In our current Sunday message series called Spin Doctoring, we are exploring evil in its many forms. We hope to provide some biblical advice about how to work through suffering in a healthy way by turning the negatives in our lives into positives.
The most basic distinction when it comes to evil is between “moral evil,” which is suffering caused by poor human behavior, and “physical evil” such as disease and natural disasters, which we discussed in last week’s article. The Church calls these forms of suffering “evil” because God never intended it.
But there is one who did intend evil, and he is “pure evil.” In today’s secular and material world, there is widespread disbelief in the existence of the Devil. Having been a member of the archdiocese’s exorcism and deliverance team for several years, I can tell you that such incredulity is misplaced. Satan is alive and well, and his work continues to prosper. As Saint John writes, “we know that we belong to God, [but] the whole world is under the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Jesus himself performed many exorcisms and called Satan “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 16:8-11).
Last week’s Sunday message explored the problem of evil generally, and the interaction between Peter and Jesus in the gospel story suggested that trusting and obeying God helps us to heal from the suffering and despair that frequently arises from disobedience. However, it was Satan who first rebelled. An angel created good, he alienated himself from God, refused to obey, and encourages us now to follow his example.
Indeed, the word “Devil” in Greek means “one who splits up or breaks or throws away.” As the Chief Vatican Exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, wrote, “Satan started the rebellion against God and . . . [i]t is his aim to make the whole creation rebel against the Creator” (Vade retro, Satana! St. Paul’s Press 2014, 7-8). He accomplishes this mission through extraordinary means like the rare instances of human possession, but more frequently through the ordinary means of tempting humankind to sin.
However, we are not helpless against the pure evil of Satan. Overcoming the power of evil is not as difficult as it may seem. As Father Amorth writes, “the Bible never says that we have to be afraid of the Devil, because it assures us that we can resist the Devil if we have strong faith” (Id., 55). Mercifully, our faith offers all the tools we need to resist and prevail over evil through the victory of Jesus Christ won for us on the cross. With regular confession and attendance at Mass, along with frequent private prayer, we can stay in the grace of God and be shielded from evil.
Indeed, the “beatitudes” in this week’s gospel passage turn the evil of this world on its head, transforming its negatives into positives by the behavior of Christian disciples. All we must do is follow.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson