How do you write about the Devil without sounding like a lunatic? The answer is to be straightforward about one’s faith and the great truths that flow from it. It so happens that two articles in the Catholic Herald of September 30 did just this. In Omnium Gatherum, Fr John Zuhlsdorf says straight out, “The Devil and fallen angels are real, personal beings. There’s nothing cute about them. And they hate God, themselves and you.”
In the same edition Pastor Iuventus, whose regular columns always inspire reflection, refers to Fr Gabriele Amorth, the late famous Roman exorcist, pointing out to readers that he “did the Church and the world a great service in reminding them that evil is real and it is personal. It is not merely some kind of projection of my own “dark side”… When one experiences the reality of such presences stripped of the glamour with which popular culture surrounds it, it is horrible and frightening.”
I have also been reading the last book written by Fr Amorth, An Exorcist explains the Demonic, published not long before the author’s death on 16 September. Unlike his earlier books, which can seem – at least to a modern sensibility – rather melodramatic, Amorth is anxious to “discourage the temptation to sensationalism.”
Writing in an almost dry and legalistic way, he relates that for Satanists there are three basic principles: you can do all that you wish; no-one has the right to command you; you are your own god. Haven’t we all met people like that? They would never describe themselves as “Satanists” but that is their basic philosophy of life.
Amorth also mentions the temptation to slip into magical thinking, i.e. treating prayers like spells which will deliver our requests after careful ritualistic practices. I have met people like that too. He warns against certain forms of rock music, thinking “white magic” is good, bad friends and dabbling in spiritualism and séances. Where faith disappears, he remarks, “One abandons himself to superstition and occultism.”
Soon it will be Halloween. Our local village shop, like everywhere else, is awash with ghoulish fancy dress paraphernalia. That, according to Fr Amorth, is just as the Devil likes it; he is “content when…people consider him solely a medieval relic.” He is not. To paraphrase the writer Flannery O’Connor (quoted by poet Sally Read in my last blog), life is “about the salvation or damnation of the soul” – even if the Nobel Prize for Literature doesn’t always reflect this.
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