The devil is at work in this time of pandemic, but still the grace of God abounds
The devil at work pulling humanitarian strings
The devil doesn’t sleep. He is always at work; and sometimes we forget that his intelligent and covert actions aim to make us forget our souls.
And in this particularly strange phase of our lives where we are coming out of the so-called lockdown, with the possibility of returning to church and finally receiving the sacraments, albeit with all the bureaucracy that we have to comply with, we realise that there is something that isn’t right, something that threatens our existence as Christians. There is something that makes us understand the truth of the existence of the devil and his very astute and intelligent actions that, in a covert way, try to prevent us from reaching the critical objective which is our eternal salvation, by means of the reception of the sacraments.
I wish to start this reflection with the first letter of St Peter in which he writes: “Be sober and watch because your adversary, the devil, is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1Pt 5:8). In this letter, St Peter explains the existence of the devil and his astuteness, as the one who tries to devour us like a prowling lion, who tries to divert us from the faith and above all to lead us to ruin. But St Peter tells us to resist strongly in faith against this evil action of the devil.
This is the Word of God in which we have a clear reference to the evil and to his destabilizing action. If we want to see a concrete application of this action of the devil, of his skill of devouring souls, but without us even realising it, we can refer to the current moment. Why? Because clearly something unusual has happened. We have had to face this problem of the pandemic, this unexpected virus, waiting for it to break out, to explode and then acting with the right vigilance, the right precautions to prevent it spreading like wildfire.
This is all fine. But what doesn’t add up, what has caused so many of us to suffer is the reality of having to close the churches, having to block, so to speak, the reception of the sacraments by the faithful because this would be a sanitary problem. So the health problem, the necessity of safeguarding physical health is taking precedence over the necessity to feed the soul, to care for the soul, with eternal salvation in mind above all else.
Public masses and the sacraments have been suspended. After centuries and since the foundation of the Church, churches have suddenly become places of contagion, places that need to be closed. As a result, we had to take steps to assure that there is no contact, that people don’t come to church in order to avoid any type of social contact, any type of possible infection by Coronavirus.
But this is a big problem because, in doing so, we have endured more than three months without the possibility of receiving the sacraments while simultaneously facing a set of increasing rules in order for the churches to be able to re-open. After long and often annoying discussions – this is the case in Italy whereas in England they found a more “gradual” solution to enable churches to re-open – we are thinking back on receiving the Sacraments.
With regard to Italy, after long and extenuating discussions, they have finally arrived at a sort of agreement with a protocol which is completely strange and unusual in all aspects, telling the Church, telling the priests, how to celebrate Mass, how to distribute the Eucharist; an agreement that finally allows the possibility to celebrate Mass and give the Eucharist, but completely unbelievable in terms of the details, right down to specific particulars, concerning the way in which we can distribute the Eucharist, while ignoring the fact that the Eucharist is the most Holy Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For instance, it says that the Holy Eucharist has to be distributed with single use gloves, normally thrown into the bin after use.
This then gives rise to a sort of obligation to receive Communion in the hand, and then another thing we have seen is that in many churches, the kneelers have disappeared. There are a few photos going round showing that kneelers have been cordoned off. Why? Because they “could be causes of contagion”. But where is the link between the Coronavirus which could still be present in our churches and the kneelers? Also holy water that chases the devil away has disappeared. In some church right in the font there is now the hand sanitizer gel!
If we open the churches with social distancing in place, if we allow people into church, why make the kneelers out of bounds? And could holy water be still in use in “safe mode”? This makes us reflect on the evil and clever actions of the devil who in this way keeps us apart from the most important things. He has kept us from the sacraments, from the necessity to receive the Lord in order to have eternal life; now it seems that we can receive the Holy Eucharist with all these precautions (most of them contrary to the dignity of the Most Holy Sacrament), but we still face a sort of imposition on the way we can pray and on the manner we can receive the Holy Communion.
But why all this? Where has all this come from? Why all this ferocity against Jesus in the Eucharist and against a Christian celebrating his own faith according to the Catholic Church? How can we explain this reality that we are living if not by reference to an intelligent machination of the enemy who like a prowling lion looks for souls to devour? But in addition to this seduction, to this machination of the devil, we can identify something visible yet imperceptible that makes us realise that something is not right, that the intelligent and astute cunning of the devil is there to try to distract us from the most important things. All the red tape required to be able to open the churches is an example of this, after they were closed without any real need to do so. In fact, churches could have remained open if all the necessary precautions had been taken; they could have remained open for devotion, so as to permit the faithful to receive the Sacraments with all the social distancing measures in place. But the churches were closed, then after long and exhausting negotiations, they were re-opened, and now we have new rules to advise us how we should pray in church, and evidently this is by rigidly being standing. In some cases, chairs have replaced pews and kneelers. Does all this not respond to a liturgical logic, which, although already imposed on us to some degree, now seems to use the excuse of the Coronavirus to be considered reasonable?
Beside all this, we see another subtle, hidden, but current action of the devil. In this whole situation, in this pandemic, be it over or under estimated (now isn’t the time to discuss the topic of the pandemic itself), we have found ourselves in an unexpected situation in which a virus has upset all our lives. It seems that, in our efforts to react calmly, to keep an intelligent understanding of the situation, we may have allowed ourselves to be overcome with all this anxiety, in a sort of Coronavirus psychosis, and in the end we have put aside the most important things in order to give space almost uniquely to the physical element, that of protecting our physical health. But it seems that in all this Covid-19 process and procedures what is absent is faith and the capability to respond fully to this reality in faith. Instead what seems more important, what occupies us more in these times isn’t the necessity and duty to teach the faith so that the faithful can understand and return in grace with an open heart, rather it’s the need to adhere to all this bureaucracy and paperwork, which multiplies day by day.
