Yechiel was playing hide and seek with another child. He hid himself for some time, but his playmate did not look for him. Little Yechiel ran to Rabbi Baruch and said amid tears, “He did not look for me!” The Rabbi said, “That is also God’s complaint, that we seek Him not.”
Indeed, one of the most frequent laments of God is that we forget Him. So often He said, שָׁכַח (shakach): You forgot! Here are just a few examples from Scripture.
You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth (Dt. 32:18).
Your fathers forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea (Ps 106:21-22).
Your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Dt 8:14).
Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me, days without number (Jer 2:32).
You have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back (Ez 23:35).
You have forgotten Me, declares the Lord GOD (Ez 22:12).
And being satisfied, their heart became proud. Therefore, they forgot Me (Hos 13:6).
Your sons have forsaken Me and sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the harlot’s house (Jer 5:7).
Note in particular the final two, which place the source of the problem in the very gifts that God bestows. Receiving such gifts without gratitude and awe we become satiated and forget the very God who gave them to us. St. Augustine lamented this as a long source of his problem:
Late have I loved you,
Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong –I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you. (Confessions Book 10)
Yes, we are so easily forgetful and unreflective. Surrounded by God’s gifts, we grow dull of mind and claim as our own what really belongs to God.
The little child’s lament, “He did not look for me!” is God’s as well. Yet it is not God who is wounded or hurt by this—it is we. Isaiah exhorts, Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Is 55:6). In this alone is our salvation.
This song says, “Always remember Jesus. Always keep Him on your mind.”
It may seem odd to say, “Let God find you.” After all, God knows just where we are. But there is something very respectful about a God who, as Jesus says in the Book of Revelation, stands at the door and knocks. Even back in the Garden of Eden, as sinful Adam and Eve hid, God walked through the garden and called, “Where are you?”
Yes, God waits until we let him find us, until we open the door of our heart where he knocks, or until we decide to come out of hiding.
But God does knock. He sends us prophets and speaks through creation and His Word to establish a connection with us. He seeks a connection. Let God find you. Open the gift of His offer.
Something of this dynamic occurred to me while watching the John Lewis Christmas commercial below. And while the roles seem reversed, the dynamic is the same. A little girl spies a lonely man on the moon and seeks to get his attention, to connect with him somehow. But the man seems lost in his loneliness. Through perseverance, she reaches him and the connection is opened.
Let God find you. Let Him connect with you this Christmas.
In the Liturgy of the Hours this week we read a remarkable attributed to St. Macarius, a bishop of the early Church. I marvel at its vivid imagery, and yet at the same time, questions arise in my mind as to the general application of the text. In effect, the text states that if the soul does not have Christ living within, it falls into utter disrepair and a contemptible state.
Allow me to have Bishop Macarius speak for himself and then I would like to pose a few questions.
When a house has no master living in it, it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse. So too is a soul which has lost its master, who once rejoiced there with his angels. This soul is darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame.
Woe to the path that is not walked on, or along which the voices of men are not heard, for then it becomes the haunt of wild animals. Woe to the soul if the Lord does not walk within it to banish with his voice the spiritual beasts of sin. Woe to the house where no master dwells, to the field where no farmer works, to the pilotless ship, storm-tossed and sinking. Woe to the soul without Christ as its true pilot; drifting in the darkness, buffeted by the waves of passion, storm-tossed at the mercy of evil spirits, its end is destruction. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ to cultivate it with care to produce the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. Left to itself, it is choked with thorns and thistles; instead of fruit it produces only what is fit for burning. Woe to the soul that does not have Christ dwelling in it; deserted and foul with the filth of the passions, it becomes a haven for all the vices. (St. Macarius, bishop, Hom. 28: PG 34, 710-711).
This is a remarkably vivid, creative description of the soul without Christ, of one who has turned aside from the faith. To be sure, St. Macarius speaks in a general sort of way. Each person’s personal journey will be affected by any number of factors: how absolute a person’s rejection of the faith is, how influenced he is for better or worse by the people and culture around him, how operative he has allowed their natural virtues to be, and so forth. Hence, we ought not to simplify the lives of unbelievers. They come in many forms and degrees.
If, however, the “person” in question is a culture or nation, St. Macarius’ words are especially accurate. We have clearly seen how our own Western culture has suffered gravely as it has “kicked God to the curb.” It is not an exaggeration to describe the Western world as a house that has no master living in it … dark, vile, and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse … darkened with sin, its desires are degraded, and it knows nothing but shame. Increasingly, this is our lot in the West, our daily fare.
As the recent spate of sexual abuse allegations and revelations demonstrate, we as a culture engage in some degree of self-correction. Too often, however, our outrage is both selective and short-lived. There is little evidence that we are willing to consider the overall “pornification” of our culture as an underlying problem. It seems unlikely that the current celebration of sexual misconduct, confusion, and immodesty in movies, music, and popular culture is going to be included in our national examination of conscience.
Thus our culture remains in great disrepair. As St Macarius describes, we are adrift like a pilotless ship, foul with the filth of the passions, and a haven for all the vices. While lust and greed predominate, it is clear that our jettisoning of the faith and of biblical norms is having increasingly devastating effects on every level. We have become more coarse, base, angry, and disrespectful of one another; we are exploitative, wasteful, and often ungrateful for what we have; we are increasingly impatient, resentful, and sullen at even the slightest inconvenience or problem. By jettisoning the first three commandments that refer to our relationship with God, the seven commandments that regulate our relationship with one another are undermined as well. This is central to St. Macarius’ point. When a house [or culture] has no master living in it [because collectively we have shown God the door], it becomes dark, vile and contemptible, choked with filth and disgusting refuse.
Help us, Lord, to rediscover the beauty of your truth. We have suffered by casting you to the margins. Though even in more religious times we were not free of sin, we have only suffered more by departing from you. Bring us back as a nation, O Lord! Keep us more faithful and help us enjoy more than ever before the beauty of your truth and order. In Jesus’ name!
In understanding Sunday’s Gospel, we cannot overlook the audience Jesus was addressing. The text begins, Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people …. In other words, He was addressing the religious leaders and religiously observant of His day. He calls at least three things to their attention, three common sins of the pious, if you will: lost connections, leaping to conclusions and lip service.
Let’s look at each of these in turn, remembering that although they are not exclusive to the religiously observant, they are considered in that context. Let’s also learn how they are particularly problematic when it comes to our mandate to hand on the faith through evangelization.
I. Lost Connections
The text says, A man had two sons. It goes on to describe these two sons as very different yet also quite similar. The man, of course, is God; we are the sons. Although we are all very different, we all have the same Father and we all have sin. A man had two sons is another way of saying that the sons had the same father. Yes, we all have a connection we cannot deny, whatever our differences.
Why emphasize this? Because it is too easy for us to try to sever the link we have with one another, to effect a kind of divorce from people we fear or do not like. For example, on the way to Mass we may drive past tough parts of town and see drug dealers, prostitutes, groups of young men loitering near liquor stores, and other outwardly troubled or rebellious people. It is easy to be cynical and say, “Some people’s children!” or “Look at that; how awful.” Or we may simply ignore them. Yet in doing this we fail to recall that these are my brothers and sisters. So easily we can dismiss them, write them off, separate ourselves from them. But God may have a question for us: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9)
Yes, there are many people whom we try to disown. Perhaps they are of a different political party, economic class, or race. Perhaps we just don’t like them. We divide, but God unites. A man had two sons. Yes, they were different, but he was father to them both; he loved them both. He spoke to them and called them his sons.
