture where Jesus invoked Satan on many occasions, and confronted him in the desert. Modern man wants to take the divinity out of Jesus and deny the existence of the devil. Pope Francis warns against the folly of this thinking.
Interestingly, Supreme Court Justice was just interviewed by a self-proclaimed atheist for the New York Magazine. I think the interviewer thought he was trying to trap Justice Scalia and make him look silly by asking if he believes in heaven and hell, Justice Scalia boldly stood by his Catholic beliefs in this interesting exchange:
You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!
Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.
But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!
Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?
Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.
Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
It’s because he’s smart.
So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.
Well, you’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.
I’m sorry to have offended you!
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?
Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.
The Pope and Justice Scalia have done a service to modern man, to get us to recognize the reality of the devil. We each have an eternal soul. It will either reside in heaven or hell. It is our choice. If we accept Christ and live by faith, our destination is heaven.
If we reject his outstretched hand, we make a choice to spend eternity in hell. Satan, the great tempter, is whispering in our ear to reject Christ’s invitation to salvation.
Interestingly, Jesus talked about hell twice as much as heaven. Evidently, it is a very important subject, or else He wouldn’t have wasted His breath and spilled his Divine Blood on our behalf.
We need to understand the magnitude of this gift. If we don’t, Jesus warned us of the consequences:
“When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19 RSV)
Guard your heart from the King of Darkness. That begins by acknowledging his reality.