Posted by: Christine Johnson | June 12, 2006

Know Thy Enemy

(But not too well!)

This past weekend I was blessed to attend the IHM Conference near Washington, DC. I had a spiritual feast! My soul was fed so well that I think I’ll be set for a while without the level of orthodoxy I experienced. I’ll give more of a recap of the weekend later, but I wanted to highlight a specific talk given by Father Paul Scalia (scroll down for bio). I’ll summarize his talk based on my notes from Friday afternoon.

In his talk, which was laced with lots of good humor, Father Scalia discussed the tactics and snares of the Devil. Even while discussing this, though, he emphasized that we cannot blame every sin we commit on the Devil. “Give the Devil his due, but not more than he’s due,” he chided.

Father then gave us six basic tactics of the Evil One.

  1. The Devil blurs things that ought to be discinct. This is the very opposite of what God does in the Creation narrative. God creates the dark and light and separates them. He creates the earth and the heavens, the sea and the land, male and female. Each of these things are disctinct and different from each other. But Satan works to put together things that do not belong together, to blur the lines that separate that which is distinct. Original Sin is like this. Satan tempted Adam to be like God. Modern examples of this are abundant. The roles of men and women are being blurred. Yet it is only when we are distinctly different that we are able to complement each other in the way God intended. We are equal, and yet different. The roles of adults and children are being switched! There is an elimination of heirchy (which is not bad, mind you) as adults act more like adolecents and children are given choices that only adults ought to be given. The regular, natural order of things has been greatly upset. Children are being presented with choices about sex long before anyone should be discussing such things with them. And adults wish to be like Peter Pan – forever children. The roles of the priesthood and laity are being muddied. The laity in some places act as though the Church is some kind of democracy, and there is great disorder in the Church because of it.
  2. Satan also divides what should be united. Father Scalia cited The Screwtape Letters again and again. (He said it was one of the best literary examples of Satan’s tricks of the trade. You ought to read it; it’s excellent! You can buy it here.) In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape says, “To be is to be in competition.” The Catholic instinct is to unite things. At Pentecost, the Church celebrates that all nations are united. Homeschool families, too, unite many parts of life that have become compartmentalized over the years: home, school, church, social life, etc. But the examples of Satan’s handiwork are so numerous here! There is divorce, the separation of Christ and the Church (ala DVC, Christ is good, the Church is bad – this separates the Bridegroom and His Bride!), the Church and her members (the clearest example of this is Protestantism), the Church and the state (though a distinction is good and important, a total separation is not), and God and neighbor are also separated (by both extremes – some are so focused on God that they ignore their neighbors, while others are so focused on helping their neighbors that they ignore God).
  3. The Devil exploits our strengths. This is a problem, you ask? Yes. The Virtues are meant to be a package, to go together. You cannot say, “I want to embody courage, but not humility.” A vice, said Father Scalia, is a virtue that is out of control and is unreasonable. You should not be so full of zeal that you have no patience or charity. (He did an entire lecture on this, which I ordered on tape because I missed it!) You cannot claim true loyalty without having integrity. Justice and Mercy, Orthodoxy and Charity, Shame (or Contrition) and Confidence in God, Generosity and Prudence (or Chastity)…these all go hand-in-hand. They need to be equal in balance. What good is it to proclaim your fidelity to the Church if you are also busy bashing anyone who doesn’t share you particular devotions and tastes? What good is it to be generous with your love when you are so generous that you give in to your boyfriend, who is pressuring you about sex? Being shamed about your sins is good, but not when you lose hope in God’s divine and perfect Mercy! Calling for justice while displaying no mercy towards others belittles the virtue you have! Satan exploits our strengths so that we leave off the second half of each pair of virtues.
  4. Satan also distorts natural good. In The Screwtape Letters, we read, “Everything has to be twisted before it’s useful to us.” This is true, and we can see it in The Lord of the Rings perfectly. Orcs are fallen elves, the Nazgul are fallen Men, even Gollum is a fallen Hobbit. We see it in our own lives. Desserts, no matter what anyone says, are not sinful. Beer is not sinful. It’s not a sin for us to go to a ballgame and enjoy a beer and a hotdog! Sex isn’t sinful, it’s SACRED! Heirchy is a good thing; God is a heirchy, too. We always say “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” for a reason, you know. All of these things are good, but can be twisted. Humor is another example, and Father Scalia gave the example of it’s twistedness from The Passion of the Christ. During the scourging of Our Lord, there were some who were laughing. This is the Devil twisting and distorting a natural good: joy. We see it again in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan is walking to the Stone Table to die.
  5. Distractions are a tool of the Devil, as well. He keeps us from reflections and thoughts on and about God with these. All of the stuff around us, the things that keep the silence out, are things that also keep God out many times. Again, in The Lord of the Rings, we see this. There are huge battles: Helm’s Deep and the other battles with the Men of Middle Earth. Our attention (and the Eye’s, as well) is drawn there. This is where the action is, right? Wrong. The REAL action, the REAL battle, is where the two small Hobbits are, trying to destroy a tiny ring. The big, fancy stuff distracts us and we miss where God is: in the small, whispering wind.
  6. Satan uses gradualism and incrementalism. “The easiest way to Hell is the gradual one,” says Uncle Screwtape. Evil works this way, and the examples in our world are everywhere. We’ve gone from contraception being allowed for very stressed-out married couples who need to space out their children to any married couple who wants to space them out to any married couple who rejects the idea of having children to any couple (married or not) who wants to have sex and no children to the idea that children are not really related to sex unless we want them to be so. Fertility is something that is to be fixed. We have gone from in vitro fertilization (IVF) for couples who desparately wanted to have a child of their own to gradually having so many “leftover” embryos that people are saying we ought to be able to experiment on them for “the good of society.” And some mistakenly use scare tactics, so that when part of what’s forbidden happens, people think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.” Had sex before marriage? Hey, my girlfriend didn’t get pregnant; that wasn’t so bad, so what’s the big deal? Instead, we need to understand God’s plan for our lives. Things move in two directions, said Father, towards God or away from Him. Which way are your actions taking you?

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Saint Michael the Archangel, protect us!

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