In terms of evangelization, remember that Jesus sent us to all the nations. No longer were Israel and the Gentiles to be separated, the one considered chosen people and the other not. Hence the Church is catholic, universal, seeking to unite all. A man had two sons, but the two sons had one father. In seeking to evangelize, has it ever occurred to you that the least likely member of your family could be the one whom God most wants you to reach? Be careful of lost connections, for souls can be lost.
II. Leaping to Conclusions
A second “sin of the pious” is leaping to the conclusion that someone is irredeemably lost, writing someone. Many of the Scribes and Pharisees, the religiously observant of their day, had done just this with a large segment of the population. Rather than to going out and working among them to preach the Word and to teach the observance of the Law, many of them simply labeled the crowds “sinners” and dismissed them as lost. In fact, they were shocked that Jesus “welcomed sinners and ate with them” (e.g., Lk 15:2). In effect, Jesus says to them, “Not so fast. Don’t leap to conclusions or write anyone off. Sick people need a doctor. I have come to be their divine physician and to heal many of them.”
Thus Jesus, in today’s parable, speaks of a sinner who repents: [The Father] came to the first and said, “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.” He said in reply, “I will not,” but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The point is that we just don’t know about people. We should be very careful not to write people off, even those who appear to be locked in very serious and sinful patterns or who seem to be hostile to God. The example of St. Paul should certainly give us hope, as should that of St. Augustine. St. Augustine wrote well on the fact that we just don’t know how things will turn out with people.
For what man can judge rightly concerning another? Our whole daily life is filled with rash judgments. He of whom we had despaired is converted suddenly and becomes very good. He from whom we had expected a great deal fails and becomes very bad. Neither our fear nor our hope is certain. What any man is today, that man scarcely know. Still in some way he does know. What he will be tomorrow however, he does not know (Sermo 46, 25).
Scripture also says, The oppressed often rise to a throne, and some that none would consider, wear a crown. The exalted often fall into utter disgrace; … Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known (Sirach 11:5-6, 28).
I man I knew (now deceased) once told me his story: He was raised in the Church, got all his Sacraments, went to Church regularly, and was a God-fearing man. In his early forties, though, he descended into alcoholism, began to be unfaithful to his wife, stopped going to Church, and was dismissive of God. Were you or I to have seen him at that time, we might easily have concluded that he was too far gone. When he was in his early sixties, he knows not how (except that someone must have been praying for him) but he pulled out of his rebellion and reentered the vineyard. He sought help for his drinking problem and reconciled with his wife and children. Daily mass, weekly confession, daily rosary, and Stations of the Cross—yes, when he returned, he really returned. He said to me that he had done a lot of sinning and so now it was time to do a lot of praying, to make up for lost time, as he put it. He died a penitent in the bosom of the Church.
You just never know. Don’t write anyone off. Nothing stabs evangelization in the heart more than the presumption that someone is an unlikely candidate for conversion. Keep praying and keep working. Jesus tells us the story of a son who told his father to “buzz off,” but later repented and went into the vineyard. Pray, hope, and work. You just never know. Don’t give up.
Don’t think that anyone is a permanent member of the vineyard, either. Pray, hope, and work even for those who seem well within in the vineyard, even for your own salvation. We all know of former parishioners, even leaders, who later drifted from the faith. St. Paul spoke of how he had a kind of sober vigilance about his own salvation: But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:27).
III. Lip Service
The text says, The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, “Yes, sir,” but did not go.
Consider the second son. He is respectful to his father. When told to go into the vineyard he tells his father that he will do so. He would not dream of cursing his father or addressing him in a strident way. You might say that he was outwardly respectful and religiously observant—a decent sort of fellow.
In the end, though, he doesn’t get around to going to the vineyard. For whatever reason, his obedience to his father was only cursory. His lack of follow-through demonstrates a great danger to the religiously observant: giving God “lip service.” Yes, we will praise the Lord, sing a hymn, shout Hallelujah, and say Amen on Sunday, but come Monday will we obey and go to the vineyard of obedience? Will we forgive those who have wronged us? Will we show generosity to the poor? Will we be chaste and compassionate? Will we love our spouse and children? Will we speak the truth in love, evangelize, and act as God’s prophets?
The greatest sadness of all is that it is our very religious observance (a good and commanded thing to be sure) that often blinds us to our wider disobedience. It is easy (and too common) for the religiously observant person to reduce the faith to rituals and, once the rituals are observed, to check off the “God box.” In effect saying or thinking, “OK, I’ve gone to Mass, paid my tithes, said a few Amens and praised the Lord by singing. Now I’m done.”
“Lip-service Christians” are terrible witnesses and a real blow to evangelization because they are so easy to spot. How on earth can we ever hope to win souls for Christ if people can see that we are just going through the motions, but living lives that are unreformed, and untransformed? Our greatest witness must be a life that is being changed by Jesus Christ, a life that manifests the biblical principles of love, justice, charity, forgiveness, mercy, generosity, and a biblical understanding of sexuality; a life that shows we have a renewed mind and heart.
Now none of us do this perfectly, but pray that God’s transformative power is at work in us and that people can see it in us. There is little that is more destructive to evangelization than phony, lip-service Christians, who give the outward appearance of obedience and religiosity but with no substance behind it. Nothing is more helpful to evangelization than Christians who show lives that are being transformed and made more joyful, serene, and holy.
All of this leads to the title of today’s post: “God can use anything, but He shouldn’t have to.” In other words, although none of us are perfect disciples and God can work through us no matter what—He shouldn’t have to do that.
So in today’s Gospel Jesus points out three powerful obstacles to His grace flowing through us to others: lost connections, leaping to conclusions, and lip service. All of these things lessen our effectiveness as disciples, prophets, and evangelizers sent out to make disciples of all the nations.
What Jesus teaches in this Sunday’s Gospel is one of those parables that rock our world and challenge our worldly way of thinking. Frankly, that is one of its purposes. We are tempted to side with the laborers who worked the longest, thinking that their being paid the same amount as those who worked only for an hour is unfair.
Think very carefully before asking God to be “fair.” What we really should ask of God is that He be merciful, for if He were fair, we’d all be in Hell right now. We have no innate capacity to stand before God in pure justice; we simply cannot measure up. It is only grace and mercy that will win the day for us. So be very careful about challenging God’s fairness. In fact, when we see Him being merciful to someone else, we ought to rejoice, for it means that we might stand a chance.
There are other aspects of this Gospel that are important to learn from, in particular, the various dispositions of discipleship. As the parable unfolds, we can see five teachings. Let’s consider each in turn.
I. The AVAILABILITY of Discipleship – The text says, A landowner went at dawn to hire laborers to work in his field … He went later and found others standing idle … “Why do you stand here all day idle?”
What are described here are “day workers” or “day laborers.” These were men who stood in public places hoping to be hired for the day. It was and still is a tough life. If you worked, you ate; if you didn’t, you might have little or nothing to eat. They were hired on a day-to-day basis, only when needed. This is a particularly burdensome form of poverty for its uncertainty and instability. Men like these were and are the poorest of the poor.
Notice, however, that their poverty, their hunger, makes them available. Each morning they show up and are ready, available to be hired. Their poverty also motivates them to seek out the landowner and indicate that they are ready and willing to work. The well-fed and the otherwise employed do not show up; they are not available. There’s something about poverty that makes these men available. Because their cup is empty, it is able to be filled.
We are these men. We are the poor who depend upon God for everything. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, but we are. Every now and then it is made plain to us how poor, vulnerable, and needy we really are; this tends to make us seek God. In our emptiness, poverty, and powerlessness, suddenly there is room for God. Suddenly our glass, too often filled with the world, is empty enough for God to find room. In our pain we stand ready for God to usher us into the vineyard of His Kingdom. An old gospel song says, “Lord, I’m available to you; my storage is empty and I’m available to you.” It is our troubles that make us get up and go out with the poor to seek the Lord and be available to Him. When things are going too well, heaven knows where we are to be found! Another gospel song says, “Lord don’t move my mountain but give me the strength to climb it. Don’t take away my stumbling blocks but lead me all around, ’cause Lord when my life gets a little too easy, you know I tend to stray from thee.
