Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Satan and Saint John Vianney

Ignatius Insight Scoop August 4, 2014:
Imagine a saint – a priest – so dedicated to God that he often went days without eating, and when he did eat, it was a boiled potato or a piece of hard bread.
Although many considered him unfit for the priesthood, he revived the crushed faith of an impoverished village and often spent eighteen hours a day hearing confessions, often sleeping only an hour or two each night.
As the reputation of this holy man of God spread, pilgrims began to seek him out, sometimes waiting days for him to hear their confession, heal their illnesses, and speak directly to their deepest needs. But not everyone was so pleased. This priest began to be attacked, sometimes physically and, at other times, emotionally and psychologically. He was verbally mocked, scorned, and abused. At night he was subjected to loud and violent noises for hours on end. He was pulled from bed in the middle of the night and, on one occasion, his bed was set on fire.
Despite this constant abuse, the priest never called the police or requested security. It wouldn’t have mattered, for the abuse and taunts did not come from another human, but from Satan. The priest, of course, was St. John Vianney (1786-1859), the Curé of Ars, whose feast is celebrated August 4.
Although rightly renowned for his holiness, asceticism, and spiritual insight, the Curé of Ars was also remarkable for his courage and steadiness in the face of the Devil. For some thirty-five years (1824-1858) Satan assaulted the Saint in a nearly endless number of ways, seeking to break the will and resolve of the great man of God: making harrowing noises, singing in a wicked voice, meowing like a cat, or shouting, "Vianney! Vianney! Potato eater!"
Living Being or Scary Symbol?Many people today would understood St. John Vianney's struggles with Satan to simply be the result of psychological problems that weren’t understood or properly identified in his day.  They would explain that in a less scientific age people often attributed behaviors they didn't understand to the work of the devil, but now we can treat many such illnesses with proper medication and therapy.  Behavior that once was deemed demonic or caused by spiritual oppression can be explained by science and psychology, as newspapers, magazines, and television programs instruct us on a regular basis.
While it’s not surprising that non-Christians or non-religious people might make such assessments, there’s evidence that more and more Christians are rejecting the ancient belief that Satan is a real, living being. 
In his 1991 book, What Americans Believe (Regal Books; page 26), Evangelical pollster George Barna reported that a survey of 1005 Americans found that 60% of respondents, regardless of religious affiliation, believed that Satan was "only a symbol of evil," while 35% believed he is "a living being." Just over half of the respondents who described themselves as "born again Christians" believed Satan is a living being, while only 26% of Catholics agreed, with almost 7 out of10 Catholics saying Satan is only a symbol of evil.
In December 1993, Time magazine featured a story and an opinion poll on angels. The poll revealed that 69% of respondents believed in the existence of angels, but only 49% believed in the existence of fallen "angels or devils." Two years later, in 1995, another Barna survey revealed that about 58% of American adults believed that Satan is "not a living being but is a symbol of evil."
And, finally, an October 2002 study by the Barna Group ("Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View") found that 59% of Americans reject the existence of Satan, instead believing he is merely a symbol of evil. The study stated: "Catholics are much more likely than Protestants to hold this view – 75% compared to 55% – although a majority of both groups concur that Satan is symbolic." The study also noted that the rejection of Satan’s existence apparently conflicted with the fact that 54% of respondents believed that "a human being can be under the control or the influence of spiritual forces such as demons." The religious group with the highest percentage (59%) of members who believe that Satan is a living entity was Mormon. The group with the lowest percentage, at 17%, was Catholic.
For some people, the path from denying Satan is a living being to denying his existence in any form – even an impersonal and abstract one – is a short one. As many have noted, this is probably how Satan would prefer it. The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is credited with the saying that "the Devil's cleverest wile is to convince us that he does not exist." In his book, The Eternal Galilean, Archbishop Fulton Sheen warned readers: "Do not mock the Gospels and say there is no Satan. Evil is too real in the world to say that. Do not say the idea of Satan is dead and gone. Satan never gains so many cohorts as when, in his shrewdness, he spreads the rumor that he is long since dead."
Even though there are priests, catechists, and Catholic educators who may never speak of Satan, and who – either directly or indirectly – apparently deny his existence, Satan is not dead, nor has the Church demoted him to a vague, impersonal force. While a growing number of people, including an alarming number of Catholics, are being convinced (or have convinced themselves) that the Devil is just a figment of primitive imaginations, the Church’s teachings today about him are just as robust and clear as ever.
The Names and the Fall of Satan In a general audience titled "Confronting the Devil’s power," (November 15, 1972) Pope Paul VI said that it is a departure from "biblical Church teaching to refuse to aknowledge the Devil's existence; to regard him as a self-sustaining principle who, unlike other creatures, does not owe his origin to God; or to explain the Devil as a pseudo-reality, a conceptual, fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes." Here are expressed three major truths about Satan, all of them found in the Bible: the Devil exists, he is a creature who was created by God, and he is very real.
The name Satan appears numerous times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew word satan refers to an adversary, or to someone who plots opposition to another. It is used several times in the Old Testament to describe the work of both human and heavenly beings sent to stop, or oppose, the actions of a wrongdoer and to act as an agent of judgment on behalf of God. Eventually, in the decades immediately prior to the time of Christ, the word began to be used as a proper name – Satan – for a heavenly creature who is in complete opposition to God and who seeks to ruin His work. In Jewish apocryphal writings he is understood to be the prince of evil spirits whose expulsion from heaven was due to his refusal to recognize man as the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27).
Throughout the New Testament he is referred to by many other names, including Beelzebul (Mk 3:22; Matt 10:25; 12: 24), Belial/Beliar (2 Cor 6:15), the evil one (Matt 13:19; Jn 17:15; 1 Jn 5:18, 19), the enemy (Matt 13:25, 28, 29; Lk 10:19), the ruler of the demons (Mk 3:22), the ruler of this world (Jn 12:31; 14:30), the great dragon (Rev 12:9), the serpent, or serpent of old (2 Cor 11:3; Rev 12:9, 14, 14; 20:2), and the tempter (Matt 4:3; 1 Thess 3:5). And, of course, he is called "the Devil" (Matt 4:1; 25:41; Lk 4:2; Jn 13:2; Acts 10:38), which derives from the Greek word diabolos (Latin, diabolus), which means "slanderer" or "accuser." 

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