Monday, February 11, 2008

Spiritual Battle

For my Lenten spiritual reading, I have Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa's book The Mystery of Easter. He is the preacher to the papal household, meaning he preaches and leads retreats for the Pope and Vatican. He is very good.

The book is a great read so far. Therefore, I was pleased to see that he wrote the following column about demons. Because there are many misconceptions about the devil, demons and spiritual warfare. We are truly in a battle for souls and if we do not know the enemy, we are in trouble.
In the column, he writes:

If many people find belief in demons absurd, it is because they take their beliefs from books, they pass their lives in libraries and at desks; but demons are not interested in books, they are interested in persons, especially, and precisely, saints.

How could a person know anything about Satan if he has never encountered the reality of Satan, but only the idea of Satan in cultural, religious and ethnological traditions? They treat this question with great certainty and a feeling of superiority, doing away with it all as so much "medieval obscurantism."

But it is a false certainty. It is like someone who brags about not being afraid of lions and proves this by pointing out that he has seen many paintings and pictures of lions and was never frightened by them. On the other hand, it is entirely normal and consistent for those who do not believe in God to not believe in the devil. It would be quite tragic for someone who did not believe in God to believe in the devil!

Yet the most important thing that the Christian faith has to tell us is not that demons exist, but that Christ has defeated them. For Christians, Christ and demons are not two equal, but rather contrary principles, as certain dualistic religions believe to be the case with good and evil. Jesus is the only Lord; Satan is only a creature "gone bad." If power over men is given to Satan, it is because men have the possibility of freely choosing sides and also to keep them from being too proud (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7), believing themselves to be self-sufficient and without need of any redeemer. "Old Satan is crazy," goes an African-American spiritual. "He shot me to destroy my soul, but missed and destroyed my sin instead."

With Christ we have nothing to fear. Nothing and no one can do us ill, unless we ourselves allow it. Satan, said an ancient Father of the Church, after Christ's coming, is like a dog chained up in the barnyard: He can bark and lunge as much as he wants, but if we don't go near him, he cannot harm us.

In the desert Jesus freed himself from Satan to free us! This is the joyous news with which we begin our Lenten journey toward Easter.

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