19 Mar The Third Sunday of Lent
Today is the Third Sunday of Lent.
by Rev. Prosper Gueranger
The Holy Church gave us, as the subject of our meditation for the First Sunday of Lent, the Temptation which our Lord Jesus Christ deigned to suffer in the Desert. Her object was to enlighten us with regard to our own temptations, and teach us how to conquer them. Today, she wishes to complete her instruction on the power and stratagems of our invisible enemies; and for this, she reads to us a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke. During Lent, the Christian ought to repair the past, and provide for the future; but he can neither understand how it was he fell, nor defend himself against a relapse, unless he have correct ideas as to the nature of the dangers which have hitherto proved fatal, and are again threatening him. Hence, the ancient Liturgists would have us consider it as a proof of the maternal watchfulness of the Church, that she should have again proposed such a subject to us. As we shall find, it is the basis of all today's instructions.
Assuredly, we should be the blindest and most unhappy of men, if, surrounded as we are by enemies, who unceasingly seek to destroy us, and are so superior to us both in power and knowledge, we were seldom or never to think of the existence of these wicked spirits. And yet, such is really the case with in numerable Christians now-a-days; for, truths are diminished from among the children of men.
So common, indeed, is this heedlessness and forgetfulness of a truth, which the Holy Scriptures put before us in almost every page, that it is no rare thing to meet with persons, who ridicule the idea of Devils being permitted to be on this earth of ours! They call it a prejudice, a popular superstition, of the Middle-Ages! Of course they deny that it is a dogma of Faith. When they read the History of the Church or the Lives of the Saints, they have their own way of explaining whatever is there related on this subject. To hear them talk, one would suppose that they look on Satan as a mere abstract idea, to be taken as the personification of evil.
When they would account for the origin of their own or others' sins, they explain all by the evil inclination of man's heart, and by the bad use we make of our free-will. They never think of what we are taught by Christian doctrine; namely, that we are also instigated to sin by a wicked being, whose power is as great as is the hatred he bears us. And yet, they know, they believe, with a firm faith, that Satan conversed with our First Parents, and persuaded them to commit sin, and showed himself to them under the form of a serpent. They believe, that this same Satan dared to tempt the Incarnate Son of God, and that he carried him through the air, and set him first upon a pinnacle of the Temple, and then upon a very high mountain.
Again; they read in the Gospel, and they believe, that one of the Possessed, who were delivered by our Saviour, was tormented by a whole legion of devils, who, upon being driven out of the man, went, by Jesus' permission, into a herd of swine, and the whole herd ran violently into the sea of Genesareth, and perished in the waters. These, and many other such like facts, are believed, by the persons of whom we speak, with all the earnestness of faith; yet, notwithstanding, they treat as a figure of speech, or a fiction, all they hear or read about the existence, the actions or the craft of these wicked spirits. Are such people Christians, or have they lost their senses? One would scarcely have expected that this species of incredulity could have found its way into an age like this, when sacrilegious consultations of the devil have been, we might almost say, fashionable. Means, which were used in the days of paganism, have been resorted to for such consultations; and they who employed them seemed to forget, or ignore, that they were committing what God, in the Old Law, punished with death, and which, for many centuries, was considered by all Christian nations as a capital crime.
But if there be one Season of the Year more than another in which the Faithful ought to reflect upon what is taught us by both Faith and experience, as to the existence and workings of the wicked spirits, it is undoubtedly this of Lent, when it is our duty to consider what have been the causes of our past sins, what are the spiritual dangers we have to fear for the future, and what means we should have recourse to for preventing a relapse.
Let us, then, hearken to the holy Gospel. Firstly, we are told, that the devil had possessed a man, and that the effect produced by this possession was dumbness. Our Saviour cast out the devil, and, immediately, the dumb man spoke. So that, the being possessed by the devil is not only a fact which testifies to God's impenetrable justice; it is one which may produce physical effects upon them that are thus tried or punished. The casting out the devil restores the use of speech to him that had been possessed. We say nothing about the obstinate malice of Jesus' enemies, who would have it, that his power over the devils, came from his being in league with the prince of devils: all we would now do is, to show that the wicked spirits are sometimes permitted to have power over the body, and to refute, by this passage from the Gospel, the rationalism of certain Christians. Let these learn, then, that the power of our spiritual enemies is an awful reality; and let them take heed not to lay themselves open to their worst attacks, by persisting in the disdainful haughtiness of their Reason.
Ever since the promulgation of the Gospel, the power of Satan over the human body has been restricted by the virtue of the Cross, at least in Christian countries: but this power resumes its sway as often as faith and the practice of Christian piety lose their influence. And here we have the origin of all those diabolical practices, which, under certain scientific names, are attempted first in secret, and then are countenanced by being assisted at by wellmeaning Christians. Were it not that God and his Church intervene, such practices as these would subvert society. Christians! remember your Baptismal vow; you have renounced Satan: take care, then, that by a culpable ignorance you are not dragged into apostacy. It is not a phantom that you renounced at the Font; he is a real and formidable being, who, as our Lord tells us, was a Murderer from the beginning (1 St. John, viii. 44.).
