Who or What Is the Antichrist? A Reflection on the Biblical Teaching

There is much lore about the antichrist (especially among certain Evangelicals) that is out of proportion to the attention Scripture pays to the concept, and more importantly is at possible variance from what is certainly taught. It easily becomes fodder for movies and novels: the antichrist figure steps on the scene, deceiving many, and mesmerizing the whole world with apparent miracles and a message of false peace.

But is this really what or whom the Scriptures call the antichrist? I would argue not, for in order to create such a picture one would have to splice in images from the Book of Revelation and the Letter to the Thessalonians that do not likely apply to antichrists.

In fact, the use of the term antichrist occurs only in the Johannine epistles. It does not occur in the Book of Revelation at all, though many have the mistaken idea that it does. There are plenty of beasts, dragons, harlots, demons, and satanic legions in Revelation, but no mention of antichrists.

Many also stitch the teaching about antichrists together with St. Paul’s teaching on the “man of lawlessness” (also called “the lawless one”) who is to appear just before the end. The lawless one may well be the stuff of movies, but calling him the antichrist may be to borrow too much from a concept that is more specific. While it is not inauthentic to make a connection between them (some of the Church Fathers seem to), it is not necessarily correct to do so.

In this reflection I take the position that it is improbable that the antichrist and the man of lawlessness are one and the same. In order to explain why, let’s first look at the occurrences of the term antichrist in St. John’s Epistles.

    • Little children, it is the last hour: and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time (1 John 2:18).
    • Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22).
    • By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:2–3).
    • Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! (2 John 1:7)

Note two things about antichrists. First, St. John (writing in the first century) teaches that he has already appeared. In calling this the “last hour,” St. John and the Holy Spirit do not mean that the Second Coming will take place in the next sixty minutes or even in the next few years. Rather, the teaching is that we are in the Last Age, the Age of the Messiah (also called the Age of the Church), when God is sending out His angels to the four winds to gather all the elect from the ends of the earth (cf Mark 4:21). Sadly, St. John also teaches that the antichrist has already come as well.

Second, after saying that the antichrist has come, St. John immediately clarifies by saying that actually many antichrists have appeared.

Thus St. John does not seem to present the antichrist as a single figure who has come. Rather, he says that there are many antichrists.

And what do these antichrists do? They perpetrate heresy, error, and false teaching. St. John notes in particular that heretics who deny that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) are antichrists. He also calls antichrists those who deny Christ having come in the flesh.

What does it mean to deny Christ having come in the flesh? It means reducing the saving work of God to mere appearances by claiming that Jesus did not actually take up a human nature but only appeared to do so. By extension, these same antichrists reduce the Christian moral and spiritual life to mere gnostic ideas rather than a true flesh-and-blood, body-and-soul change in our lives.

Many today extend these denials of the incarnation by undermining the historic authenticity of the Gospels, doubting or outright denying what Jesus actually said and did. Some of them say that Jesus’ resurrection was not a bodily one, but rather that His “ideas live on.” There can be no more fundamental heresy that to deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. As St. Paul says, And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins … [and] we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:14-17).

Thus St. John, along with all the early Church, emphatically upholds an incarnational faith. We could actually touch our God and He touched us by taking up our human nature. He suffered on the cross and died. And though His suffering was tied to His human nature (for His divine nature is impassible), Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, hypostatically united to His human nature, suffered and died for us. It was this same human nature that God raised from the dead, gloriously transformed.

John takes up this theme elsewhere when he says that Christ came in water and in blood, not in water alone (cf 1 John 5:6). A certain heretic of that time, Cerinthus, held that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity departed just before Jesus’ passion. John refutes this, insisting that just as at His baptism Jesus’ divine nature was affirmed (This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased), so also was it affirmed during the shedding of His blood on Calvary (the inspired word of God records the centurion, on seeing the manner of Jesus’ death, saying, Surely this was the Son of God (Mat 27:54)). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, though of two natures, is one person, and He did in fact die suffer and die for us.

Thus to St. John, the essence of the antichrist is denial that Jesus came in the flesh. An antichrist is one who would relegate Jesus’ presence among us to mere appearances or His teachings to mere abstractions or ideals rather than transformative realities.

By extension, it can be argued that the term antichrist refers to all deceivers, though only logically, not specifically in the text. St. John does not indicate that he means the term antichrist this broadly, but in a wider sense all heresy pertains to the antichrist because Jesus Christ is the truth. Jesus teaches through His apostles that to deny the truth is to deny Christ Himself; it is to deny truth itself and thus to be an antichrist.

So perhaps this is not fodder for movies and novels after all; sorry! And that’s a shame because the term antichrist is so catchy! This brings us to a discussion of the man of lawlessness (or the lawless one).

What or who is the man of lawlessness whom St. Paul mentions and how is he related to the antichrist? As I stated above, I do not think there is a connection. To see why, let’s consider what St. Paul teaches:

    • As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the Man of lawlessness is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:1–4).
    • For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:7–10).

Note the following crucial differences between antichrists and the lawless one:

  1. John speaks of antichrists in the plural whereas St. Paul speaks in the singular: the man of lawlessness or the lawless one.
  2. The lawless one’s deceptions are rather general (every kind of wicked deception), whereas deceptions of antichrists are more specifically related to denying the incarnation of the Son of God.

Jesus also speaks of those who will lead many astray, though He speaks of them in the plural and is likely referring to occurrences in the first century during the time leading up to the war with the Romans in 70 A.D: For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts here as well as a lot of singulars and plurals to sort out and time frames to consider. Permit me the following conclusions:

  1. Antichrist is a more restrictive term than most people today think. While the antichrist is not a single person but rather any number of persons, the concept of antichrists seems limited to those who deny that Jesus is the Christ, come in the flesh. However, the term can possibly be applied to heretics in general.
  2. Jesus warns of false prophets and messiahs, but the context of His warning seems to be the first century and the looming destruction of Jerusalem not the end times per se. Further, He speak of many false prophets, not a single one.
  3. It is the man of lawlessness spoken of by St. Paul that most fits the charismatic figure of our “movie script,” a person able to unite the world in a false peace by mesmerizing and deceiving the nations. This lawless one will signal the end times. While I am not saying that these are the end times, I will note that the advent of instant, worldwide communication has made things easier than ever before for the lawless one. One individual actually could mesmerize and deceive all the nations—right on the worldwide web!