Yes, we might wish for a trouble-free life, but then where would we be? Would we seek the Lord? Would we make ourselves available to God? Would we ever call on Him?
II. The AUTHORITY of Discipleship – The text says, The LandOWNER said, “Go into my vineyard” … HE sent them into HIS vineyard.
Notice that it is the landowner who calls the shots. Too many who call themselves the Lord’s disciples rush into His vineyard with great ideas and grand projects that they have never really asked God about. This passage teaches us that entrance into the vineyard requires the owner’s permission. If we expect to see fruits (payment for the work) at the end of the day, we have to be on the list of “approved workers.”
Fruitful discipleship is based on a call from the Lord. Scripture says, Unless the Lord builds the House, they that labor to build it labor in vain (Ps 127:1). Too many people run off and get married, take new jobs, accept promotions, start projects, and so forth without ever asking God.
True discipleship requires the Lord’s to call us first: “Go into my vineyard.” Got a bright idea? Ask God first. Discern His call with the Church and a good spiritual director, guide, or pastor.
III. The ALLOTMENT of Discipleship – The text says, The vineyard owner came at dawn, 9:00 AM, Noon, 3:00 PM, and 5:00 PM.
We may wonder why God calls some early and others late; it’s none of our business. He does call at different times. Even those whom He calls early are not always asked to do everything right now. There is a timing to discipleship.
Moses thought he was ready at age 40, and in his haste murdered a man. God said, “Not now!” and made him wait until he was 80.
Sometimes we’ve got something we want to do but the Lord says, “Not yet.” We think, “But Lord, this is a great project and many will benefit!” But the Lord says, “Not yet.” We say, “But Lord, I’m ready to do it now!” And the Lord says, “Not yet.”
Sometimes we think we’re ready, but we’re really not. An old gospel song says, “God is preparing me. He’s preparing me for something I cannot handle right now. He’s making me ready, just because he cares. He’s providing me with what I’ll need to carry out the next matter in my life. God is preparing me. Just because he cares for me. He’s maturing me, arranging me, realigning my attitude. He’s training me, teaching me, tuning me, purging me, pruning me. He’s preparing me.”
IV. The ABIDING of Discipleship – The text says, When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to the foreman, “… summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.”
Notice that the wages are paid in the evening and in the order determined by the landowner. The lesson is simple: we’ve got to stay in the vineyard. Some people start things but do not finish them. If you’re not there at the end of the day, there’s no pay.
Scripture says that we must persevere. Here are three passages carrying this message: But he who perseveres to the end will be saved (Mat 24:13). To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life (Rom 2:7). You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Heb 10:36).
Yes, we must work until evening comes. Saying that we had faith and received all our sacraments when we were young will not suffice. We have to work until evening. An old spiritual says, “Some go to Church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out.” How about you?
V. The ASSESSMENT of Discipleship – The text says, Those hired first grumbled … “We bore the heat of the day and burdens thereof.”
The workers hired early think of their entrance into the vineyard and its labors as a “burden.” The vineyard, of course, is really the Kingdom of God. Many lukewarm “cradle Catholics” consider the faith to be a burden; they think that sinners “have all the fun.” Never mind that such thinking is completely perverse; it is held by many anyway, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Consider the laborers hired last. Were they having a picnic? Not exactly. Most were resigning themselves to the fact that they and their families would have little or nothing to eat that night. Similarly, most sinners are not “living the life of Riley.” Repeated, lifelong sin brings much grief: disease, dissipation of wealth, regret, loss of family, and addiction. No matter what they tell you, sinners do not have all the fun.
