Sunday Bulletin is a slightly less happy clappy, fudgy and gooey version of their other bulletin Sunday Plus which I've written about in the past (that weekly offering promotes Buddhism, relativism and lukewarm 'take it or leave it' cafeteria Catholicism, primarily to youngsters).
This issue of the Sunday Bulletin is less openly offensive, but one worrying aspect struck me.
In numerous books I've read, whether theological, biographical or autobiographical, I have come across the fact that the Devil's main trick is to convince others that he does not exist. Exorcists especially are adamant on this point (read Fr Gabriel Amorth's books - it's also a point repeated in the recent Anthony Hopkins' film The Rite).
Just this week some "expert" has been doing the rounds explaining how 'evil' does not exist, but rather a lack of empathy. If only we all loved each other there would be no wickedness. As comforting as that might be to pupils in an infant school, the reality of the world is far more complicated and (sad to say) evil does exist as surely as fish fingers contain no fingers -- and often fish of questionable provenance.
Satan exists. Temptation exists. Whilst we do not need to be fixated on the former, I think all humans should be wary, and should be vigilant against the latter, for we all have a fallen nature, we are all human with our glaring human weaknesses.
The Devil's power exists in knowing our weaknesses and targeting them in subtle, powerful, manipulative and even in outwardly just ways. But to be fixated with Satan is wrong, as Our Lord and Our Lady give us the Graces and help we need to overcome Satan's temptations.
However, it is equally as wrong to make-pretend that Satan does not exist or seek to re-write his nature. The Bible clearly states he exists. That fallen angel who refused to serve God and obey the Divine Will tempted our forefathers, for the remedy of which Christ the Redeemer was born and dwelt among us.
To whitewash the Devil out of history is to undermine the Salvific nature of Christ's Incarnation.
Preachers who say the Devil (and/or Hell) doesn't exist may be trying to make our road easier and more comfortable (or to make churches seem more welcoming and "inclusive"), but to max out on clichés, life isn't meant to be a bed of roses, and the path to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Priests who try to ignore Satan totally (as opposed to putting him in his place) remind me very much of the 1980s when there seemed to be a spate of clerics --mostly Anglicans I think-- who were renowned for stating that there was no Virgin Birth, or that the Resurrection didn't happen. Dear God.
I have just finished reading With Us Today by Fr J Hardon SJ and God Has Not Changed by Alice Thomas Ellis. Both authors (who come at Catholicism from different angles, but defend the same Truths) say they know priests who do not believe in central tenets of Catholicism. Fr Hardon says a priest he met did not believe in Transubstantiation. Bizarre. Thomas Ellis asks why these people are priests at all if they do not believe (saying it is akin to her joining the Masons or the Hell's Angels)?
Yet here in the Redemptorists' publication (used in many churches I am sure), we have snide remarks about the Gospels and what I perceive as the undermining of Catholic Truth. On dealing with Christ's temptation in the desert, at the hands of Satan directly, surely one of the main Gospel texts which can be used directly to prove the existence of the Devil and thus of pure evil and malice, we have this rather bizarre couple of sentences:
What form did Satan take? We don't need to imagine the tempter as a little elf with horns and a tail, springing around quoting biblical texts. When we are tempted.... no such elf is required."
Now, as is usual in such fudgy, hedging-ones-bets, woolly language it is not heretical. It does not deny the existence of Satan. It would be crass to do so given the week's reading. However, one thing we can be sure of is that Satan did tempt Christ directly, Satan did quote the Scriptures at Christ, trying to twist them to his own ends and tempt God. How he appeared to Christ is kind-of irrelevant. If anything he would have appeared 'all sweetness and light' (like a thought-for-the-day cleric) to deceive. To dismiss Satan as "a little elf with horns" is childish, to say the least.
No he does not appear in a flash of lightning when we are tempted, but our souls are at risk from temptation and just as the Saints and Angels are there to help us in our daily battles (one should always remember the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel "defend us in battle"), so Satan and demons are abroad tempting us, or pushing others to put temptation in our way.
As you may have guessed I am no theologian, but I find it discomforting (to say the least) that this kind of infantile writing seeks to diminish the role of Satan and make him into some kind of kids' cartoon character red smurf who is banished to history books. That is as wrong as those who personify evil at every turn and become fixated by the occult.
In an age when fewer and fewer people receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinty of Our Lord at the Altar of God -- and Christ made it clear that to be saved we have to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood (a Gospel passage Protestants prefer to skim across) -- it is essential that the Church is not seen to demote evil from being a very real thing with an author, for just as Jesus Christ brought us Salvation, so Satan brought about our initial downfall from paradise.
I would rather have Faith in Christ and Love of the Blessed Virgin than ever fear Satan; but if I have to chose between fearing Satan and laughing at some "little elf with horns" I would rather the former, for the latter smacks of false pride and hubris.
The following prayer was written by Pope Leo XIII, a very Holy Pope and much-cherished leader of our Church. He was permitted, by God, to see the battle raging wherein Satan and his demons sought to destroy the Catholic Church. Rather than talk of "a little elf with horns" we would do will to daily recite this prayer, which used to be said after every Low Mass (the long version of the prayer is below the shorter version in English and Latin)
PRAYER TO ST MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.
Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in praelio. Contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium. Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur. Tuque princeps militiae caelestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo divina virtute in infernum detrude. Amen.
Original Long Version of the Prayer
“O Glorious Prince of the heavenly host, St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle and in the terrible warfare that we are waging against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the evil spirits. Come to the aid of man, whom Almighty God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of Satan.
“Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven. That cruel, ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of His Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.
“These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where the See of Holy Peter and the Chair of Truth has been set up as the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be.
“Arise then, O invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and give them the victory. They venerate thee as their protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious power of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly find mercy in the sight of the Lord; and vanquishing the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.
V. Behold the Cross of the Lord; be scattered ye hostile powers.O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we call upon Thy holy Name, and as supplicants, we implore Thy clemency, that by the intercession of Mary, ever Virgin Immaculate and our Mother, and of the glorious St. Michael the Archangel, Thou wouldst deign to help us against Satan and all the other unclean spirits who wander about the world for the injury of the human race and the ruin of souls. Amen.”
R. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered the root of David.
V. Let Thy mercies be upon us, O Lord.
R. As we have hoped in Thee.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.
Let us pray.