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25th of February 2018

Moral Values

The Existence of Satan

The movie, The Exorcist, came out back in 1973, and it was an immediate sensation; millions of people were frightened by the story of a Catholic priest battling with the devil over the fate of a teenaged girl suffering from demonic possession. One of my high school classmates named John went to the see the movie one evening with a few of his friends, and his friends were inspired to play a nasty prank on him. There’s a scene in the movie in which the devil causes the girl’s bed to begin levitating, or rising up from the floor. After John’s friends dropped him off following the movie, they sneaked back into his house and, unknown to him, hid beneath his bed. A few minutes after John turned out his light and crawled into bed for the night, his buddies made the bed start rising up from the floor—and John, naturally, ran screaming from the room.

Evil things of a supernatural nature frighten us, and they should—for fear isn’t always the result of a childish prank or an over-active imagination; sometimes it’s a necessary and appropriate warning of grave danger. Our modern state of mind likes to downplay or even deny the reality of the devil, but the existence of Satan and other evil spirits has always been a teaching of the Church, and all the saints have recognized and warned that evil spirits are ceaselessly working to tempt and trick us into sharing their fate of eternal damnation. We don’t want to make the mistake of overestimating the devil or blaming him for everything that goes wrong, but it’s equally foolish to act as if he doesn’t exist or that he can’t deceive or harm us. The wise and balanced approach for us to take as Christians is to believe in the evil and hate-filled existence of Satan, but to believe even more in the loving protection of Christ. Jesus is infinitely stronger than the forces of evil, and as long as we rely on Him, we have nothing to fear.

Life has so many duties and distractions, so many pleasures and possibilities, that it’s very easy to forget its ultimate purpose: choosing and preparing ourselves for our eternal destiny. We will either be forever happy in the kingdom of God, or eternally damned in the kingdom of Satan— and if we’re wise, this inescapable truth will never be far from our consciousness. St. Paul (1 Cor 7:32-35) was so concerned over this necessity of accepting salvation in Christ that he warned his converts in the city of Corinth that even marriage—potentially a very holy state of existence—must not distract us from the need to serve the Lord. God gives us every opportunity to be saved, but it’s necessary to listen to His word and act upon it. The Book of Deuteronomy (18:15-20) describes how He promised to send a great prophet, while warning, “Whoever will not listen to My words which he speaks in My Name, I Myself will make him answer for it.” Jesus, of course, came as the fulfillment of this promise, for He is Priest, Prophet, and King—and as the true light of the world, He has authority over all the forces of darkness. The Gospel of Mark (1:21-28) describes one of many instances in which He exorcised an evil spirit, setting a possessed man free from demonic possession. It’s become fashionable in some circles to claim that the stories of possession by evil spirits recorded in the Bible were actually nothing more than cases of epilepsy, a medical condition unknown to ancient peoples and misunderstood by them as something sinister. When it comes to our Gospel passage, however, this interpretation is nonsense. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God through Whom all things were created, was certainly capable of telling the difference between epilepsy and actual demonic possession. He frequently performed exorcisms during His public ministry as a sign of His power over evil and as proof of His authority as a teacher, and through His obedient death on the cross and His glorious resurrection, He forever shattered the power of sin and death. It’s up to us, however, to freely accept the share in His victory that Jesus offers us.

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