"St. Michael the Archangel"

We’ve the devil here!

“Would you please visit our home? We’ve a devil here!” So I answer the call and make the visit. Dealing with the devil is a complex and murky business. That’s because he lies. You can’t figure him out. He hides behind addictions and simple egotism. He shelters behind mental, emotional and relational illnesses. He rarely shows his face and bares his teeth and snarls like the beast he really is. When you visit someone who claims to be struggling with Satan they are usually just sick in some way or another.

It seems every year now another exorcism movie is released, but dealing with the devil is more often mundane than sensational. When addressing the issue of demon possession and exorcism with teenagers I always play it down. The proper response to demonic possession and exorcism is not to sensationalize it. I stress how rare true possession is and warn teens about involvement in the occult and the fringes of rock music, video games and horror movies where vulnerable young people can also be sucked into the dark side by a fascination with evil. I also remind them that the best defense against the devil is a simple, humble faith. “Just trust in the Lord. Live your faith best you can. Be cheerful and hopeful and happy. Try to be normal. Try to be good. Seek light. Seek love. Seek beauty. Seek Truth.” Then, I assure them, “You have nothing to fear.”

Indeed, an ordinary humble, common sense, cheerful and joyful Christian is invulnerable to the devil’s subterfuge. We must always remember that the devil is a proud spirit. He takes himself so very seriously, and what he cannot understand and what he cannot bear is the sound of Christians engaged in that most serious of past-times – being happy. A cheerful spirit is actually a supernatural gift. Joy is the language of heaven. Laughter – real joyful, self-abandoned, weeping, gasping-with-hilarity laughter is never heard in hell.

This is why those humans who take themselves so very soberly and seriously are on the down escalator to the Father below. “Angels” G.K.Chesterton reminds us “can fly because they take themselves lightly.” It is the serious faced self righteous Catholics who are the church’s worst enemy, and they exist on both ends of the Catholic spectrum: one thinks of the glowering ranks of ultra conservative Catholics with their conspiracy theories, their mantillas and their Latin missals. They’re a match for the seriously self righteous and angry “dissenting Catholics” with their wimmin ‘priests’, rainbow sashes and rainforest salvation campaigns. Chesterton would encourage them, “Be more like the angels. Lighten up.”

I am not arguing, of course, that we should not take the devil and the spiritual battle seriously. Indeed we should. As St Paul writes, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in the heights.” We’re engaged in a battle to be sure; a battle with eternal consequences and eternal rewards. What is in question is how we engage in that battle.

I think we need a bit of swash and buckle. What is required is that we get out our broad brimmed hat and swoop the white plume. We need to buckle on our sword and be no less than a sort of spiritual Cyrano de Bergerac. (If you are not familiar with the greatest romantic hero ever to grace the stage, then I recommend the film version with Gerard Depardieu, who was born to play the role) Cyrano is a clown and a cavalier. With his sword and his poetry and his profound proboscis, he is a cross between Jimmy Durante and D’Artagnan. He sallies forth to confront hypocrisy and foolishness and greed and lust with a noble heart, a high calling and wit that is as sharp as his rapier.

We may not be exorcists, but each one of us is called to engage in the spiritual battle, and we will succeed best when we take the battle seriously, and ourselves not so seriously. During Lent that battle intensifies. As Christ went into the desert to take the battle to the devil himself, so we should engage with the forces of darkness with a new intention, with clear mindedness, good humor and the confidence that comes with knowing Christ, through whom all evil is overcome.

We are happy warriors!

Launching into battle in this way means we are happy warriors. We fight with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. The gospel says when we fast we should wash our face and put on a smile, and the spiritual writers speak always of keeping a ‘joyful Lent.’ When we face temptation we should overcome not just with a serious resolve and a whopping amount of self control, but we should also have the wisdom and insight to see the temptation for what it is and side step the attack and parry with a counter thrust in the robust spirit of a jaunty swordsman or a laughing cavalier.

All of this because we remember, and look forward to Easter Day. My favorite image of the resurrection is the painting by Piero della Francesca, with the triumphant Christ stepping from the tomb over the sleeping soldiers bearing a white flag with a red cross. There’s an air of jaunty sobriety about it. There’s a joyful insouciance about it – with the incongruous flag, the light of morning and the unexpected twist in the plot.

There’s the sword that strikes the devil’s heart – that God outfoxed him, and the angels not only rejoiced, but I think they laughed with joy at the final victory.

And so should we.

Fr Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is The Gargoyle Code. Written in the style of C.S.Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, it is also a Lent book. The diabolical correspondence begins on Shrove Tuesday and ends on Easter Day. Learn more about it here.

Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is author of thirteen books on the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing is available in Catholic bookshops and through his website: dwightlongenecker.com

Follow Fr. Longenecker on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/frlongenecker

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