It seems like forever ago that I saw the movie, The Exorcist (and it was forever ago in the sense that it was in the ’70’s) but there was one scene and one line that stuck with me. It was not any of the overblown portrayals of the Devil’s presence, though they did go overboard in that movie in certain instances, and attributed to the Devil certain things that the Devil could not do, just to make it more sensational.
But there was also a lot of wisdom in the movie. The scene that I remember so clearly was when the saintly old exorcist, Father Merrin, arrives at the house where the little girl was possessed by the Devil and the younger priest/psychologist was briefing Father Merrin on the situation of the possession. After much conversation, much study, much reflection, the young priest said to Father Merrin, “there are at least three spirits possessing this little girl.” Father Merrin hadn’t even laid eyes on the little girl yet, and hadn’t talked to anybody, but he said, with great serenity, “No, Father Damien, there is only one.”
Called to rejoice with cloud of tragedy
This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday, when the Lord calls us to rejoice. But all morning I was wondering what the priests in Newtown, Conn., were going to say to the people about “rejoicing.” I’m certain there was a temptation to pass over it. There’s no question that on a Sunday when we were called in a particular way to rejoice, a cloud was cast over the United States — a cloud of tragedy and sadness and sorrow in the extreme.
People are looking for all kinds of solutions or explanations to solve or explain this horror. People are coming forward and asking policemen, psychiatrists, news commentators the same question that was asked John the Baptist in this Sunday’s Gospel, “What should we do?” (Jn 3:10) There are all kinds of answers being offered by everyone. There are a lot of legislative solutions — “let’s make some new laws about guns, that will stop the problems,” “let’s turn the elementary school into a fortress with armed guards, that will stop the problems.” Every suggestion is being made, as if we can legislate Satan out of existence.
“What should we do?” the question comes, “How can we explain what happened?” There is only one explanation and the explanation is Satan and evil. And the only one who can expel Satan is Jesus Christ and the power of faith, hope, and love. “What should we do?” was the question posed to John the Baptist. And the answer came back: repent and love, in preparation for Jesus Christ.
It’s hurtful to see many people who have pushed and pushed and pushed to expel God from the government schools now stand around and say, “How could God allow this?” We have pushed to expel God from any corner of our lives that is not “worship” in a church, and we wonder at the presence of evil, which is the pure absence of God. As Father Merrin said in the movie, there is only one explanation for this visible presence of evil — Satan himself, who is the prince of this world, but not the next. Our country, more and more, is being delivered over to Satan and it happens in many ways, but the first step is getting God and His loving commandments out of the way — out of the government schools, with the Nativity scenes out of sight, with Christmas trees renamed as a holiday bush.
We’ve been doing this for a while and we’ve seen the results from the start. We’ve forgotten the first sin of all time, after the sin of Adam and Eve. Once Adam and Eve pushed God aside and wanted to take His place, the very next sin was Cain killing his brother Abel. The moment the human person turns against God, the human person next turns against his fellow human being. The President even said, rightly, that there is a pattern of this violent killing behavior developing in our country in recent years.
However, I would hold that the explanation of this pattern is not in a lack of any legislation; it’s not a lack of more psychiatrists and psychologists in the schools, to keep an eye on every child. There is no explanation and no lasting solution there. The solution is in allowing the true beauty of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in so many beautiful things and in so many beautiful ways, to soothe the human spirit, to draw it in to something so much greater than this world, and to imbue it with a desire for greatness lived out in love — the beauty of the Father, and the Son, and that Spirit.
Why this is happening
Why is this happening? What’s the explanation? Jesus tells us, according to St. John, that the Holy Spirit wants to convince the world of three things. The Holy Spirit wants to convince the world about sin, because they refuse to believe in Him. The Holy Spirit wants to convince the world about justice, because Jesus is returning to the Father and the Kingdom of Justice will then be restored. And the Holy Spirit wants to convince the world about judgment, because the prince of this world is condemned.