But, if we ought to dread the power he may be permitted to have over our bodies; if we ought to shun all intercourse with him, and take no share in practices over which he presides, and which are the worship he would have men give him; we ought, also, to fear the influence he is ever striving to exercise over our souls. See what God's grace has had to do in order to drive him from your soul! During this holy Season, the Church is putting within your reach those grand means of victory, Fasting, Prayer, and Almsdeeds. The sweets of peace will soon be yours, and, once more, you will become God's temple, for both soul and body will have regalned their purity.
But be not deceived; your enemy is not slain. He is irritated; penance has driven him from you; but he has sworn to return. Therefore, fear a relapse into mortal sin; and in order to nourish within you this wholesome fear, meditate upon the concluding part of our Gospel.
Our Saviour tells us, that when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water. There he writhes under his humiliation; it has added to the tortures of the hell he carries everywhere with him, and to which he fain would give some alleviation, by destroying souls that have been redeemed by Christ. We read in the Old Testament that, sometimes, when the devils have been conquered, they have been forced to flee into some far-off wilderness: for example, the holy Archangel Raphael took the devil, that had killed Sara's husbands, and bound him in the desert of Upper Egypt (1 Tob. viii. 3.). But the enemy of mankind never despairs of regaining his prey. His hatred is as active now, as it was at the very beginning of the world, and he says: I will return into my house, whence I came out. Nor will he come alone. He is determined to conquer; and therefore, he will, if he think it needed, take with him seven other spirits, even more wicked than himself. What a terrible assault is this that is being prepared for the poor soul, unless she be on the watch, and unless the peace, which God has granted her, be one that is well armed for war! Alas! with many souls, the very contrary is the case; and our Saviour describes the situation in which the devil finds them on his return: they are swept and garnished, and that is all! No precautions, no defence, no arms. One would suppose that they were waiting to give the enemy admission. Then Satan, to make his re-possession sure, comes with a sevenfold force. The attack is made; but, there is no resistance, and straightways the wicked spirits entering in, dwell there; so that, the last state becometh worse than the first; for before, there was but one enemy, and now there are many.
In order that we may understand the full force of the warning conveyed to us by the Church in this Gospel, we must keep before us the great reality, that this is the acceptable Time. In every part of the world, there are conversions being wrought; millions are being reconciled with God; Divine Mercy is lavish of pardon to all that seek it. But, will all persevere? They that are now being delivered from the power of Satan, will they all be free from his yoke, when next year's Lent comes round?
A sad experience tells the Church, that she may not hope so grand a result. Many will return to their sins, and that too before many weeks are over. And if the justice of God overtake them in that state what an awful thing it is to say it, yet it is true, some, perhaps many, of these sinners will be eternally lost! Let us, then, be on our guard against a relapse; and in order that we may ensure our perseverance, without which it would have been to little purpose to have been for a few days in God's grace, let us watch, and pray; let us keep ourselves under arms; let us ever remember that our whole life is to be a warfare. Our soldier-like attitude will disconcert the enemy, and he will try to gain victory elsewhere.
Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time: Jesus was casting out a devil. and the same was dumb. And when he had cast out the devil, the dumb spoke, and the multitude were in admiration at it. But some of them said: He casteth out devils, by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. And others tempting, asked of him a sign from heaven. But he, seeing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself, shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand because you say, that through Beelzebub I cast out devils. Now if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I by the finger of God cast out devils, doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him, he will take away all his armour wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest; and not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in they dwell there; and the last state of that man becometh worse than the first. And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from tne crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But He said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.
As soon as Jesus had cast out the devil, the man recovered his speech, for the possession had made him dumb. It is an image of what happens to a sinner, who will not, or dare not, confess his sin. If he confessed it, and asked pardon, he would be delivered from the tyranny which now oppresses him. Alas! how many there are who are kept back, by a dumb devil, from making the Confession that would save them! The holy Season of Lent is advancing; these days of grace are passing away; let us profit by them; and if we ourselves be in the state of grace, let us offer up our earnest prayers for sinners, that they may speak, that is, may accuse themselves in Confession, and obtain pardon.
Let us also listen, with holy fear, to what our Saviour tells us with regard to our invisible enemies. They are so powerful and crafty, that our resistance would be useless, unless we had God on our side, and his holy Angels, who watch over us and join us in the great combat. It was to these unclean and hateful spirits of hell that we delivered ourselves when we sinned: we preferred their tyrannical sway to the sweet and light yoke of our compassionate Redeemer. Now, we are set free, or are hoping to be so; let us thank our Divine Liberator; but let us take care not to re-admit our enemies. Our Saviour warns us of our danger. They will return to the attack; they will endeavour to force their entrance into our soul, after it has been sanctified by the Lamb of the Passover. If we be watchful and faithful, they will be confounded, and leave us: but if we be tepid and careless, if we lose our appreciation of the grace we have received, and forget our obligations to Him who has saved us, our defeat is inevitable; and as our Lord says, our last state is to be worse than the first.
Would we avoid such a misfortun? Let us meditate upon those other words of our Lord, in today's Gospel: He that is not with Me is against Me. What makes us fall back into the power of Satan, and forget our duty to our God, is that we do not frankly declare ourselves for Jesus, when occasions require us to do so. We try to be on both sides, we have recourse to subterfuge, we temporise: this takes away our energy; God no longer gives us the abundant graces we received when we were loyal and generous; our relapse is all but certain. Therefore, let us be boldly and unmistakeably with Christ. He that is a soldier of Jesus, should be proud of his title!
Image: Christ exorcises a mute, by Gustave Doré
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff