Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Do you recall C. S. Lewis’s witty satire, “The Screwtape Letters?” In it, he tells the story of Wormwood, an apprentice demon, learning the ropes from his uncle, Screwtape, in his task of causing souls to fall into sin and hell. Along the way, Lewis is able to point out how so much of our modern culture, our interests and habits and preoccupations, actually lead us away from God. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Mt 7:13).
Seventy years later, Lewis’s insights are still valid. Our culture has descended even further along the same path away from God, following rampant selfishness and the easy way. Truth and beauty and the common good are ignored and despised, because they require sacrifice. Charity is for suckers, and nice people finish last, because the benefit is all for others, not for oneself. The ends justify the means, even outright lies, theft, and murder, because each person puts their own interests first. In such a callous, corrupt world, it is hardly surprising if, just as Screwtape counseled, faith is waning, or if those with little or no faith imagine that even the faithful use faith as a means to their own selfish ends.
Not just in our outward behavior and standards, but interiorly, too, we see a great rise in Screwtape’s devices over the decades. We justify the evils we willingly commit by appealing to our autonomy. But this is precisely the devil’s greatest lie, the lie of the serpent in the garden, that leads directly to the fall – that we can be as gods apart from God; that we can know right and wrong apart from the righteous one. To insist on moral autonomy is literally to insist that God lies in his promises to us, or in his love and mercy.
And indeed, most of us, most of the time, act and believe in just this devilish way. We accept that telling the truth must be wrong if it offends someone. We submit to the constant calls for “tolerance” and end up tolerating abortion, pornography, and euthanasia, among many other kinds of vicious exploitation. We go along with the false truths of our culture, remaining silent about the truths of our faith, because there seems to be no other way. We do everything that Screwtape wanted his “patient” to do in order to cause him to be lost to heaven, consoling ourselves all the while that we remain “good people” because we don’t intend any real harm.
The risks along this broad and easy way include not just the absence of justice, nor even the loss of souls from God’s embrace – no greater harm exists! – but also an increase in demonic possession and demonic influence. Thanks be to God that the former remains quite rare. The latter, however, is not rare, and takes several forms, especially fear of God’s mercy, fear of reconciliation with another person, extreme anger as an emotional defense mechanism, or brooding fascination with some harm done to us, real or perceived.
These are the sort of manipulative emotional traps we can unwittingly be drawn into by demonic influence. They become real barriers to desiring or trusting God’s mercy, and therefore to our ongoing conversion and hopes for salvation.
Christ, our Lord and Savior, has already given us the means we should use to defend ourselves against the devil and his influence. We need to embrace them with a renewed commitment, over and over again, in order to make progress in this spiritual battle. They are familiar to all of us: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; frequent confession and regular attendance at holy Mass; a living faith, lived out in devotions like the rosary and the Divine Mercy and lived out every day in embracing willingly our vocation and state in life.
This is, of course, the program of Lent, precisely because the penitential season is intended to remind us of what our true path in life should be as disciples of Christ, and to call us back to that. In this sense, the whole of our life should be Lenten, paschal, Eucharistic – formed by and with our merciful Lord in his suffering passion, death, and resurrection.
Remember that God loves us! He loves us without measure and without cease. “What shall separate us from the love of God?” St. Paul exclaims. Nothing! Nothing external to ourselves has the power to make us turn away from God, and God in his infinite love will never turn away from us. Only our own attachment to sins holds us back from the full embrace of his love.
But his mercy, too, is without measure. As this “Year of Mercy” quickly comes to an end, it is important to remember there is nothing that we can do that Christ has not already experienced in his life, passion and death, and already forgiven. There is no sin too horrible for God’s mercy to wash away. Do not believe the lie of the devil that our sins make us unlovable! God’s love cannot fail! Only our willingness to ask for his mercy fails. But we should never be afraid to ask, because he has promised over and over again to forgive everything.
My dear brothers and sisters, please pray with me every day, “Jesus, I trust in you,” so that we can live that trusting faith fully and without fear. Please pray for me, just as I pray always for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. As you know, the Broncos have recently experienced a couple of bumps along the way, but I am a man of hope! Enjoy these beautiful fall days.