In the town where I was born, the local high school’s mascot was the Demons. As a young kid, I remember driving past the school and seeing a huge demon face on the side of the building, complete with glowing red eyes. The design was effective. The thing looked pretty demonic.
(The high school I actually attended, in a different city, was the Angels. The sports teams never played each other, but that would’ve been an epic match up.)
If you take the time to read any of of the Gospels straight through, in a single sitting, like a novel, one thing that will leap off the page is how often Jesus encounters demons. Sure, you’ll come away with the main message—God’s love for us—but you’ll also come away with a pretty sobering message: someone else hates us. If you accept that the Gospels testify truthfully to Jesus’ Resurrection, you also have to accept that the devil is real.
This is not a popular belief these days. The Gospel accounts of demonic possession are often explained away as epilepsy, mental illness, or some other poorly-understood malady. The idea of the devil is mocked like an old wive’s tale, some Christian version of the boogey man.
But is the devil real? Is there an invisible, malevolent force that wants to divert me from being a follower of Jesus?
I believe there is, not just because Jesus talks about Satan by name several times (as in today’s Gospel), but because of the testimony of others. I recently spoke to a priest in California who is the exorcist for his diocese, and his stories of encounters with demons are bone-chilling. If you want to read a convincing account for yourself, check out An Exorcist Tells his Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the former head exorcist of Rome. These are not Catholic horror stories; they are real accounts by sane people warning us that evil is real.
How are we to respond to the existence of true evil? Certainly not with fear, says Fr. Amorth. He points out that the devil hates the sacraments even more than prayers of exorcism. The grace of Jesus is far more powerful than any demon. Confession and the Eucharist are the most powerful forces against Satan.
Fortunately, the Church gives us another time-honored spiritual weapon which we can use in any scenario: the Prayer to St. Michael. Perhaps this lent you can add this prayer to your spiritual regimen:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Sam Alzheimer is the founder of Vianney Vocations, an organization that promotes vocations to the priesthood.