Our need to be vigilant

On page 19 of this edition of The Anchor we have the news that Pope Francis has approved the beatification of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, after having reviewed his holy life, his writings and the miraculous healing of a child in the womb (a child whose ailment was threatening the life of the mother, a mother who refused to abort her child). 

Pope Paul VI is remembered for many things. Given what happened in Harvard Square this past Monday (please see the story beginning on page five and Father Landry’s column to the right of this editorial for details), the deceased Holy Father’s homily from the feast of SS. Peter and Paul in 1972 comes to mind. The most famous line from that homily was “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”

Later in the homily Pope Paul explained in which way the devil was moving about in the Church. “We believe that something preternatural has come into the world specifically to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council, and to prevent the Church from breaking out in a hymn of joy for having recovered in fullness the awareness of herself.” He was speaking about how Satan was trying to derail the work of the Holy Spirit in implementing the Second Vatican Council, by seducing Catholics with erroneous interpretations of it. 

One should also note how Pope Paul spoke about the devil being against “joy.” Given Pope Francis’ emphasis on joy (e.g., his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [the Joy of the Gospel], which he quoted this past Sunday in his Regina Caeli address [see below]), it is interesting to wonder about the Spiritual relationship between these two popes who are united in their battle against the devil.

In Evangelii Gaudium #3, Pope Francis refers back to his predecessor’s own apostolic exhortation on joy. “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’” (Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino).

However, Satan does not want us to experience that joy. Later in 1972, on November 15, Pope Paul spoke more about Satan. He began his address at a general audience by asking, “What are the Church’s greatest needs at the present time? Don’t be surprised at our answer and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the devil. Before clarifying what we mean, we would like to invite you to open your minds to the light that faith casts on the vision of human existence, a vision which from this observation point of faith reaches out to immense distances and penetrates to unique depths. To tell the truth, the picture that we are invited to behold with an all-encompassing realism is a very beautiful one. It is the picture of Creation, the work of God. He Himself admired its substantial beauty as an external reflection of His wisdom and power.”

In other words, Pope Paul was reflecting his joy at all the beauty in the world, a gift which comes from God. However, he asked, “But is this vision complete and correct? Are the defects in the world of no account? What of suffering and death, wickedness, cruelty and sin? In a word, what of evil? Don’t we see how much evil there is in the world — especially moral evil, which goes against man and against God at one and the same time, although in different ways? We come face-to-face with sin which is a perversion of human freedom and the profound cause of death because it involves detachment from God, the source of life. And then sin in its turn becomes the occasion and the effect of interference in us and our work by a dark, hostile agent, the devil. Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening.”

It is incredibly sad that people would want to invite that ugliness into their lives through a “black mass.” However, as Father Landry writes in his column, the much more normal route for Satan to get into our hearts is via our own choosing to ignore God’s laws and do things “my way.” May this close call in Cambridge help us to be mindful of our need for vigilance with prayer and Penance. 

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