All that said, I believe that equating this lawless one with one of the beasts of Revelation or with the antichrist may be too speculative, and possibly inaccurate.

I hope I haven’t toyed with your “movie script” too much, but Scripture is nuanced in these matters and we do well to avoid reducing its teachings to popular concepts and catchy notions.

Scripture does speak to us of the end times and of difficult times preceding them, but the information is often given in general, even cryptic, terms. It is as if Scripture wants to tell us to be ready and to let us know that we don’t need to (and shouldn’t want to) know all the details. Just be ready, and when those times set in remember that Christ has already won the battle. Viva Christo Rey!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Who or What Is the Antichrist? A Reflection on the Biblical Teaching

What I Saw While Serving on a Grand Jury (Part One)

In early September, I was summoned to serve on a criminal grand jury here in Washington, D.C. through mid-October. It was difficult and emotionally draining work; I frequently wondered why the Lord would permit such a huge addition to my already overwhelming schedule. When I complained to Him, all I got back was that He wanted me to see something.

Many expressed their surprise that a priest would be compelled to serve. Frankly, as a clergyman, I fully expected to be dismissed. As I discovered, however, grand juries are quite different from petit juries, from which priests, religious, and other sorts of people who might sway fellow jurors are often dismissed. Very few occupations (e.g., active duty military personnel) are exempted from serving on a grand jury.

As that morning unfolded, I began to realize I wasn’t going to escape this time. By noon it became clear that I was going to have to serve not just for one day or one trial but every weekday for the next five weeks, from nine to five. Don’t expect to be called and told not to come in, they warned us, because there’s just too much work to be done; you’ll be reviewing evidence on over forty cases. I didn’t think it was possible for me to get any busier, but I just had. Twenty-three of us were sworn in and marched over to the grand jury room. Suddenly, my tightly scheduled calendar was thrown into complete disarray. My staff was shocked; they were bewildered by all the implications of a pastor being essentially unreachable every working day during normal business hours.

What is a grand jury? Grand juries are called “grand” because they are typically composed of more members than are petit juries. In our jurisdiction, a grand jury has 23 members, with 16 required for a quorum. Petit juries are typically composed of 12 jurors and two alternates. Another difference is that grand juries do not determine guilt or innocence; rather, they examine the evidence and decide whether there is “probable cause” for it to proceed to trial. In effect, grand juries exist as a kind of buffer, protecting citizens from overly aggressive prosecution. If the jury finds that sufficient evidence exists in relation to the charge(s), it returns an indictment. If not, it issues an “ignoramus” (meaning “we are ignorant” or “we don’t know”).

I was not fully prepared for what the Lord wanted me to see. Indeed, I found myself peering into a deep, deep darkness. In the midst of it, though, I also saw light.

As for the darkness, it was very dark. In our jurisdiction there are five grand juries seated and working at any given time. I was assigned to the one focused on the very worst kinds of cases: first degree murder, assault with intent to kill, assault with a deadly weapon, negligent homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, and aggravated rape. I am not permitted to reveal any details, but I can say that those details are now written deeply in my heart. On many evenings, after hearing testimony and viewing evidence all day, I went into the rectory chapel and wept. So many of the killings and attacks considered by such grand juries are brutal and cold-blooded, not acts committed in the heat of a passion but rather planned and vengeful. Serving on one, I wondered how people could have the capacity to be so cruel to fellow human beings. I don’t know how some of the victims could ever really recover. All I could do was to sigh inwardly and pray as we saw the evidence and heard the victims testify.

Another thing that both surprised me and added to my sorrow was to discover that in so many incidents there is significant video evidence – sometimes of the very crime itself being committed. It is clear to me now that there are video cameras just about everywhere. It is one thing to see a violent crime “committed” in a movie, but quite another to watch a real one. It is impossible for me to drive past certain locations in this city now and not feel a solemn reverence for what I know happened there. May God have mercy on the victims, many dead, but some still living though forever changed. May God also have mercy on the perpetrators, who somehow lost their way in a world of darkness, evil, and hopelessness that so often sets up in the poorest areas of the city.

When God told me that He wanted me to see something, I thought that I had seen it before. As pastor of St. Thomas More parish in Ward 8, I spent eight years living in one of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods. Even there, however, I was surrounded with a loving, supportive parish family. During that time there were two murders on our parish grounds (one by stabbing, the other by shooting), but we were able to come together and heal. We even responded by building a five-million-dollar community center to try to get kids off the streets and away from gangs.

But this was different. I think it was both the sheer number of violent cases and the “up-close” experience of them through video footage and witness testimony. Although I was surrounded by the other grand jurors, the mandated secrecy outside the jury room meant that we could only discuss things within the formal setting.

Doxology

You told me, Lord, that you wanted me to see something. I did indeed see it. I am now more mindful to pray and offer Masses for what I saw. I am not sure what to do about all the situations that lead to the kinds of crimes we investigated, but I am more aware of the burdens that others carry and the things they suffer, particularly in areas of this city where there is frequent disorder and violent crime. What You had me see weighs heavily on me, but You, O Lord, surely carried the heaviest burden of all when, dying on the cross, the full horror of every sin ever committed or to be committed, including my own, flashed before You and increased Your pain. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for what You endured. I carry only a sliver of the cross You bore; I have seen and know a minuscule fraction of what You do. I can only be more grateful for what You did for us on that dreadful hill of Golgotha, where the full fury of our anger and inhumanity was violently unleashed upon You. I am grateful for Your mercy, Lord, so grateful. We need it more than ever.

