EOPLE DON’T TALK much about the devil. These days, talking about the devil is often seen as “antiquated” or “from a different era.” But the devil is real. We have always believed that, and we believe it still. If you listen to Pope Francis’ talks (and not just to the sound bites the news likes to quote), you’ll notice that he talks about the devil . . . a lot.
For example, in a June 2013 audience, Pope Francis said: “Look around us—it is enough to open a newspaper, as I said—we see the presence of evil. The devil is acting.”
In October 2013, the pontiff proclaimed in a morning meditation: “A battle exists, a battle in which the eternal salvation of us all is at stake.”
In a September 2013 letter to Argentinian bishops, the pope quoted Blessed José Gabriel Brochero (the “Gaucho priest”), who said: “There’ll be trouble if the devil robs me of a single soul.”
Satan was a topic even in the Holy Father’s first public appearance with the Pope Emeritus in June 2014, when Francis declared: “In consecrating the Vatican City State to St. Michael the Archangel, let us ask him to defend us from the Evil One and cast him out.”
Even before his days as pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio wrote in the 2010 book, On Heaven and Earth: “I believe that the Devil exists” and “his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he doesn’t exist.”
This is only a small sampling. None of these comments should surprise us, inasmuch as Papa Bergoglio comes to us through the Jesuits, whose expertise is the discernment of spirits (both good & evil).
The Gospel read at Mass today in the Ordinary Form is about an interaction that Jesus has with the devil. There are more than a few such scenes in the Scriptures, but this one starts out: “In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit.” Jesus has a short conversation with the unclean spirit, and then He commands it: “Quiet! Come out of him!” Then, the story says, “The unclean spirit convulsed [the man] and, with a loud cry, came out of him.”
This story simply does not strike me as “archaic” or “from a different era.” What is your sense? Don’t you think there are “unclean spirits” at work in the world today?
I certainly do. I sense them in the folks I’ve known struggling with addiction, who seem robbed of their will power and freedom. I see the “Culture of Death” that promotes abortion & euthanasia as an “unclean spirit” in our land. The corruption we have seen in the Church and in other institutions is most certainly evidence of “unclean spirits.”
There are also the “unclean spirits” of vengeance & torture & bullying & prejudice & pornography (which has become so devastatingly rampant). “Unclean spirits” take the form of depression & anxiety & fear & loneliness. Yes, in the world around us, I see a world of unclean spirits.
We Catholics also believe that the world is full of pure spirits. We believe that each human person has a guardian angel. We believe that myriads of angels are present every time we celebrate Holy Mass (Hebrews 12:22). But, just as surely as we hold to the claim that there are angels in the world, we should not downplay the presence of demons in the world.
What should we do about them? Just as in the days of the Gospel, the best solution is to turn these spirits over to the Lord. We are so often powerless in the face of these things. But, in the hands of the Lord, it is the unclean spirits that become powerless. In addition, it is wise to enlist the support and favors of the angelic spirits against the wiles of the demonic spirits. Praying the prayer to St. Michael each day would be worthwhile in this regard.
C. S. Lewis makes an important point in his famous book, The Screwtape Letters. He makes the point that the devil is never so powerful as when we deny his existence.
So, let’s acknowledge his existence. Jesus did. And, like Jesus, let’s beg the Father in heaven to drive out the unclean spirits that oppress us.