We live in a time ‘marked by distress’ and a trial that does not spare the Church
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples utter folly? The kings of the earth rise up, and the princes conspire together against the Lord and his anointed: ‘Let us break their fetters and cast their bonds from us!’”— Psalm 2:1-3
So much rage. When a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was leaked at the beginning of May, signaling the overturning of Roe v. Wade, an immense rage immediately erupted from abortion supporters nationwide with the promise of unleashing “pandemonium”—literally, “all demons.”
And beyond the justices who are the proximate object of their hatred, their infernal rage is particularly directed against the Catholic Church and anyone faithful to her teachings. There is so much rage today—from where does it all come?
So much evil. Each day seems to bring news of some horrible evil and tragic loss of innocent life. What is it that consumes someone so much as to methodically plot and gun down innocent schoolchildren, or ambush unsuspecting people in their workplace, in a grocery store, or even in their place of worship?
What is at work within the hearts of those who order senseless and ruthless wars, like that launched against Ukraine? And what of the absolute darkness and horror of the genocides that continue to spill unimaginable amounts of innocent blood throughout that world? Why so much evil?
Mysterium iniquitatis. Evil is a great mystery. It is deeper than can be explained by the science of mental illness, than socio-economic and political reasons, or historical injustices, inequalities, and racism. There is something even darker we sense about the evils and growing rage we are witnessing.
But St. Paul tells us very clearly the origin of this dark reality: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
So much division. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled,” French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, “was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
What easily follows upon this is “the loss of the sense of sin.” And the more our conscience is weakened, the more our sense of God is obscured. If there is no sin, what need have we of a Redeemer?
And the more we lose of our sense of God’s merciful love, the more we lose our sense of identity and purpose in life, and the more divided and conflicted we become within our heart and in all our relationships. The word “diabolical” captures the essence of this—to divide, to set against, to make us enemies of God and each other. This is what Satan does so well.
Fallen angels. God is love (1 John 4:8), and it is in His image that we are created. And for love to truly be love, it must be a choice we can freely make—love can never be forced.
This is why God created us with the awesome and powerful gift of freedom. All the angels were created with this same freedom—to choose God or to reject Him. But Satan and the other demons (fallen angels) “radically and irrevocably” rejected God with their “Non serviam”—”I will not serve.” Pride, envy, and disobedience are the trinity of all division.
And it is the same “seductive voice” that turned the hearts of Adam and Eve that seeks to seduce ours.
Three snares. The Italian exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, highlights in his writings and interviews three basic snares that Satan uses to seduce us.
First, he plies us with the lie that we are “free” to do whatever we want—we don’t have to abide by those “restrictive rules” of the Church that only keep us from the things we want.
Second, he encourages us to reject any authority that would interfere with our desires—our parents, rightful civil authorities, and especially the Church and ecclesial authority.
And third, he convinces us that we are our own “god” and can decide what is good and what is evil, what is true and what is false—not God nor the Church He entrusted with the fullness of truth to teach and guard.
Another trick. Satan knows that our heart, at its deepest core, desires a love that only God our Creator can truly satisfy. So, Satan works very hard to turn our heart and efforts toward decoys.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wondered if “One of the reasons [why] so many suffer from psychoses and neuroses is because they are in a fruitless and constant search for the infinite in the finite, for God in carnality?”
This, too, is one of Satan’s great tricks—steering us onto paths that lead to dead-ends and despair, and away from the path of the Church that leads to our true good and goal of life’s pilgrimage, to our heavenly Bridegroom and “the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
This is why Jesus teaches us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33). As St. Augustine discovered in his life’s search, “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
A murderer from the beginning. Satan knows he cannot destroy God, so he instead targets those who God created in His image – man and woman. Jesus calls Satan “a murderer from the beginning” and a “liar” in whom there is no truth (John 8:44).
This is because he seeks to destroy “the supernatural life of grace and love” that God created us to have in Him, a life lived in accordance with the truth of who we are in God.
This is why St. John Paul II reminds us that “whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God Himself.” And Satan’s success in spilling blood is almost unimaginable.
So much innocent blood. Since the beginning of the 20th century (122 years), the number of people killed by wars and genocide throughout the world is estimated to be as high as 258 million—more than 2 million a year.
It’s hard to fathom such a horrific scale of death. But in just the past 50 years, the genocide of abortion has claimed an estimated 2 billion to 2.5 billion unborn children in the world—an estimated 40 million to 50 million innocent lives each year!
The ancient serpent. The image of such murderous horror is captured in St. John’s vision of the “huge red dragon” that wages a relentless war against the “children” of the “woman,” which is the Church, the image of Mary (Revelation 12:1-18).
It is that most ancient enmity between the serpent and the “woman and her offspring” since the fall in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). For good reason, then, does St. Peter warn us: “Stay sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8).
A liar and plagiarist. There is something else behind the spilling of so much blood though. Because Satan is a “liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), his pride and envy is such that he mimics and perverts everything of God with “infernal counterfeits of eternal truths.”
Early Christian writer Tertullian stated “Satan imitates the sacraments of God,” and most especially that of the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Satan’s blood lust. The highest form of worship, as it is of love, is sacrifice: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
For Catholics, the highest form of worship we can offer God is that of the holy sacrifice of the Mass—Christ’s sacrifice and the shedding of His most innocent blood upon Calvary that our great High Priest eternally offers to the Father with the Holy Spirit in the heavenly liturgy of which our Mass is a participation.
But Satan, in his murderous pride and perverted mimicry, demands no less than the innocent blood of victims in worship of him. And the blood that comes closest to the innocence of the Lamb of God is the innocent blood of the unborn. Even the words of Christ instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper—“This is my body given up for you”—are twisted and perverted by the mantra of abortion supporters—“It’s my body, I’ll do what I want.”
Indeed, it is the same “furious rage” of Herod in ordering the slaughter of the holy innocents after the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:16).
Sin and forgiveness. Satan also twists the words that Christ pronounces in the voice of His priest in the sacrament of reconciliation: “I absolve you from all your sins….”
Instead, Satan whispers to us, “There is no sin—there’s nothing to forgive.” But as Archbishop Sheen reminds us, “Sin is serious, but it is more serious to deny sin.” For when we reject what the Church teaches us about sin and deny the sinfulness of something, we make forgiveness for that sin impossible because we prevent the healing antitoxin of Christ’s blood from being applied—we let the poison of sin in us remain untreated.
Attack upon marriage and family. Three years before her death in 2005, the surviving Fatima visionary, Sister Lucia, wrote that “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”
Marriage is considered the “first sacrament” because it was first instituted by God in the Garden of Eden. Satan has obviously been working very hard to pervert this beautiful sacrament and confuse the very meaning of the covenant of love between a man and woman, to say nothing of the attacks upon motherhood and fatherhood, and the confusion he has sown regarding “sexual identity.”
A hard battle. What is particularly important to understand, though, is that we are all engaged in spiritual warfare. The word “battle” is used 37 times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe what the Second Vatican Council calls the “dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness,” of “dour combat with the power of evil,” all of which makes our life “a hard battle.”
It is a struggle none of us can evade. But because the cross is Christ’s victory over sin and death and the sign of Satan’s great defeat, it is our greatest weapon and armor of defense against the “wickedness and snares” of the devil. And when we sign ourselves and pray that most basic and yet important prayer, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” we are saying to God, “I want to serve,” and to do everything under the banner of Christ’s cross.
When we do so with reverence and faith, according to St. John Vianney, it “makes all hell tremble,” for we open our heart up to God and to the blessings and the power of the cross that Christ shed His blood upon for our salvation.
Where O death is your victory? Do not grow discouraged, then, by the growing evil around us and when sufferings afflict you. But remember, as expressed by the Second Vatican Council, that, “Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us.”
Stay close to Christ in the Eucharist and have frequent recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation that heals the wounds and division of sin. Enlist the help of Mary in overcoming the spirit of Satan, she who has the heavenly mandate of crushing the head of the serpent! Enlist, too, the help of St. Joseph, who bears the title of “Terror of demons” because his heart is such a pure reflection of the Fatherhood of God.
And implore the help of your guardian angel, and pray frequently, “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle….” Remember, though, the struggle is already won in the definitive victory of Christ over sin and death.