Believe it or not there are people who love talking about the devil. The seldom time I speak publicly about the devil there is a small group who are delighted and will implore me to do this more often. I, for my part, refrain from speaking on such a theme unless prompted by the gospel of the day. Generally speaking this group of ‘devilish deliberators’ love bad news. They are on the lookout for the devil from first thing in the morning, believing that he may jump out of their porridge. They are convinced that he is lurking behind every pillar. They often have an unhealthy preoccupation with death. Indeed they get a surge of energy at even a whiff of a funeral.
If I am really honest I find it hard to be patient with this type of behaviour. At best I see it as unhealthy and at its worst it’s half mad! Having said in the interests of fairness, I acknowledge that there is another group and whilst they are perhaps less common their position is in fact dangerous to themselves and others. I am referring to those who maintain there is no such thing as the devil.
I believe there is a very clear entity called the evil spirit, sometimes known as the Evil One, the Devil, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness, and in popular culture sometimes referred to simply as ‘oul Nick’! At times black comedy sees this entity as something funny, and whilst I consider a good sense of humour crucial I see the opportunity for comedy within this realm as limited. The reality is in fact quite literally deadly serious.
When I speak of the Devil or the Evil Spirit I am specifically referring to the malevolent evil force that tortured Jesus in the desert through persistent temptation. It is the same Evil Spirit that seeks the destruction of all that comes from God and all that is good, but most especially seeks the destruction and ultimately the loss of souls. Forgive me my friends for my bluntness, but this includes the destruction of your soul and mine.
In my experience the influence of the Devil over the years has usually been subtle. The presence of the devil in my life is for the most part rooted in bad habits, and selfishness. As I have grown older I have noticed that he thrives where there is fear and confusion. He wants me stuck, unhappy, and enslaved. I have noticed the Devil will attack a person trying to do something for God. It wouldn’t be the first time that a person about to commit themselves to God experienced an attack that attempted to throw them into darkness and despair.
Indeed herein lies the explanation as to why many daily Mass goers will experience dark thoughts or temptations designed to keep them from the Mass or at least to distract them whilst they are there. This of course is ultimately trying to rob them of both peace and joy. I should add though that in all my learning about evil I have also been repeatedly confirmed in something else, namely that the Holy Spirit is greater than the Evil Spirit and, above all, that the Devil is no match for Jesus. Which brings me to the main reason for these ‘rumblings’, namely to share with you my recent visit from the devil.
I was in bed in the rectory in the United States and it was the night before I was to begin preaching the Lenten Mission. This consists of a three part program that I recently wrote called ‘Fresh Encounters of Jesus of Nazareth’ designed to help people come into a deeper relationship with the Lord. I had been reading, put off the light and turned over to sleep, when it happened.
Suddenly I felt this threatening presence race towards me and in seconds was on me. It seemed to come from behind. It overpowered me. I still managed to breathe but I was motionless. Despite my efforts and desire to lift my arms to lash out, to cry out, to shout for help, impossible. Nothing. I remembered my St. Martin de Porres relic in my t-shirt pocket and asked the holy man from Lima, from whom I get my confirmation name, to intercede for me. I got a little comfort. I asked Mary the Mother of Jesus to help me and I managed to reach my rosary beads. I was terrified at this stage so wanting this presence to lift off me. My response started as a whisper and burst into a roar into the darkness, ‘In Jesus’s Name, be gone!’ Immediately I got peace and relief and calm.
In the coming days I preached, or the Holy Spirit preached the mission, and I did my best not to get in the way. For my part I felt vulnerable, I was conscious of the darkness and of the attack. However, more than anything I was conscious of God’s power, his protection and his love for me.