Further, being a Christian is not a burden. If we accept it, we receive a whole new life from Christ: a life of freedom, purity, simplicity, victory over sin, joy, serenity, vision, and destiny.
How do you view the Christian life? Is it a gift, a treasure beyond compare no matter its difficulties? Or is it a burden, a bearing of labor in the heat of the day? Scripture says, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. The passage goes on to describe our “works” not as burdens but as something God enables us to do: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8-10).
So these are five dispositions of discipleship, as taught by the Lord in this parable.
Note well what the Lord teaches, for too often we want to decide what it means to be a disciple. Beware, for the worst kind of disciple is the one who gets out ahead of the Lord and tries to define his or her own role. Jesus is Lord; let Him lead. Here are some final questions for you: Are you a disciple who is glad at being called, the earlier the better? Or are you like the disciples who grumbled at having to do all the work in the heat of the day? Is discipleship delightful or dreary for you?
The song in the video below says, “I’m available to you.” It reminds us that the owner still seeks souls to enter His vineyard. He wants to use your voice to say to someone, “You, too, go into my vineyard!”
On this “World Day of Creation” we ponder the glory and power of God in what he has made. One of the painful paradoxes of our time is that our scientific insights have increased unbelief rather than belief. Perhaps as never before we have come to know the astonishing interplay of creation at every level. From the smallest parts of atoms to the farthest reaches of space, from the complex interactions within cells to the almost perfect sweep of earth’s orbit, everything seems gloriously orchestrated so that we can live and grow. Even in the upheavals of storms, such as we have recently experienced, and other natural disasters, God and creation are often up to something good.
Just a simple thing like photosynthesis silently serves life. Plants take in the carbon dioxide we exhale and return the oxygen we need. Beneath us, the earth is a cauldron that occasionally shakes or erupts, but those very eruptions release gases that help sustain our atmosphere. Earth’s orbit is nearly circular; the distance between the Earth and the Sun differs only by about 3 percent between its closest and farthest points. This relatively constant position moderates our temperature. This is in contrast to the other planets in our solar system, whose elliptical orbits are far more eccentric. The moon beautifully regulates our tides. The asteroid belt keeps the dangerous chunks from regularly raining down on our planet; Jupiter and Saturn are catching comets as well. I could go on, but at every level—inner space, the ecosystem, and outer space—everything works together in a beautiful symphony.
There is an old spiritual that says, “Over my head I hear music in the air, there must be a God somewhere.”
The whole universe shouts, I was designed and I am governed!
Recently I put together a video for use in a Bible study I was conducting. The song that is used speaks beautifully to the testimony of creation to its Creator:
The spacious firmament on high,
with all the blue ethereal sky,
and spangled heavens, a shining frame,
their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
does his Creator’s power display,
and publishes to every land
the work of an almighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail
the moon takes up the wondrous tale,
and nightly to the listening earth
repeats the story of her birth;
whilst all the stars that round her burn,
and all the planets in their turn,
confirm the tidings, as they roll,
and spread the truth from pole to pole.
What though in solemn silence all
move round the dark terrestrial ball;
what though nor real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found;
in reason’s ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice,
forever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”
One of the more puzzling aspects of demonology is the freedom that Satan and demons appear to have in roaming the earth, causing trouble. If the condemned are consigned to Hell for all eternity, why is Satan allowed to wander about outside of Hell? Isn’t he supposed to be suffering in Hell along with his minions and the other condemned? Further, it doesn’t seem that he is suffering one bit, but rather having a grand time wreaking havoc on the earth. How do we answer such questions?
Some texts in Scripture do speak of Satan and the fallen angels as being cast into Hell:
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [likely a reference to the age of the Church and the going forth of the Gospel to all the nations] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. (Rev 20:1-3).
Yet other texts speak of the fallen angels (demons) as being cast down to the earth:
But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:8-9).