I wrote above that I also saw light – in a place I did not expect. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What I Saw While Serving on a Grand Jury

Satan is Real

Once again it is necessary to reiterate the true, Catholic, and biblical teaching on Satan and demons. Contrary to what Superior General of the Society of Jesus Fr. Arturo Sosa stated in a recent interview, the Church does not teach that Satan is merely a symbol or an idea. He is not the “personification of evil”; he is a person, an individual creature, a fallen angelic being (as are all demons). Scripture uses personal pronouns in referring to Satan and demons (e.g., he, him, they). The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that Satan is an existing creature, a fallen angel who is envious of us and is a murderer from the beginning:

      • Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil.” The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing (CCC # 391).
      • Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls “a murderer from the beginning,” who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from his Father. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God (CCC # 394).

This is Church teaching. Let no one be misled by the Fr. Sosa’s erroneous statements or by the implications that follow from his unfortunate, repeated remarks. Let no one be so unwise as to dismiss the truth that we have an enemy who is very much alive who commands legions of fallen angels. We must accept this as a definitive teaching of the faith and be sober about it.

Any exorcist or anyone who has ever assisted in an exorcism can well affirm Satan’s reality and his deep hatred for humanity and all that pertains to God.

As a more extended lesson, I’d like to point out some things I have written before about certain teachings and cautions that come from the Rite of Exorcism.

The Rite of Exorcism presupposes the Catholic teaching that Satan and all demons are persons. They are addressed as persons and commanded to reveal their names, ranks, and other pertinent information. These angelic persons respond, often reluctantly and with fury at first, but later, as their power is broken, with cries and whimpers. The exorcist is clearly addressing an angelic person, a fallen angel who then reacts and responds.

As he is dealing with a being who is both a creature of God and a fallen angelic person, the exorcist must find a balance. Sadly, he must usually inflict pain upon demons in order to drive them out. This is done through the prayers of the Rite of Exorcism and through other things recommended by the rite such as the use of holy water, the use of relics, the touch of a stole, and the use of the Holy Cross.

The exorcist must be careful not to hate demons or harbor unjust anger toward them. If he were to do so, they would have him; he would be drawn into their territory. If they can get him to hate and have vengeful anger, he will be theirs, little better than they save for the possibility that he can still repent.

Hence, the exorcist and any who would pray for deliverance from demons for themselves or others, do well to stay inside the norms of the Church and Scripture. These norms warn and set limits for those who would confront demons, lest they stray by pride or anger.

What are some of these norms? Here are just a few, but they are properly cautionary to be sure:

      • A lay person should never undertake to drive out demons except by the following simple formula: “I command you, all evil spirits, to leave me at once in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.” At no time should a lay person ever engage a demon in conversation, ask questions, or in any way seek information.
      • Priests who only engage in minor exorcisms are similarly limited. While they are permitted to use more elaborate imprecatory prayers (found in the Manuals of Minor Exorcisms), priests are not to go beyond the commands therein. They are not to ask questions or to demand names or signs from demons.
      • Only appointed exorcists, delegated by the bishop, may or should ask things such as these: names and numbers of demons, their time of entry, why they possessed the individual, their rank, and so forth. The rite makes clear that only necessary questions should be asked. Other extraneous information is both unnecessary and potentially harmful.
      • Within the formal Rite of Exorcism, an exorcist does well to stick to the formulas, expressions, and norms of the rite. Banter, insulting language, and toe-to-toe debate are to be avoided. Good exorcists indicate that returning to the prayers of the rite is essential when demons seek to engage in debate, ridicule, and/or diversionary talk. Obmutesce pater mendacii (Be silent, father of lies) is a quick command from the rite to order the demons to be silent, and it is a good way to refuse to enter into pointless conversation.

Scripture also attests to the need to refrain from reviling demons:

For even Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a reviling judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)

Further, hate and ridicule of any person (angelic or human) whom God has created is an ungodly attitude. Scripture says,

For you O Lord love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate (Wisdom 11:24).

Therefore, anyone who confronts demons or suffers their oppression is warned that hatred, unjust anger, reviling, and ridiculing, is no way to fight them, for if we do so we become like them.

That said, exorcists and priests must often use strong language approved by the minor and major prayers of exorcism, most of which are drawn from Scripture or Sacred Tradition.

Consider, for example, the following rebuke of Satan from Scripture:

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the lake of fire (Is 14:12-15).

These verses speak truth. They do not revile; they state what happened and point to Lucifer’s prideful fall.

The Rite of Exorcism has collected many descriptions from Scripture and Tradition. They are not intended to ridicule or revile but rather to remind Satan of who and what he has chosen to become. They remind him of his pride, his destruction by God’s justice, his ultimate fate, and the many ways he seeks to harm us. Consider, then, some of the “titles” and descriptions of Satan drawn from both the old and new rites of exorcism:

      • Enemy of the faith
      • Foe of the human race
      • Carrier of death
      • Robber of life
      • Shirker of justice
      • Root of evil
      • Fomenter of vice
      • Seducer of men
      • Traitor of the nations
      • Instigator of envy
      • Font of avarice
      • Source of discord
      • Exciter of sorrows
      • Transgressor
      • Seducer full of deceit and lies
      • Enemy of virtue
      • Persecutor of the innocent
      • Horrible dragon
      • Prince of accursed murder
      • Author of incest
      • Leader of sacrilege
      • Teacher of all negative action
      • Teacher of heretics
      • Inventor of every obscenity
      • Hateful one
      • Scourge
      • Unclean spirit
      • Infernal adversary
      • Evil dragon
      • Inventor and teacher of every lie
      • Enemy of man’s salvation
      • Prince of this world
      • Deceiver of the human race
      • Ancient foe of mankind
      • Father of lies
      • Evil dragon
      • Cunning serpent

(I have compiled a pdf containing a list of these in both Latin and English here: Titles of Satan from the Rite of Exorcism.)

Thus, whether driving out Satan in a major exorcism or seeking to expel his oppression in a minor exorcism, all are cautioned not to stray from the understandings and descriptions of Satan that the Church provides in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Again, the reason for this is that Satan seeks to draw us into his world of hatred and revilement. Do not go there in your thoughts and surely not in your heart.

It may be hard to accept, but God does not hate Satan. God does not hate even the worst of sinners. Justice requires God to recognize the final disposition of a person (angelic or human). Some are justly permitted to live apart from God’s kingdom in a hellacious parallel universe; that is their permanent choice. But God does not hate fallen angels or fallen humans. God is love, and love does not hate—and neither should we.

We ought to be sober about what sin has done to demons, fallen angels who were once glorious. Now, through the disfigurement of sin, they are in darkness and are horribly contrary to the glory for which they were made. They are to be pitied and kept at a distance. They will not change because angels choose once and for all. Their lies are to be resisted. Though they can still appear as lightsome, it is only for a time, and then their terrifying state of horror and darkness roars forth.

Remember, too, what the Catechism says about Satan’s power and why he permits some limited influence by demons:

The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (CCC #395).

Do not be deceived. Satan is real and we must resist him, strong in our faith. However, do not be so terrified that you forget that God, His angels, and the grace He bestows on us are more powerful and that God limits what demons can do. Trust God; call to Him; frequently recite the 91st Psalm. Be sober and watchful and stay distant from the once-glorious fallen angels we rightly call demons.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Satan is Real

Four Common Tactics of the Devil

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in demonic possession. Movies and books, along with human fears and fascinations, are largely the cause. Although actual demonic possession is somewhat rare, it does occur. Each diocese ought to have an appointed exorcist to assess possession. This exorcist, with the permission of the bishop, should use the Rite of Major Exorcism when true and morally certain possession has been determined.

But because actual possession is quite rare, most of us should be looking out for the more common ways that the devil attacks us. His usual tactics are more subtle and pervasive, and we ought not let the exotic distract us from the more commonplace.

One of the key elements in any contest is to understand the tactics of your opponent and to recognize the subtleties of his strategy. In the spiritual battle of life we need to develop some sophistication in recognizing, naming, and understanding the subtleties of the Devil’s common tactics.

A 2011 book by Fr. Louis Cameli, The Devil You Don’t Know, is of great assistance in this matter. Having read it a couple of years ago, I think it would be of value to reflect on four broad categories of the Devil’s tactics, which Fr. Cameli analyzes in his book.

While the four categories are Fr. Cameli’s, the reflections here are largely my own, though surely rooted in Fr. Cameli’s excellent work. I highly recommend reading the work, in which the categories are more fully described.

Here are four common tactics of the devil.

I. Deception – Jesus says, The devil was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).

The devil deceives us with many false and empty promises. Most of these relate to the lie that we will be happier and more fulfilled if we sin or deny aspects of the truth. Whatever passing pleasures come with sin, they are just that—passing. Great and accumulated suffering eventually comes from almost all sinful activity. Yet despite this experience, we humans remain very gullible; we seem to love empty promises and put all sorts of false hopes in them.

The devil also deceives us by suggesting all sorts of complexities, especially in our thinking. He seeks to confuse us and conceal the fundamental truth about our actions. Our minds are very wily and love to indulge complexity as a way of avoiding the truth and making excuses. So we, conniving with the devil, entertain endless complications by asking, “But what if this? And what about that?” Along with the devil, we project all sorts of possible difficulties, exceptions, or potential sob stories in order to avoid insisting that we or others behave well and live according to the truth.

The devil also seeks to deceive us with “wordsmithing.” And thus the dismemberment and murder of a child through abortion becomes “reproductive freedom” or “choice.” Sodomy is called “gay” (a word that used to mean “happy”). Our luminous Faith and ancient wisdom are called “darkness” and “ignorance.” Fornication is called “cohabitation.” The redefinition of marriage as it is been known for millennia is labeled “marriage freedom” or “marriage equality.” And thus through exaggerations and outright false labeling, the devil deceives us. We too easily cooperate by calling “good,” or “no big deal,” what God calls sinful.

The devil also deceives us through sheer volume of information. Information is not the same as truth. Data can be assembled very craftily to make deceptive points. Further, certain facts and figures can be emphasized to the exclusion of other balancing truths. And thus even information that is true in itself can become a form of deception. The news media sometimes exercise their greatest power in what they do not report. And this, too, is a way that the devil brings deceptions upon us.

We do well to carefully assess the many ways Satan seeks to deceive us. Do not believe everything you think or hear. And while we ought not be cynical, we ought to be sober. We should seek to verify what we see and hear and square it with God’s revealed truth.

II. Division – One of Jesus’ final prayers for us was that we would be one (cf John 17:22). He prayed this at the Last Supper just before He went out to suffer and die for us. As such, He highlights that a chief aspect of his work on the cross is to overcome the divisions intensified by Satan. Some point out that the Greek root of the word “diabolical” (diabolein) means to cut, tear, or divide. Jesus prays and works to reunify what the devil divides.

The devil’s work of division starts within each one of us as we experience many contrary drives: some noble, creative, and edifying; others base, sinful, and destructive. So often we struggle internally and feel torn apart, much as Paul describes in Romans chapter 7: The good that I want to do, I do not do … and when I try to do good, evil is at hand. This is the work of the devil: to divide us within. And as St. Paul lays out in Romans 8, the chief work of the Lord is to establish within us the unity of soul and body, in accordance with the unity of His truth.

And of course the devil’s attack against our inner unity spills out into many divisions among us externally. So many things help drive this division and the devil surely taps into them all: anger, past hurts, resentments, fears, misunderstandings, greed, pride, and arrogance. There is also the impatience that we so easily develop regarding those we love, and the flawed notion that we should seek other more perfect and desirable people. And thus many abandon their marriages, families, churches, and communities, always in search of the elusive goal of finding better and more perfect people and situations.

Yes, the devil has a real field day tapping into a plethora of sinful drives within us. His goal is always to divide us, both internally, and from one another. We do well to recognize that regardless of our struggles with others, we all share a common enemy. As St Paul writes, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Feuding brothers will reconcile when there is a maniac at the door. But the first step is noticing the maniac, and then setting aside lesser divisions.

III. Diversion – To be diverted is to be turned away from our primary goal or task. And for all of us, the most critical focus is God and the good things waiting for us in Heaven. Our path is toward Heaven, along the path of faith, obedience to the truth, love of God, and love of neighbor. And thus the devil does all that he can to turn us away from our one true goal.

