Here is a copy of Fr. David’s homily from last weekend (February 13/14). After receiving several request for copies, we’ve posted it here for your convenience. You will find the homily on the left and the Gospel reading on the right.
Do You Renounce Satan?
Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises? Recognize that question? We ask it every time we baptize a child. We ask it not only of the child’s parents and godparents, but we, each of us and all of us, are asked the same question. It’s a pretty significant question. I’m going to ask it of you now, again. Don’t be shy in answering. Pretend you’re at a Hurricanes game, or watching the ACC championship basketball game. Here it is. Be ready to answer.
“Do you renounce Satan, and all his works and all his empty promises? Do you? Good. And there you have it. Your answer lands you smack in the middle of a spiritual conflict – a war between God and the devil. You’ve just chosen up sides. You’re saying you’re going to fight on God’s side against the devil and all his works and ways. You were committed to this struggle when you were baptized. But you have to make this choice frequently, sometimes daily. I suspect you know that. All of us are involved in this spiritual conflict whether we like it or not. It’s impossible to avoid it. And listen. When you’re in the middle of a battle, one of the best things you have going for you is intelligence. You’ve got to know your enemy. That makes the difference between victory and defeat. We need to know how the enemy thinks and what he feels. The better we understand these things the better our chance of outsmarting him, beating him at his own game.
In the last century there was a Christian writer by the name of C. S. Lewis. He wrote a book entitled “The Screwtape Letters.” Each of the letters in his book pretends to be from a clever, experienced devil named Screwtape, who writes to a younger devil-in-training named Warmwood. “The Screwtape Letters” have become something of a twentieth century Christian classic because it helps us understand the devil’s wily ways. So today I’m taking the liberty of sharing with you a new “Screwtape Letter.” I just happened to find it in the bottom drawer of my desk. This new letter is inspired by the story of the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness, our gospel lesson for today. So here we go.
A Letter from Master Screwtape to Devil-in-training Wormwood
This is your affectionate Uncle Screwtape. I know. I know. Haven’t written for quite a while. Been much too busy and having a hard time, I’ll have you know. The great high Satan himself has had me on special assignment tempting this guy Jesus. That’s what’s been so tough. But more about that later. First, I’d like to respond to your last letter to me, in which you reported the difficulties you’ve been having getting your intended victims to choose evil instead of good. Rule number one: when it comes to tempting, especially tempting those who believe in God (and they’re the ones we’re after, right?) never, never ever think in terms of good and evil. As difficult as it is for a devil to admit, your average human being is not passionately committed to the cause of evil. To be sure, as you and I well know, there are some who are. But they’re not the ones we’re concerned with, Wormwood. Forget them. They already belong to us. No – the ones we’re concerned with are the folks who sincerely want to do the good – at least most of the time. The last thing you want to do then, dear nephew, is give them a clear cut choice between good and evil. Chances are they’ll pick the good every time, which is exactly what we don’t want them to do. So a good tempter has to confuse them, cloud the issue, present their choices to them in other terms, Any other terms besides evil and good. For starters, get them to believe that everything they do is okay as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. That way, strangely enough, they’ll never get around to thinking about whether they’re hurting themselves. Or tell them that the choices they make boil down to nothing more than personal preferences. This is particularly effective because it gets them thinking that distinctions between right and wrong are really just one person’s opinion stacked up against another’s. All values are equally valid, or so they say. It’s all relative. So in the end it doesn’t matter what you do. And this, dear Wormwood, is what we devils have been trying to get them to believe all along! They only diminish themselves when they think what they do doesn’t matter. And that’s exactly what we want. So I repeat, dear Wormwood. Don’t ever let your victims think in terms of good and evil!
Now here’s a good one, even for a young tempter like yourself. Get them to think in terms of hard and easy instead. Easy and hard. Easy, mind you, is what everybody wants.
Convenience. Humans love convenience. They have convenience stores, convenience foods, and even convenient sex. No fuss. No muss. It’s easy. Go for it. Given a choice between what’s hard and easy, humans seem almost incapable of serious thought. They’ll go for the easy way out every time. And that, dear Wormwood, is one of our best weapons against them. And it’s one of the best weapons we have against God. Because God, the muddle headed old fool that he is, never promises anything easy. Jesus – the son of the muddle headed old fool – he actually told his followers that – more than once. He said that following him would be like carrying a cross.
It wouldn’t be easy. It’d be hard. So, Wormwood, we have all the advantages. Ours is the easier way. The easier way to hell. Ha, ha! Ho, ho! Just don’t tell them that, dear nephew. They might think twice about it. Just tell them it’s the easier way.
Speaking of Jesus, I mentioned earlier that the great Satan himself gave me the assignment to tempt him. This is what he said. “The muddle-headed old fool has sent his son to earth to bring in the kingdom of God. And you know how he’s going to do it? By dying! Do you get that? By dying! So, Satan said to me: “Go, Screwtape, go and convince him there’s an easier way.” Well, I tried. I tried for forty days to show him there’s another way to glory besides personal sacrifice. “Boy, do I have a bargain for you,” I said. “Just worship me, and I’ll give you authority over all the nations of the world.” Jesus didn’t buy it though. Just mumbled something about how he’d get authority over heaven and earth any way, but first he had to die.
So he’s a hard nut to crack. But I know, I know for sure how I’ll get him. He’s going to be crucified, you know. Just wait. Let him feel those nails. Let him start breathing a little heavy. That’s when I’ll whisper in his ear: “Hey, Jesus, why don’t you come down off the cross and follow me.” And of course he will. I know he will. It’ll be a piece of cake.
Good luck now, Wormwood. Until then, your confident Uncle Screwtape.
Well – that’s the end of Screwtape’s letter. Of course you and I know the rest of the story.
Screwtape was a bit too confident, wasn’t he? Jesus did not come down off the cross. He didn’t take the easy way out. He suffered. He died. And he rose again. And now he wants to know if you renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises? Because if you do, then that puts you smack in the middle of a spiritual conflict. You’ve just chosen up sides. You’re going to fight on God’s side against the devil and all his works and ways. But look. You’re not in this battle alone. Just look around. You have brothers and sisters in Christ fighting along with you. Here we are. You can count on us. And best of all you have Jesus, your risen and victorious Lord, who fights by your side with weapons of the Spirit. So you can say it with confidence today, every day, every minute. And so I ask you: “Do you renounce Satan and all his works and empty promises? Do you? ” “I do!” Good.
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.
Feb. 14, 2013
Gospel Lk 4:1-13
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.