Who is up to the task of condemning the prince of this world? It cannot be done in legislation, nor by unleashing an army of psychiatrists on the prince of this world. The prince of this world is condemned by the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And so, when the question is asked, “What should we do?” The answer is, “Turn back to God, turn back to beauty, turn back to truth, turn back to what is good.”
On a macro level, the problem underlying our societal degeneration is relativism. Everybody has his-or-her-own beauty, his-or-her-own goodness, his-or-her-own truth, and there is no real beauty, goodness, and truth (that, in so many ways is the “theme song” of our own city here). God help anybody who gets up and says, “there is really beauty, good and truth!” But that’s what we must do, because there is only one explanation. A respected journalist offered a particularly moving image at the end of the day this past Friday, when he said, “These beautiful children were waiting for Santa Claus, waiting for Santa’s visit, but instead the Devil visited Newtown.”
To say what the answer is, unfortunately, will not take away the pain — it doesn’t affect that. God will use human love, human understanding, and human generosity to heal (over many years) those who are affected by this travesty. Saying that the Devil is behind these things doesn’t necessarily make those who are so deeply grieved feel better — I would never pretend that. But, pointing to the Devil as the one cause of this, Satan, who is having his way with our world in so many ways, is the answer to the question, “What should we do?”
We should live out our Baptism, we should renounce Satan and all of his empty show and all of his phony promises. Our culture glories in the empty show, in so many ways, and in his phony promises.
John the Baptist’s theme, heard during Advent, is “repent!” That is the solution, and that’s where it must start for us. Not with more laws and regulations, not with thousands of new psychiatrists brooding over the public schools, but with repentance and change of heart.
That’s why I’m afraid the solution might not start at all, because along with God, that approach will be left in the dust and everything else under heaven will be tried, as though we, by our legislation and our efforts, could cast out the prince of this world. The prince of this world is condemned by the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the only way we can make a lasting difference is by inviting Jesus once again, to rule over our lives, our culture, our country.
As we peel back all the layers of suffering, sorrow, and shock at what has happened, on Gaudete Sunday, and as we move into Christmas, we can still rejoice. Because, while so many have been deprived of beauty, we have the beauty of the Nativity Scene. We have the beauty of the shedding of Christ’s blood out of love. We have the beauty of the glorious Resurrection and of Mary’s glorious assumption into heaven. We have all of that beauty and that beauty causes us to celebrate and to rejoice way down deep, beneath all of those feelings that we share with every other decent human being in the United States. Underneath all the sorrow there is still joy, because we have beauty in which to rejoice, beauty to celebrate, and beauty which we are called to share — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
One concrete note, as a postlude — The Holy Father asked recently, “What are the ‘symptoms’ of deep joy and beauty in a person?” One of the main symptoms, he said, is a sense of humor, because a deep and abiding joy will express itself that way humanly; it’s natural. The country and culture in which we live has lost a sense of humor, and many even in our Church have lost a sense of humor. Certainly the tragedy of Newtown is no joking matter, but among ourselves still smiles should be common, laughter should be regular, a sense of humor should be alive and well.
We should be happy. Not because we pass over things such as Newtown, or because we’re hardened so that we don’t even allow ourselves to be struck by it, but because when we look to our deepest self, there is nothing there other than the glory and the beauty of the Holy Spirit, who will convince the world that the spirit of this world has been condemned. And if the Holy Spirit doesn’t see that justice lived out in our lifetime, in the spirit of Advent we wait for something that will be as real as you or I.
As we wait for the prince of this world to be condemned, we do everything we can to give him a bad rap and to reject his temptations. We rejoice, because the Holy Spirit, and not Satan, will have the last word, and Satan will be condemned by the only final judge of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thank you for reading this. May God bless all of you and your loved ones, and may we let Him draw us particularly close this Christmas Season! Praised be Jesus Christ!