Perhaps he will do this by making us too absorbed in the passing things of the world. Many claim that they are too busy to pray, or go to Church, or seek other forms of spiritual nourishment. They become absorbed in passing, worldly things and ignore the lasting reality that looms.

Anxieties and fears also distract us. Through these, the devil causes us to fixate on fears about passing things and fail to have the proper fear of the judgment that awaits us. Jesus says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28). In other words, we should have a holy reverence and fear directed towards the Lord. In this way, many of our other fears will be seen in better perspective, or will even go away altogether. But in this matter of fear, the devil says just the opposite: we should be afraid of the thousands of things that might afflict us on this passing earth, and not think about the one most significant thing that awaits us—our judgment.

At the heart of all diversion is the fact that the devil wants us to focus on lesser things in order to avoid focusing on greater things such as a moral decisions and the overall direction of our life.

Once again, we must learn to focus on what matters most and refuse to allow our attention to be diverted to lesser things.

IV. Discouragement – As human beings, and certainly as Christians, it is good to have high aspirations. But Satan often seeks to poison that which is good. For along with high aspirations we sometimes lack the humility to recognize that we must make a journey to what is good and best. Too easily, then, Satan tempts us to be impatient with ourselves or others. We sometimes expect to reach our aspirations in an unreasonably short amount of time and show a lack charity toward ourselves or others. Some grow discouraged with themselves or others and give up on the pursuit of holiness. Others give up on the church because of the imperfections found there.

The devil also discourages us with open-ended aspirations. The fact is, there is always room for improvement; we can always do more. But here the devil enters, for if we can always do more, then it is also possible to think that we’ve never done enough. And thus the devil discourages us, sowing unreasonable demands within us as to what we can or should do each day.

The devil also discourages us through simple things like fatigue, personal failings, setbacks, and other obstacles that are common to our human condition and to living in a fallen world with limited resources.

In all these ways the devil seeks to discourage us, to make us want to give up. Only a properly developed sense of humility can help to save us from these discouraging works of Satan. Humility, which is reverence for the truth about ourselves, teaches us that we grow and develop slowly, that we do have setbacks, and that we live in a world that is hard and far from perfect. Being humble and recognizing these things helps us to lean more on the Lord, and to trust in His providential help, which grows in us incrementally.

Here, then, are four common tactics of the devil. Learn to recognize and name them. In this way we can start to gain authority over them. Consider reading Fr. Louis Cameli’s book to learn more.

I have compiled here a list of demonic titles and descriptions from the Rite of Major Exorcism that refer to some of these tactics of the Father of Lies. You can view it here: Titles of Satan from the Rite.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Four Common Tactics of the Devil

The Progressive Stages of Sin

We are living in times when many are doubling down on their sin. As the darkness grows, many fiercely defend their sinful practices. This is especially evident in the matter of abortion. The science could not be clearer that there is a unique, beautifully formed, distinct human life in the womb of a pregnant mother, with a heartbeat, brain activity, alternating sleep and wake cycles, and the ability to feel pain. Despite this, many demand that all limits on abortion be removed. They “shout” and celebrate abortion, rejoicing in the dismemberment of babies in the womb and all the while considering themselves morally superior to those who support life.

How does it happen that so many obstinately persist in sin and promote wickedness until they are ultimately lost? As with all progressive diseases, sin is a sickness that moves through stages, further debilitating and hardening the sinner in his ways.

St. Alphonsus Liguori laid out five stages through which sin (if not resisted and repented of in its initial attacks) takes an increasing toll on the human person, making repentance less likely and more difficult.

While the names of the stages are mine, I am summarizing the insights of St. Alphonsus, who details these stages in his lengthy essay, “Considerations on the Eternal Maxims” (also called “Preparation for Death”) in Chapter 22, “On Evil Habits.” I have added some of my own additional insights as well.

Stage 1: Impairment – The first effect of habitual sin is that it blinds the understanding. Scripture says, Their own malice blinded them (Wisdom 2:21). Yes, every sin produces blindness, and the more that sins are multiplied, the greater the blindness they produce.

A further effect of this blindness is a foolish and dangerous wandering about. Scripture provides several references for this:

        • The wicked walk round about (Ps. 12:8).
        • They stagger as with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment (Is 28:7).
        • Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the pit that he has made (Ps 7:14-15).

Thus, habitual sin leads to impaired vision and an impaired walk. Not seeing, the wicked stumble about and fall into a pit of their own making.

Stage 2: Indifference – After an evil habit is contracted, the sins that previously excited sorrow are now viewed with increasing indifference. Scripture says the following:

        • Fools destroy themselves because of their indifference (Prov 1:32).
        • But he who is careless of conduct will die (Prov 19:16).

To the increasingly indifferent and careless, the Lord gives this solemn and salutary warning: In little more than a year you who feel secure will tremble; the grape harvest will fail, and the harvest of fruit will not come (Is 32:10).

Thus, as unrepented sin grows, not only does the sinner stagger about and fall into pits, he cares less and less about the foolishness of his ways. The sins that once caused shame, or the thought of which caused sorrow and aversion, either go unnoticed or seem normal—even attractive.

Stage 3: Incapacity – As sin deepens its hold, the willingness and even the capacity to repent decreases. Why is this? St. Augustine answers this well when he says, dum servitur libidini, facta est consuetudo, et dum consuetudini non resistitur, facta est necessitas (when lust was served it became habit, and when habit was not resisted it became necessity) (Confessions, 8.5.10). Sin deepens its hold on the sinner in this way.

Stage 4: Incorrigibility – As Scripture says, The wicked man, when he is come into the depths of sins, has contempt (Proverbs 18:3). St. John Chrysostom commented on this verse, saying that habitual sinners, being sunk in the abyss of darkness, despise corrections, sermons, censures, Hell, and God; they despise everything.

A bad habit hardens the heart and the habitual sinner remains increasingly unmoved and mired in contempt for any correction or remedy. Scripture says of them, At your rebuke O God of Jacob, they have all slumbered (Psalm 76:7). An evil habit gradually takes away all remorse and replaces it with angry indignation at any attempted correction.

