Spiritual Wickedness

The first post I read on Facebook this morning was about the theft of a tabernacle from a church in Ontario (not made of precious metal, so it’s likely the consecrated Hosts were the target). That, and the ever-increasing number of attacks on churches in France and elsewhere, is a stark reminder that it isn’t only moral/social evils that confront us as Christians but the spiritual wickedness described in Ephesians 6.12:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against a spiritual wickedness in high places.

For Catholics, in particular, I think there has been a tendency during the past 50 years or so to play down the notion of spiritual evil. It has been trivialised, both by those who want to think of evil as an outdated concept and by those who label ‘evil’ anyone or anything they happen to disagree with or who regard a single issue as being determinative of right or wrong. For example, some of my friends who regard abortion as wrong have no difficulty in accepting capital punishment or the inequalities of economic systems that mean millions live in poverty. They proudly proclaim themselves to be pro-life, but I would argue that there is an inconsistency that undermines their claim. In the same way, I cannot dismiss attempts to steal the Blessed Sacrament as inconsequential or the work of a deranged mind. No, let us name evil for what it is: evil.

What I think we often fail to grasp is that evil is subtle. None of us would consent to it if we saw it for what it truly is. In the Rabbinic Targums we find Satan described as a beautiful and seductive creature. On Easter Night we are called upon to reject the glamour of evil. In other words, there is an attraction about evil to which we respond as human beings. It may be the promise of power or wealth or simply the allure of being ‘different’, but the sad truth is that evil has captivated many in the world today. Instead of getting angry, hurling abuse, railing against whatever we perceive to be wrong, I think we have to take up the weapons that the Lord Jesus himself specifies: prayer and fasting.

As soon as I say that, I know I’ll have lost some readers. The kind of prayer I’m talking about isn’t the dutiful ‘Oh, and please Lord, put an end to all evil in the world,’ as quickly forgotten as uttered. Nor is the fasting the kind of token fast that means giving up a glass of wine or a bar of chocolate and possibly feeling a little righteous for doing so. No, I am talking about the kind of prayer that perseveres, makes demands on our time, eats into other activities; the kind of fasting that makes us truly hungry, that invites God into the situation in which we find ourselves.

When I read that Facebook post this morning, my first reaction was to say the Lord’s Prayer — not to condemn the thieves, but to pray for them and to reaffirm my own love and trust in the Lord. I can make a pretty good guess how the sacred Hosts may be abused. I can do nothing about that in concrete terms, but prayer knows no boundaries of time or space. There is hope, despite the darkness. Ultimately, evil will not triumph, but we have a hard fight on our hands in the meantime.

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St Michael and the Presence of Evil

Purgatory by Carracci

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of us prefer to dismiss unpleasant subjects from our minds. If we can find a specious reason for doing so, so much the better. Evil? An outmoded concept, surely? One which our clever theologians can wrap round with weasel words until we deny not only its existence but the very possibility of its existence. Then we look at the broken body of a child from Aleppo and are forced to admit: this is evil, not an abstraction we can dismiss as a figment of an over-heated imagination or simplistic reasoning. There is something more terrible here than blasphemy: a deliberate rejection of God, delight in destruction, a darkness of mind and soul so absolute that no chink of light can penetrate it.

The Catholic Church has never wavered in her understanding of evil; and in her advocacy of the the old prayer to St Michael, whose feastday this is, has expressed both her awareness of the presence of evil and her reliance on heavenly help to combat it:

St Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defence against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Most of us can see the evil in Aleppo, but are we quite so alert to the evil in, say, Sam Allardyce’s defence of his own conduct, when he claims to be a victim of entrapment rather than a man prepared to break rules and denigrate others for the sake of money? Greed can be evil; fudging the rules can be evil; treating others with contempt can be evil; but we tend to make excuses for ourselves. It is a white lie we are telling, an understandable little human frailty that doesn’t matter very much. I’m not so sure. Every time we choose to be less than honest, less than straightforward, I think we are colluding in some degree with the crookedness of evil; and it changes us. Today it would be useful to spend a few moments thinking about some of the habits we may have fallen into and the way in which they blunt our sensitivity to good and evil. It can be a salutary shock to realise that, without being what others call wicked, we may have drifted into a state that is far from being what it ought to be. Let us ask the prayers of St Michael and All Angels to help us see what we must change and grant us the courage to do so.

Note on the illustration
St Michael rescuing souls from Purgatory — a reminder that God is more interested in saving us from evil than in condemning us.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail