In the dark, thin air;
With fangs and powers' hands
That crush a sinking multitude
In joyous deprivation.
A natural cause that lurks in shadows,
Beyond a door they call "reality,"
And whispers on the evening winds,
"I am not here."
Now that October is upon us, it seems fitting to turn the attention of this month's column towards that master of Halloween merriment himself, Satan the Devil. He is indeed a hail fellow and well met during this time of the year in which the days grow shorter, and the nights colder, and by the end of the month, when All Hallow's Eve is upon us, he will be the center of attention and the life of the party, as he once again invites America to "Lay down the boogie and play that funky music till you die." The man of the house is always in style costumed as the Prince of Darkness himself, and the little woman can't miss this year dressed as that latest Disney princess turned vamp, Miley Cyrus. All she needs to complete her haute couture is flesh colored plastic bra and panties, and, after a few drinks and a little dirty dancing with Old Clootie, she is bound to be the unqualified hit of the evening.
Though tempting, my point here is not to wax on about the banality of Halloween celebrations, or to essay those who find evil and the devil an unending source of amusement and entertainment. This is not only readily and easily observed during this (or any) time of the year, it is unavoidable—and one hardly needs me or anyone else to point it out. To the contrary, the greater challenge is avoiding it. And it is not my intent to educate concerning the historical context, and cultural milieu, of the satanic reality and evil influences brought to bear upon our world, though that may not be a bad idea for a future piece.
What I am addressing is the larger cultural context of a post-modern, secular world that has assumed through its faith in science (and pseudo-science) that the realms of the spiritual and supernatural are merely the fictitious remnants of an earlier and more superstitious time. In turn, the ensuing fascination that our culture has adopted towards deviant sexuality, witchcraft, paganism, the occult and other like evils long condemned by the Church, is now to be properly understood as just harmless fun and healthy entertainment. And to assure this as the proper and approved social perspective, the modern Fourth Estate has expanded into an electronic and all pervasive media presence that spreads this propaganda as the new gospel truth of these post-modern times.
What I am assuming when I pen my pieces for this column is a well catechized Catholic readership that is still well aware of, and trusts in, the reality of Jesus Christ: Who He is, What He has accomplished for us at the Cross, and what He does as an active presence in the world. Conversely, this also assumes the existence of an equally real and effective adversary in the person of Satan the devil, who influences the world for evil in the same way that Christ does for good. This is nothing radical or novel, and it still represents the basis for Jesus' proclamation of the Gospel of the kingdom of God in the New Testament as it always has.
What is radical and novel is the way those who embraced the worldly, scientific and profoundly heretical theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin grabbed hold of the post-conciliar Church and invented something called the "spirit" of Vatican II in an attempt to make the teachings and the practice of Catholicism somehow square with the godless secularism of the mid 20th century. This became so pervasive by the 1970's that it has taken the last three pontificates, those of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, to right the theological ship of the Church so she may sail forth into the stormy seas of our time with the correct Gospel flag flying as the council fathers fully intended. This remains a work in progress, and to those to whom this is news, you can learn more about it here. Because this is so, and because Catholic media of all orientations has proliferated in the same way that the secular has, we live in a time in which the pejorative labeling of Catholics by Catholics has reached epidemic proportions. Rather than succumb to this penchant for attaching labels, let me just state that my assumption is of a Catholic readership in tune with the Magisterium and aligned with those in Church authority who proclaim Catholic teaching from the deposit of faith.
Such a readership will readily see and understand that post-modern America has experienced a societal breakdown in which an educated, cultivated and secular intelligentsia assures us that reality is nothing deeper, or more profound, than what we make it to be. In this time in which religious freedom has become something citizens debate rather than practice, the government (particularly at the federal level), has assumed the authority to institute this reality in the public square, and the voice of Christianity, which once spoke eloquently to the expectations and mores of public society, has now been effectively silenced. This has given rise to a pop culture whose mentality it is to make this reality one of wanton self indulgence, displayed in a public demonstration of the taboos of earlier times. This is done as a form of "shock therapy" aimed at further deadening our already dulled moral and spiritual senses, so that this sort of thing may continue—and grow—unabated. And this process is nothing new, as evidenced by Cole Porter way back in 1934:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
When Mr. Porter penned these words, he had no vision in mind of Miss Cyrus, "twerking" in the near all together, giving an army of pubescent girls who idolize her this public lesson in deviant sexuality from the uncensored national stage of television. And anyone who is aware of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is also aware that, clearly, God knows that "Anything goes" has taken on a much broader and much more modern meaning. In fact, this sort of thing makes Porter's references to Mae West, four letter words and silly gigolos seem quaint by comparison.
Someone else who is clearly aware of this is our Holy Father, Pope Francis, as this September 3, 2013 excerpt from the Rome Reports website illustrates for us:
"Pope Francis explained during his Mass homily at Casa Santa Marta that modern culture gives way to cultural and technological knowledge, and gives the impression of enlightenment, but that many people live in the darkness because they do not know the light of Jesus."
"Jesus doesn’t need an army to cast out the demons, He has no need of pride, no need of force, of arrogance. ‘What is there about His word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.’ This is a humble word, meek, with so much love; it is a word that accompanies us in the moments of the Cross. Let us ask the Lord to give us today the grace of His Light, and to teach us to distinguish when the light is from Him, and when it is an artificial light, made by the enemy to deceive us."
"The Pope added that the light of Jesus is knowledge that can lead to peace and tranquility, and that it can be reached by being meek and by looking on the Cross without fear."
Since his papacy began on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis has become the source of a daily flood of sound bites, accompanied by "expert" commentary, and thus reported as "news." As we edit the links to the news stories we post on Radio New Jerusalem, our greatest challenge has become that of filtering out the most superfluous of these "stories" on a daily basis, while making sure that the more legitimate news remains. We err on the side of posting "fluff" and "junk" sometimes to make sure this happens, but we mean well.
While this kind of thing, and the endless stream of unenlightened commentary and conversation it breeds are not new to Pope Francis, his current media status as a "rock star" pope, as compared with the more staid and scholarly Benedict, has exacerbated this problem considerably. And, while the mainstream, secular media certainly posts the most outrageous and misleading items concerning the Holy Father, it should also be noted that the Catholic media is in no way immune to this, and there are also veteran commentators and journalists who indulge in this through a process of "commenting on the commentary" who merely muddy the waters more. And they really should know better.
The observation to be made is that the pope is a very articulate man and perfectly able to say what he means without the constant stream of interpretation that follows his remarks as if he is speaking in an alien tongue that needs translating, and the frustration he must feel at continuously having his remarks removed from context and shifted to a meaning he did not intend must try even the patience of His Holiness. The warning here is to also ask the Lord to give us the grace of His Light, and to teach us to distinguish when the light is from the pope and when it is an artificial light, made by the media to deceive us. And may this especially be so when this media is claimed to be Catholic.
In light of our subject here, one of the earliest themes that the secular media picked up on and exploited is the fact that the Holy Father often mentions the devil and the demonic in his remarks, as evidenced above. To those who write from the arrogant perspective of the "impression of enlightenment" that characterizes the mass secular media, this seems strange and superstitious to be sure, and it is not surprising that this would be dubbed as the pope's "obsession" with the devil. Those of us who understand the reality of our Catholic faith should take comfort in the fact that Pope Francis does (as did Benedict and John Paul before him) recognize and address the reality of evil, and the existence of an intelligent and malevolent evil personality, as something more than just an archaic idea left over from the Middle Ages. Should we find ourselves with a man on the Throne of Peter who pronounces Satan the devil to be nothing more than "that name by which we call human evil," then look skyward and expect to see our Lord descending with the armies of heaven behind Him.
What is surprising is the Vatican officials and Catholic writers who often seek to convey the impression of enlightenment, placating those in the secular media by fostering the idea that those who recognize the presence of satanic evil in the world, and who believe in the reality of the devil and the demonic realm, are somehow the ones who are deficient in their faith. While this belief may cause certain more worldly individuals embarrassment and no little consternation, it should be noted that Catholic teaching concerning evil and the devil remains unchanged from New Testament times to today. This is something that our Holy Father makes no bones about, and it may explain those who seem to feel the need to continually explain him in ways less embarrassing to their own modern sensitivities, and more acceptable to the world. Too often this results in situations in which Catholics, who express their faith in a more traditional way, find themselves at odds with Catholics who feel themselves thus humiliated in the public square. And Christ's admonition that we love one another becomes sorely tested.
The time has come to understand fully and completely that the enemy we face is the devil and not each other. We live in a society that celebrates competitiveness and combativeness at all levels, and which has succumbed to the dictatorship of relativism by allowing all to draw lines in the sand and defend the imaginary territory on which they stand with a virulence and hatred that discounts all other points of view, and all other individuals, save those who share the same like minded deceptions. Like the old Quaker said, "The whole world is crazy except me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee." If the proliferation of mass media in the 1990's created the phenomenon of everyone gaining "15 minutes of fame," then the rise of social media in our day has taken this to the next level in which everyone now fancies himself a critic. The result is a rising global culture of self proclaimed "experts" who believe that they cannot be right unless it means that everyone else is wrong. And with the peoples of the world thus deftly set at each others throats, the devil and his minions make off with the wealth, the security and the happiness of all.
There is an episode of the old, original Star Trek entitled "Day of the Dove" that illustrates this phenomenon both prophetically and perceptively. An alien entity stows away surreptitiously aboard the Enterprise and uses its influence to bring the crew of the ship into a state of unending mortal combat with the crew of a Klingon vessel taken aboard, it turns out, for just this purpose. The aim of the alien is to feed off of the negative energy of the unending hatred and carnage, and the only way this is thwarted is when the combatants become aware of the invisible alien presence and realize that they are being played as pawns in this deadly game. They must learn to love one another in a hurry to accomplish this, and, in the more ideal world of Hollywood storytelling, they do.
In like manner, when our world assumes, through scientific arrogance, and spiritual ignorance, that evil is not an active, intelligent entity but merely a relative human presence, the result is the same. This is the ultimate dictatorship of relativism, and it is not merely the intellectual musing of that great theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, brought to our attention by him in the person of Pope Benedict XVI. While the world would spin this as the subject of a merely academic debate in the archaic art of theology, this is actually real and a matter of life and death. And understanding it as such is the imperative for the future survival of Western Civilization—the civilization that the Church herself created by identifying, and subduing, the evil force that now raises its ugly head in the form of a burgeoning neo-paganism. This is the same evil that fueled the blood drenched empires of ancient times, and it moves now to create the same sort of world with a technology of mass destruction beyond the wildest dreams of the ancient emperors. It is the newest manifestation of an ancient evil that, on the one hand, denies the existence of the devil and, on the other, celebrates all things satanic. Look around you.
The devil is never more powerful than when he hides in the shadows of reality and denies his own existence to us. And the Church is never more powerful than when she lifts high the Cross and shines the light of Christ upon the presence of this ancient foe within in our midst. Thank God that He has sent us faithful popes and that, through them, we have survived the onslaught of a false theology that manifested itself in our midst as an alien presence, and that sought the destruction of Mother Church from within; that removed the crucifixes from our sanctuaries and brought the banality of the world into our sacred liturgy; that sowed the seeds of discord and hatred in our midst and brought us to the precipice of the same abyss the world now hangs over. Praise the Lord that the Church of Jesus Christ still stands and that we have, at this moment, the blessed presence on earth of the last century's greatest theologian, and a likely Doctor of the Church, in Benedict XVI: the man who, along with Blessed and soon to be Saint John Paul II, brought us back from this theological precipice. And be thankful and praise the Lord that this humble man heard the voice of God in his old age, and stepped back to make way for our new shepherd in the person of Pope Francis: the man who now leads us into the future, and does so by pointing to the reality of evil and the presence of Satan in our world.
In the midst of the foolishness and ignorance that flows like water from the mass secular media, and from much of what calls itself Catholic media, know that our Lord Jesus Christ and St. Peter point to Pope Francis, and the voice of God still speaks from heaven, "This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him."
Be meek. And look upon the Cross without fear.
Phil Ropp is the owner of the news portal Radio New Jerusalem