Then, instead of regretting his sins, the sinner rejoices in them, even laughing and boasting of them. Scripture says,

        • They are glad when they have done evil and rejoice in the perverseness of evil (Proverbs 2:14).
        • A fool works mischief as if it were for sport (Proverbs 10:23).

Thus, they are incorrigible. They laugh at attempted correction and celebrate their sins with pride.

Stage 5: Indisposition – When the understanding is deprived of light and the heart is hardened, the sinner ordinarily dies obstinate in his sin. Scripture says, A hard heart shall fare ill at the end (Ecclesiastes 3:27).

Some may say that they will amend their ways before they die, but it’s very difficult for a habitual sinner, even in old age, to change his life. St. Bernard said, “The man on whom the weight of a bad habit presses, rises with difficulty.”

Indeed, how can a sinner, weakened and wounded by habitual sin, have the strength to rise? Even if he sees the way out, he often considers the remedies too severe, too difficult. Though conversion is not impossible, he is indisposed because it all seems like too much work. In addition, his love has likely grown cold for the good things that God offers.

Thus, even on their deathbeds, many sinners remain unmoved and unwilling to change; the darkness is deep, their hearts have hardened, and their sloth has solidified.

In these ways sin is like a progressive illness, a deepening disease; it moves through stages in much the same way that cancer does. Repentance at any stage is possible, but it becomes increasingly unlikely, especially by stage four, when the sinner becomes proud of his sin and joyful in his iniquity.

Beware the progressive illness of sin!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Progressive Stages of Sin

Why the Road to Hell Is Wide and Many Walk on It

In the gospels there is a warning from Jesus that too many people just brush aside:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matt 6:12-13).

I have commented at some length in the past on the serious problem of universalism (the notion that nearly everyone goes to Heaven). I will not create another post on that topic just now, but you can read one of those older posts here: Hell is for real and not rare.

To summarize, most people today have the teaching backwards. Whereas Jesus said that many are on the road to destruction and only a few travel the narrow road (of the cross) to salvation, most claim that many go to Heaven and only a few (if any) go to Hell. Don’t make that mistake. Jesus is not playing games with us. No one loves us more than Jesus does, and no one warned us more of judgment and Hell than He did. Even though He didn’t provide exact percentages for each category, do not try to make many mean few and few mean many.

An obvious question to ask is why so many walk the wide road to destruction and Hell. Is it because God is stingy or despotic? No. God wants to save us all (Ez 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4). The real answer is that we are hard to save, and we must become more sober about that. We have hard hearts, thick skulls, and innumerable other traits that make us a difficult case.

If a third of the angels fell, that ought to make us very aware of our own similar tendency to do so. This should make us humbler about our own situation. The fallen angels had intellects vastly superior to ours, and their angelic souls were not weighed down with the many bodily passions that beset us—but still, they fell!

Adam and Eve, possessing preternatural gifts and existing before all the weaknesses we inherited from sin, also fell. Are we, in our present unseemly state and vastly less gifted than the angels, really going to claim that we are not in any real danger or that we are easy to save?

We need to sober up and run to God with greater humility, admitting that we are a hard case and in desperate need of the medicines and graces that God offers. He offers us His Word, the sacraments, holy fellowship, and lots of prayer! We need not panic, but we do need to be far more urgent than most people are about themselves and those they love.

Consider some of the following things that make us difficult to save:

We have hard hearts and stubborn wills. While some of what this includes is specified in more detail below, this is a good place to begin. God, speaking to us through Isaiah the Prophet, said, I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is bronze(Is 48:4). He is talking about us!

We are obtuse in our desires. If something is forbidden, we seem to want it all the more. St. Paul laconically observed, When the commandment came, sin sprang to life (Rom 7:9). If something is harmful, we want it in abundance, but if it is helpful, we are often averse to it. We like our sweets and our salty snacks, but vegetables rot in the refrigerator. In the desert the people of Israel longed for melons, leeks, onions, and the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves. When it came to the Bread from Heaven, the Holy Manna, they said, We are disgusted with this wretched manna (Num 21:5). We are obtuse; that is, we are turned outward toward sin instead of inward toward God in a Holy embrace. Jesus sadly remarked that judgment would go poorly for many because The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19).

We don’t like to be told what to do. Even if we know we ought to do something or to stop doing something, the mere fact that someone is telling us often makes us either dig in our heels and refuse, or else comply resentfully rather than wholeheartedly.

We are not docile. When we were very young, we were fascinated with the world around us and kept asking, “Why, Mommy?” or “Why, Daddy?” As we got older, our skull thickened; we stopped asking why. We figured we knew better than anyone around us. The problem just worsens with age, unless grace intervenes. St Paul lamented, For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-5).

We love distraction and don’t listen. Even when saving knowledge is offered to us, we are too often tuned out, distracted, and resistant. ADHD is nothing new in the human family. God said through Jeremiah, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus invoked Isaiah to explain why He spoke to the crowds only in parables: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed (Is 6:10).

We are opinionated. We tend to think that something is true or right merely because we think it or agree with it. There is nothing wrong with having opinions, even strong ones, about what is right and true, but if God’s Word or the Church’s formal teaching challenges your opinion, you’d better consider changing it or at least making distinctions. The last time I checked, God is just a little smarter than we are. His official teaching in the Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church is inspired; we are not. Scripture says, All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Is 55:8). Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Is 29:16) Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” (Is 45:9) Despite this, many go on with their own opinions and will not abide even the clear correction of God.

We have darkened intellects due to unruly and dominating passions. Our strong and unruly passions cloud our mind and seek to compel our will. Too easily, without training and practice in virtue, our baser faculties come to dominate our higher faculties, making unreasonable demands for satisfaction. We love to tell ourselves lots of lies. We suppress the truth and our senseless minds become darkened (Romans 1:21). The Catechism says, The human mind … is hampered in the attaining of … truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful (CCC #37). The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium 16, says, But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

We are lemmings. We are too easily swayed by what is popular. We prefer modern notions to ancient and tested wisdom. Tattoos, tongue bolts, and piercings are in? Quick, run out and get one! Whatever the fad or fashion, no matter how foolish, harmful, or immodest, many clamor for it. Hollywood stars get divorces and soon enough everyone is casting aside biblical teaching against it. The same goes for many other moral issues. What was once thought disgraceful is now paraded on Main Street and celebrated. Like lemmings, we run along with the crowd to celebrate what was once called sin (and is still sinful). Instead of following God, we follow human beings. We follow them and the “culture” they create, often mindlessly.

We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Many seem to abide all of this quite well and make a nice little home here in this world.

If all this isn’t enough, consider a “few” others: We are so easily, in a moment, obnoxious, dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, impure, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, harsh, impatient, shallow, inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, untrusting, indifferent, hateful, lazy, cowardly, angry, greedy, jealous, vengeful, prideful, envious, contemptuous, stingy, petty, spiteful, indulgent, careless, neglectful, prejudiced, and just plain mean.

So, if the road to destruction is wide (and Jesus says it is), don’t blame God. The road is wide for reasons like these. We are a hard case; we are hard to save. It is not that God lacks power; it is that we refuse to address many of these shortcomings. God, who made us free, will not force us to change.

We ought not to kid ourselves into thinking that we can go on living resistant and opposed to the Kingdom of God and its values, yet magically at death we will suddenly want to enter His Kingdom, which we have resisted our whole life. Jesus said that many prefer the darkness. Is it really likely that their preference will suddenly shift? Will not the glorious light of Heaven seem harsh, blinding, and even repulsive to them? In such a case is not God’s “Depart from me” both a just and merciful response? Why force a person who hates the light to live in it? I suppose it grieves God to have to abide such a departure, but to force a person to endure Him must be even more difficult. I am sure it is with great sadness that God accepts a person’s final no.

Yes, the road is wide that leads to destruction. It is wide because of us. The narrow road is the way of the cross, which is a stumbling block and an absurdity to many (1 Cor 1:23), who simply will not abide its message.

So, we ought to be sober about the Lord’s lament. We ought also to be more urgent in our attempts to secure our own unruly soul and the souls of those we love for the Kingdom. The blasé attitude of most moderns is rooted in the extremely flawed notion that judgment and Hell are not real issues. That is a lie, for it contracts Jesus’ clear word.

Why is the road to destruction wide? Because we are hard cases; we are difficult to save. We ought not to be unduly fearful, but we ought to run to Jesus in humility and beg Him to save us from our worst enemy—our very self. If you don’t think you’re a hard case, read the list above and think again.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Why the Road to Hell Is Wide and Many Walk on It

What Is the Deepest Root of Sin? It’s Not in Your Wallet and It’s Much Closer Than You Might Think

In polling friends as to what they think is the deepest root of all sin, I got three main answers. One was a shrug indicating no answer at all (i.e., “I dunno”). Another was to refer to Scripture: For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim 6:10). I’ll discuss below why this is an inadequate answer. The third main response was that original sin (and the concupiscence that followed) is the source of all of our other sins. The only problem with that answer is that it doesn’t explain Adam and Eve’s (original) sin, nor does it explain the fall of the angels, who seem to have fallen in great numbers without original sin or concupiscence and are now demons. Therefore an even deeper root must be sought.

Referencing St. Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, permit me to answer that the deepest root of all sin is inordinate self-love. From this root springs all sin, including the original sin of Adam and that of the angels. It is true that our fallen condition has intensified the problem of inordinate self-love, but the possible temptation to it was there before.

For to what else did Satan appeal when he said to Eve, and you will be like God (Gen 3:5)? And indeed, by what were Lucifer and all the other fallen angels tempted when they mysteriously rebelled and, in effect, declared their non serviam (I will not serve)? Adam and Eve as well as all the angels (though sinless and not fallen) chose to love themselves more than God. They would not love or trust God more than they loved themselves. For the angels it was a “one and you’re done” decision. For us, the drama continues, but will end with our definitive and lasting decision either to love God or to love our own self more.

The inordinate love of self is the most fundamental root of all sin. We all know its power and its pernicious quality. Even the most wonderful things we do are tainted when we do them more for personal praise and glory than for love of God and neighbor.

Let me summarize a few insights from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. He begins from Scripture.

From inordinate self-love, the root of every sin, spring the three concupiscences which St. John speaks of when he says: “For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world” (1 John 2:16).

The concupiscence of the flesh is the inordinate desire of what is, or seems to be, useful to the preservation of the individual and of the species, [Gluttony and Lust] … Voluptuousness can thus become an idol …

The concupiscence of the eyes is the inordinate desire of all that can please the sight: of luxury, wealth, money … From this is born avarice [greed]. The avaricious man ends by making his treasure his god, adoring it and sacrificing everything to it: his time, his strength, his family, and sometimes, his eternity …

The pride of life is the inordinate love of our own excellence … [from this is born pride, anger, envy, and sloth]. [He who has pride of life] ends by becoming his own god, as Lucifer did.

Inordinate self-love leads us to death, according to the Savior’s words: “He that loveth his life (in an egotistical manner) shall lose it; and he that hateth (or sacrifices) his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal” (Jn 12:25). … Only a greater love, the love of God, can conquer self-love. (Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (Tan Publications) Vol 1: 300-301, 368-370)

St. Thomas says, “All sinful acts spring from inordinate self-love, which hinders us from loving God above all else and tempts us to turn away from him” (Summa Theologica I, IIae, q. 77 a. 4; et 84, a. 4).

[E]very sinful act proceeds from inordinate desire for some temporal good. Now the fact that anyone desires a temporal good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish anyone some good is to love him. Therefore it is evident that inordinate love of self is the cause of every sin (Summa Theologica 77.4 respondeo).

To the objection that Scripture says, “For the love of money [literally covetousness] is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10), St. Thomas responds,

The desire of money is said to be the root of sins, not as though riches were sought for their own sake, as being the last end; but because they are much sought after as useful for any temporal end. And since a universal good is more desirable than a particular good, they move the appetite more than any individual goods, which along with many others can be procured by means of money (Summa Theologica I, IIae, 84, 1 ad 2).

In other words, “money” is desired as a means not an end, not for its own sake but as a means to indulge inordinate self-love. So, inordinate self-love is a deeper root than the love of money. Money is desired to facilitate and actualize the deeper problem.

St. Thomas goes on to show how the Capital Vices (sins) flow from inordinate self-love. What follows are my own reflections, based loosely on his.

  • Pride (sometimes called vainglory) – We love our own apparent excellence more than the certain and greater excellence of God, or the excellence that may exist in others.
  • Greed – We have an excessive and insatiable love of things due to our excessive love of ourselves and the perceived need to have these things for our sake.
  • Lust – Out of excessive love of self and desire to please ourselves, we desire others for the pleasure they can give us, rather than loving them for their own sake.
  • Anger – Our excessive self-love causes us to regard many things and people (including God) fearfully and then angrily, perceiving them as threatening. So we angrily and unrighteously resist them.
  • Gluttony – Our excessive love of self causes us to satisfy our passion for food and drink beyond what is healthy in the long run, what is respectful of God, or what is generous to others.
  • Envy – Our excessive self-love and egotism give us a sadness about the goodness or excellence of others because we perceive it as lessening our own share of praise or glory.
  • Sloth – Our excessive love of self makes God seem to be a usurper of our life, our time, our opinions, or our pleasure. So we are sad about or avoid His plan for our happiness.

This, then, is the deepest root of all of our sin. We cannot simply blame the world or the devil, though they are not to be excluded either. But inordinate self-love is what gives the world and the devil easy access to us. This is the “button” they push for easy results.

This source of sin is a lot closer and far more subtle than we imagine. Only a greater love—the love of God—can conquer self-love. And thus the greatest commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matt 22:37-40).

Indeed, and so does our healing hang on these two commandments. Ask for a greater love of God, a proper love of self, and the gift to love your neighbor with that same proper love.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Is the Deepest Root of Sin? It’s Not in Your Wallet and It’s Much Closer Than You Might Think

Do Not Be Deceived: Hell Is Real

Last Judgment – Michelangelo Buonarroti (1541)

There is a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews that deserves attention because it is a more common problem than many imagine:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

When most of us read a text like this, we think only of obvious and dark cases. For example, someone’s tendency to lash out at others leads him to increasing violence and cruelty, or someone’s desire for possessions leads him to increasing stinginess and unkindness, or someone’s lust leads him to sexually promiscuity that is more and more debased and perverse. However, there are less egregious versions of what this text describes that can lead even religiously observant Catholics to become hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

An example of this is the outright, almost categorical denial of the doctrine of Hell by a large number of Catholics, even ones who attend Mass faithfully each week. Although Jesus taught it consistently, many today firmly resist the biblical teaching that many people are in significant danger of going to Hell.

It can be argued that 21 of the 38 parables have as their theme the warning of impending judgment in which some are judged unable or unwilling to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For example, there are sheep and goats; wheat and tares; those on the right and those on the left; wise virgins and foolish ones; those who accept the invitation to the wedding and those who refuse; those properly dressed and those who are not; those who are told, “Come, blessed of my Father” and those who are told, “Depart from me.” This is not the place for me to give a full teaching on these doctrines. (I have posted in more depth on these topics previously: here and here and here.)

Many today, even among the religiously observant, do not take these consistent teachings seriously. “God wouldn’t do that because He is love and compassion,” they say. “There aren’t many people in Hell, except maybe Hitler.” Most people are quite “hardened” in this “deceitful” view, to use the language from Hebrews. Even when presented with verse after verse from Scripture—most directly from Jesus’ mouth—many still stubbornly persist in rejecting what is clearly taught, saying: “Yeah, I know, but He didn’t really mean it. He won’t really do that.”

To illustrate, some years ago a woman confronted me after Mass objecting to my sermon, which included a warning about Hell for those who refuse to repent. (The Gospel for that Sunday included Jesus’ sad warning that the road to Hell was wide with many on it, while the road to salvation was narrow and only a few were walking its way and would find salvation). She said to me, “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your sermon about Hell today.” I replied, “But ma’am, I was quoting Jesus!” She did not miss a beat, saying, “Oh, please! We know He never really said that.” This reply indicates a hardening by the deceit of sin on several levels: she rejects the revealed Word of God in favor of her own views, she rejects the doctrine and warnings of Hell itself, and she remakes the Lord so that He conforms to her notions and can be worthy of her credence and worship. (We used to call this last thing “idolatry.”)

Listen again to the words from Hebrews: See to it, brothers, that none of you has an unbelieving heart … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. This refers to more than just wicked behaviors. Sometimes the hardness is a refusal to believe revealed doctrines or to accept the Lord’s serious warnings. A world hardened by the deceit of sin will not accept that there are lasting consequences for the refusal to repent. Many have allowed themselves to be influenced by it, setting aside God’s Word in favor of human ideas and preferences.

Beware of this tendency, which is so common today. Study the doctrines. Read the warnings of the Lord in Scripture. Ask questions about things that puzzle or trouble you; pray for insight—but do not be misled into sinfully and stubbornly rejecting what is revealed.

The reading for Wednesday’s Mass contains a salutary warning:

Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart. Say not, “Who can prevail against me?” for the LORD will exact the punishment. Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?” for the LORD bides his time. Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day; For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance, you will be destroyed. Rely not upon deceitful wealth, for it will be no help on the day of wrath (Sirach 5:1-10).

The Lord says these things because He loves us. He does not want us to be lost. In the end, though, God respects our freedom to say no to what He is offering. He knows how we are made and how stubborn we can be. He knows that the values of Heaven (particularly love of our enemies, forgiveness of those who have wronged us, and chastity) are not pleasing to many people. The Lord will not force us to live values like these, but they are what Heaven is about. Thus, He warns us to let Him instill a desire in us for what He offers so that we will desire the Heaven He describes. Listen to Him; He warns us in love so that He can take our heart of stone and give us a true heart to desire the Heaven He is offering.

Do not be hardened by deceitful teachings rooted in this world of sin!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Do Not Be Deceived or Hardened in the Error of Those Who Say Hell is Unlikely or Unreal