The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).
Thus, though consigned to Hell, it would seem that some or all of the demons have the ability to roam the earth as well. Demons, however, do not have bodies and thus do not “roam the earth” the way we do. Their “roaming” is more an indication of their capacity to influence than their ability to move from one place to another. Further, Satan and demons are described as being “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness.” This is likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or “roam” is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, just that it is not unbounded. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!
Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while; after this brief period, he and the other fallen angels will be definitively cast into the lake of fire and their influence forever ended.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, … their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).
So for now, demons do have influence, but it is limited. At the end, their full fury will be unleashed, but this is only to bring about their final, complete defeat, after which they will be forever sequestered in the lake of fire.
Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.
For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.
On account of temptations and trials, our “yes” to God has greater dignity and merit than it would if we lived in a sin-free paradise.
As to Satan having “a good time” wreaking havoc, it would be too strong say that demons and Satan do not suffer at all. Demons, like human beings, suffer both victories and defeats; there are outcomes that delight them and those that disappoint and anger them.
Anyone who has ever attended an exorcism can attest that demons do suffer great deal, especially when the faithful pray and make pious use of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., holy water, relics, blessed medals, rosaries). Faith and love are deeply disturbing to demons.
We all do well in the current dispensation to remember St. John Vianney’s teaching that Satan is like a chained dog: He may bark loudly and froth menacingly, but he can only bite us if we get too close. Keep your distance!
While these videos are light-hearted, their message is serious:
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI possesses a keen ability to summarize the ideas and problems of our times both cogently and succinctly. Consider the following assessment of our age that he made during a 2015 interview:
For the man of today…. things are, in a certain sense, inverted, or rather, man no longer believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him (Benedict XVI, Interview with Jacques Servais, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, March 2016).
This is quite a profound diagnosis of the hubris of our times. This hubris is apparent among both unbelievers and believers. While Benedict sets the problem in the context of the mystery of evil and suffering, my own experience is that the problem is wider than that. Many people don’t merely demand an accounting from God for the existence of evil, they also demand justification from Him for any teaching of His Scripture or the Church that does not accord with their views. The premise is that the teachings of Scripture and the Church must conform to modern notions or else stand convicted of being out-of-touch, useless, irrelevant, or even intolerant, harsh, and hurtful.
All of this is completely backwards. For any Catholic, it is the world and its views that should be on trial. God should not need to justify His teachings or render an account to us, rather it is the world that should be required to explain how its views do not contradict God.
Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes to us, He will convict the world in regard to sin (Jn 16:8). Therefore, every Catholic should have the world on trial, not God. We should demand that the world justify its views and square them with God’s teachings. Anything that does not agree with what God teaches is to be rejected by us, convicted of being erroneous and set aside in favor of God’s law and teaching.
St. Paul says, Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22). In other words, square everything with the measure of God’s Word and reject anything that is contrary to it while retaining what is good.
Is this what most Catholics do? Sadly, many do just the opposite. The Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial and convicted if they do not conform to worldly thinking, to what is currently popular. If one talks about a text that speaks a truth contrary to modern notions, there is a wide range of reactions: raised eyebrows; objections; scoffing; accusations of insensitivity, intolerance, or hate; demands for retractions and apologies.
This begs the question, “Who is on trial here, God or the world?” Yes, Benedict’s observation about our times stands true. Whereas we once sought grace to be justified before God, many now demand that God justify Himself to us.
In our hubris, we’ve turned the tables on God. It’s time to turn them back in humility. St. Paul reminds us who the true judge is to whom we must render an account:
It matters little to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For though I am not aware of anything against myself, I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor 4:5-6).
Make sure you’re on the right side of the judge’s bench.
This portion of Mozart’s Requiem says (translated),
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth All before the throne it bringeth
When the judge his seat attaineth And each hidden deed arraigneth Nothing unavenged remaineth.