It is by now evident that in order to comply with all this bureaucracy, with all the social distancing and security rules, to prevent the transmission of the virus, we have missed the true object of our faith. We are socially distancing from Christ and from the source of salvation. Is this not a cunning initiative of the devil who keeps us occupied now with many things especially with certificates, procedures, rules and regulations so that we forget the supreme rule, the rule par excellence which is the eternal salvation of our souls? And surely this action can be described as an evil action by an angelic person, the devil, who pulls the strings from behind the stage, so that eventually we forget about God, busying ourselves with other things which, albeit necessary and important for the protection of our physical health, nevertheless restrict us to thinking only about these things. Isn’t this an astuteness of the devil, a hoax on the part of satan? I really think so.
And we really see the malice of the devil at work when we see that in ecclesiastical circles we don’t hear people talking of important things, rather they’re taken up with social and humanitarian issues. So here we need to pay attention because the devil is cunning, he is the one who, as St Peter says, is the prowling lion who seeks souls to devour. It seems that his most destructive action is clearly to convince us that we need to safeguard the physical health of the faithful while making us forget about our spiritual health. The devil (from the Greek word dia-ballo) is in fact the one who tries to separate us from God.
Does eternal salvation still matter?
Still in this context of the malice of the devil, I want to reflect on the most essential factor of our faith, our eternal salvation. There may be some who roll their eyes and say that discussions on the salvation of the soul are passé, old fashioned theology, which focusses on the individual – the soul or on what the soul might be, when we should be talking more about the “interior” of the person.
We prefer to abandon the reference to our soul and to the salvation of our souls because we think that in this way we pave the way for individualism to kick in and therefore for ideologies such as Marxism and Communism to arise in order to vindicate the importance of the community. In truth, while it’s collectivism and globalization that were brought about with the claim of the alienation of man, in no way does the idea of saving one’s soul lead to such devastating social effects.
When we talk about the salvation of the soul, however, at the centre of our discussions there is man in relation to God. When man thinks of God, when he lives for God, he never lives only for himself, and when he thinks about being with God forever, he thinks of the salvation of others as well. Salvation is open to everyone and we see it beautifully in the sanctity of man for a holy man is never egotistical, a Christian is not egotistical. There isn’t an egotistical thought in individual salvation. Personal holiness is the salvation of many because a saint never saves himself alone.
Therefore, the salvation of the soul is central to our faith and this seems to have been buried underneath so much bureaucracy and compliance to the point where it seems we can no longer speak about this because we are busy with more urgent matters. It’s the most important thing and yet the most neglected. Taking away kneelers is more important than receiving Communion while kneeling and on the tongue as the Church has always taught. For reasons of hygiene and health Communion must be received in the hand, being not guaranteed as the safest way, and even though this contravenes the teaching of the Church. Communion in the hand remains an indult – a permission given that can never be imposed against the universal law of the Church.
In all this horizontal and human view, we have of the Church, there is no room for the concept of eternal salvation. And it’s here that we see the malice of the devil, the snare of the devil. Hence, is salvation something important, still current or is it something to do away with along with many other things that are important but secondary? We have lost sight of the centre of our faith – Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and our eternal salvation. We must return to this central focus and try to brush up on the advice of St Peter who wrote to the Christians exhorting them to remain strong in the faith.
We can clearly detect an absence of faith, because none of this would be conceivable, there could not be this type of revolution in which the health of the body is more important than the health of the immortal soul, were it not for a lack of faith. When we bury the faith, the devil wades in. He carries on his seduction of souls, completely undisturbed so that he can do what he wants without us even realising it.
It seems to me that we need to reflect on this a lot because sometimes we have an idea of the devil, either that we ignore him because we are too materialistic or we see him everywhere blaming everything on him. These two opposite ways of undermining the evil action of satan are beautifully described in the book by CS Lewis entitled The Screwtape Letters. These are a series of letters from a senior devil to an apprentice devil on how to learn the art of seduction, the art of ruining the souls. In this insightful work, Lewis tells us this:
There are two ways which please the devil and permit him to follow his malicious activity undisturbed. These two ways are materialism and magic. Materialism because it is man who in fact says that the devil doesn’t exist which allows the devil to carry on his work undisturbed; also those in a sort of magic attribute everything to the devil, every bad thing that happens, so inflating his presence in the world, end up with giving the devil importance in everything and therefore allow him to carry on his work undisturbed.
In wrapping up these thoughts, I wish to refer once again to the Screwtape Letters of Lewis by quoting a small section which is very appropriate in our current times, reflecting on these actions of the devil and how to conquer his subversive action. In a passage in the book, the senior devil named Screwtape is speaking to his young apprentice colleague Wormwood and says:
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.
This is a very significant passage. God wants us for eternity, but in order to think about eternity we need to treasure the present moment. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us that every day brings its own sorrows (cf. Mt 6:34). We need to focus on the present, as the past has gone, the future hasn’t yet arrived. We have to live in the present moment with a view to eternity. And it’s actually this present moment that resembles eternity, because eternity is a present that doesn’t end – a present that remains. If we want to save our soul and understand the cunning intelligence of the devil, we should look at the present, we should live in the present moment and so live fully in such a way as to give consent to our soul to set out each day with the grace of God and to be able to make our way slowly to eternity. We have to think of, we have to understand the present to be able to not lose eternity.
Let’s open our eyes and live the present with the grace of God in a way to interpret the present. The present that we are living right now, all this story of Coronavirus is however a very special present in which the devil wades in but it is also a moment of grace. We need to recognise the diabolical dimensions of today and the stubbornness that unfortunately characterises it, so as to understand how urgent it is to open our minds to the things of God, to believe in Him in order to see Him in eternity. If we waste time, i.e., if lose this present, we lose eternity.