“Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” Satan’s words to Eve reveal much. He is a liar who uses doubt to try and separate us from God. (If only Eve had discerned who was speaking, she might have responded differently.) Thousands of years later his modus operandi hasn’t changed much.
No greater joy have I experienced than being a father to three daughters. From the moment they were born I have marveled at their purity, beauty, and innocence. Equally, no greater battle have I experienced than helping them stay this way. Discerning who is whispering is one of the most valuable lessons they have learned.
Discernment begins and ends with prayer. Saint Ignatius teaches that in a grace-filled soul, the promptings of the Holy Spirit produce peace and joy, or consolation. The promptings of the evil spirit produce the opposite effect, disturbance and selfishness, or desolation.
As we get ready for Advent, don’t allow Satan’s whisperings to dampen your resolve. Don’t allow him to steal your peace or to distract you from His plan for your life. Don’t give his lies a place to dwell. Do pray to God. Do discern who is whispering. Do trust in Jesus. Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. And let Saint Catherine of Siena’s words be your own, “Give not ear to what the devil whispers to you.”
But Who Are You?
Satan loves to try and tell you who you are. He is after all the “accuser.” He spent the past few decades convincing many to place their trust and identity in the false gods of money, sex and power. He is now reveling in his successes and relishing the depression, despair and even deaths that have occurred because so many don’t know their real identity.
In Acts of the Apostles the story is recounted of the traveling Jewish exorcists who invoked the name of Jesus to try and cast out evil spirits. One of these evil spirits responded to them by saying, “Jesus I recognize, Paul I know, but who are you?” Luke records that the exorcists, who did not have a relationship with Jesus, fled the encounter naked and wounded.
If an evil spirit were to ask you, “But who are you?” what answer would you give? To the degree that your answer is earthbound you are in trouble. If your answer is related to your job, your social status, your wealth or your self-esteem, then your identity is predicated upon that which can be easily taken away. This creates an ongoing need to continually renew and restore the false foundation. It also creates dependence and an attachment to them, in effect allowing these false identities to become your master.
Now more than ever you need to know who you are. The times are changing. Uncertainty about the present and fear about the future is all too real. Be not afraid. Remind yourself in whose image and likeness you are made.
So, who are you?
The only sure and certain foundation you possess, and the only real answer to the question is, “I am a child of God.” Any other identity you embrace will be gone in the blink of an eye. Any other identity you embrace makes Satan’s job easier. As a child of God, seek your identity in the God who created you. Rest in the arms of your “abba,” your daddy. Remember Paul’s words to the Romans, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”” (Romans 8:14-15)
Don’t let the question of the evil spirit catch you off guard. Don’t allow the circumstances of our current times dictate your identity. Don’t allow your fear grip you to be bonded to this world, for if your identity is as a child of God, what is there to fear?
With every step we take, we either we choose to take a step toward God the Father or we take one away from Him, and therefore toward Satan. We are either traveling on the road toward paradise or perdition.
Saint John Vianney said it this way. “We must never lose sight of the fact that we are either saints or outcasts, that we must live for heaven or hell; there is no middle path in this. You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God.”
So which path leads to Heaven and which leads to Hell? Why not follow the signs.
Tolerance or Truth
On the road to perdition no sign is more omnipresent than the one for tolerance. We are told we must be more “inclusive” and make certain no one feels “marginalized” lest we commit the ultimate sin of intolerance! Those who frequent this road preach charity at the expense of truth, as if one could stand without the other.
On the road to paradise you will find true charity. The difference is true charity is tolerant of truth alone; never error. Correction of error, not tolerance of it, is a duty imposed by true charity.
Saint Josemaría Escrivá reminds us that “Holy steadfastness is not intolerance.” Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is love, He is truth, and He cannot be split in two. Either you take one with the other or you reject both.
Agenda or Authority
On the road to perdition no sign is more oft quoted than this one: “Let your conscience be your guide.” This is the rallying cry of those heading to Hell.
Those who frequent this road reject the Divine authority of the one, true Church in favor of their own human authority. In it homosexuality, woman priests, artificial contraception, abortion and moral relativism are the gods that are worshiped.
Many in the pews are Catholic in name only; they are in every sense of the word protestants. The only difference being that they lack the courage of their own convictions and instead of fleeing the Church, they seek to destroy Her by imposing their heretical agenda upon others.
