"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Is the devil real?: Three Questions To Deepen One's Understanding of the Reality of Evil

Carlos Schwabe, The grave digger and the angel of death (Death of the grave-digger)


First question to ask, “Is the devil real?” On April 9, 2018 Pope Francis has written an Apostolic Exhortation On The Call To Holiness In Today’s World "Gaudete et Exsultate" (GE) which takes on our Church's long-standing view on this matter. He says that the path to holiness involves a "constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil” (GE 160). The Holy Father calls our attention to the final line of the Our Father “deliver us from evil,” “alla rhysae hêmas apo tou ponerou” in the original Greek. The last word ‘ponerou’ does not refer to evil in general or in the abstract; a more exact translation would be “the evil one.” Jesus taught us a prayer of asking for daily deliverance from this “personal being who assails us," lest his power prevail over us. "We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," the pope continues, "this mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable."

To be taken advantage of within our vulnerability, he added, the devil "does not need to possess us." St Ignatius says, "It is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul" (Spiritual Exercises 315). Pope Francis's description of the evil one is even more pointed. He says, "He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice."  Jesus in today's gospel (Luke 11:14-23) rebuts the false reasoning that says he drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of evil.

Second question to ponder, “When the Pope says that the path to holiness involves a ‘constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil’ does it mean we have to be exorcised everyday?” No, in fact our Lord has victoriously defeated already the evil one through his passion, death and resurrection. There is a dangerous combination that could happen, that is, to believe in the existence of the Devil and at the same time to wrongly believe in God with an erroneous image of him, i.e., some picture God as a Lawgiver or as a punishing God. This can be another deception by the enemy. No wonder Paul instructed Christians about spiritually putting on ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2-3).

While it is true that Jesus had once and for all defeated the enemy of human nature, there is a part of the battle that we have to face if we want to share in God’s victory. Jesus does not redeem us as nameless people in a faceless crowd. Just as he has called us individually by name to a personal vocation, he too gives us the agency or active role to cooperate in God's divine plan. This is possible only with our freedom. We continue to have human freedom after we have been saved by our Lord. We can still choose to say ‘No’ to Jesus’s redemptive act. That is why the spiritual battle continues–temptations continue to assail us. Every year we go through Lent to remind us again and again that we have to repent. This is also the reason why we must not put the blame on God for all the evils in the world. We have been made partners of God in creating the world but sadly we have exercised our freedom the abusive way. God has gifted us with his Son to vanquish evil but he also awaits our cooperation. St Augustine once said, "God created us without us, but He will not save us without us.”

Third and final question to consider, “How do we combat the evil one?” It is done not only by believing as we have already heard from Pope Francis. Believing in the existence of the devil is not enough, we need to accept that we also have our personalized demons in us. Just as we vary in the saintly and good aspects of ourselves; however, let us face it, we are more differentiated in terms of our personalized demons. To each his or her own. And if you have not figured out that yet–clueless despite its repetitive occurrences–then, all the more, one must be afraid. The expertise of the evil spirit as St Ignatius has kept reminding is to disguise as an angel of light. It hides the truth from us. Often we are its first victim by not accepting or by disbelieving the glaring truth. Do not be the last person to know the truth about your own demon. That is why to combat the evil one is to pray for the grace of humility, awareness and courage to accept that part of us that needs God's assistance. After which we will be triumphant on account of genuine self-knowledge. Do not worry for even the saints had to battle with their own demons everyday of their lives. The saints regarded themselves as the worst of sinners. By accepting their lot they were freed from the clasps of the enemy or, better yet, they were ‘delivered from the evil one’. Indeed that is the same secret to holiness which the Second Vatican Council has reiterated–"Universal call to holiness in the Church." Every Christian is called to tread this path of constant deliverance each day of our lives. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ

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