On the road to paradise you will find those who lovingly assent to revealed truths, even the tough ones. As Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman reminds us "We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe."
Christ promised us an eternal reward, not an easy road, when He said: “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”
Pride or Humility
On the road to perdition no sign is more revealing than this one. “Who are those white haired, cranky, celibate men in Rome to tell me how to live my life? What do they know about .....”
A more damning choice could not be made than to choose the way of pride. Pride is the origin of all sin; in fact pride is the “original” sin. Hardening of the heart is the unavoidable long term effect of pride. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but it is crowded with hardened hearts. The Book of Proverbs contrasts the two saying, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
On the road to paradise you will find true humility. Humility is an unappreciated and unpopular virtue. Many perceive humility as a sign of weakness, not as a sign of strength. Yet, it is in our humility when we are nearest to God. It is then when He can form us; it is then when He can use us and it is then when we are most like His Son.
In the only words Jesus spoke of His heart, He said “I am meek and humble of heart.” We would do our souls well, if like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we would pray, speak and act in imitation of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Satan or God
On the road to perdition signs that lead to Hell are usually not labeled as clearly as this. Yet the consequence is the same.
When that which is dogma is denied and that which is heresy is embraced, we know Satan has entered the Sanctuary. When that which is truly sinful is said to be not a sin and that which is truly not a sin is said to be sinful, we know Satan is in our midst. When that which is reverent and pious is banned and replaced with that which is informal and ordinary, we know Satan is hard at work trying to prevail against the Church.When that which is traditional is viewed as outdated and is replaced with that which is the current fad, we know Satan is pleased with his efforts.
Despite all of this, we must not despair; the victory has already been won! Jesus’ death on the cross is the invincible act. Even Satan knows this to be true. His game plan is no longer to win, but to drag as many souls as possible into Hell with him.
We must resist the father of lies. We must continually seek our own conversion. We do this best through the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, and through prayer and sacrifice. This is essential. It is only after we seek our conversion that we can even begin to help others.
Despite the obvious signs, some will choose the easy path. Jesus said “for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction and those who enter through it are many. How small the gate and narrow the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Let us pray for the grace to be counted among these “few.”
The souls in purgatory too often are neglected, forgotten or ignored. They languish, unable to pray for themselves. They are reliant upon our intercession which comes far too infrequently.
For whatever reason, (and there are many) Hell is a topic we don’t hear much about during homilies at Mass. Sadly, Purgatory and its necessary role in our salvation, is teetering on the edge of that slippery slope. While Heaven is our goal and should be our primary focus, humanity is often motivated by both the carrot and the stick. To speak exclusively of God’s mercy, without mention of His justice, is to render Him impotent. (Similarly, to speak exclusively of His justice, without mention of His mercy is to render Him ruthless.) Both are inconsistent with who God really is. The locus of truth is found, not in the extremes, but right in the middle.
A couple of years ago in my travels, I had the opportunity to attend daily Mass in another Diocese. As it turned out it was a funeral Mass for a local parishioner. By all accounts Edna was a wonderful Christian woman; loving wife, mother and grandmother; a lifelong faithful and active member of her parish. She was also, according to the celebrant of the Mass, a Saint. That is, she now resides in Heaven, her eternal reward fully assured.
These words, spoken by the priest in his homily, likely brought tremendous comfort to Edna’s family and friends. There was a perceptible and collective sigh of relief with the pronouncement of these words. It was almost as if the sacramental principle of “ex opere operato” or “by the words themselves” were in effect here.
Edna’s priest did her and her family a huge disservice. He gave the family, not false hope, but worse, false assurance. He also likely extended Edna’s stay in Purgatory, (that is, assuming she was not judged immediately worthy of Heaven). How so? What sane person will pray for Edna’s soul “knowing” she is already in Heaven?
I pray that Edna entered into her eternal glory the moment she died. I just cannot know that she did for certain. And until she is declared a saint, no one else can either.
Praying for the souls in purgatory is not a “nice thing” for us to do. It is our duty, our obligation to do so. Yet, it is our duty to pray for our brothers and sisters who are part of the Church Suffering. If we only knew the power they possess to help us on our journey toward Heaven, we would be praying for them unceasingly.