I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for 10 decades
For the gods they made.
I shouted out,
'Who killed the Kennedys?'
When after all
It was you and me.
--The Rolling Stones
You know we live in a secular world, reported by a secular media, when the Pope, of all people, can say the devil lives--and such a statement causes controversy. Yes, the Pope appears to be Catholic. He's the world's most recognizable Christian leader, so he's probably going to go by the book, and The Book, when it comes to such matters. And if we remember Sunday School, the devil still goes to and fro in the Earth, and walking up and down in it.
Can there be any doubt? We remember all the op-eds and columns after 9/11, from folks of two different minds: 1. There is evil amongst us; and 2. There's no evil, just points of view and cultural habits. We knew which school of thought we considered more believable as the towers smoldered.
So the Pope believes in the devil. And weather forecasters believe in hurricanes. We didn't see the controversy in Pope Francis' comments the other day, but then again, we weren't looking:
The Church, he said, must be "saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past."
What could possibly be controversial about that statement? You'd have to look between the lines. Actually, try looking well behind the lines, and maybe even make up some lines on your own, the better to create havoc.
Headlines began appearing all over, and not just on dubious websites, implying that the Pope blamed the devil for the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
How close did some publications come to actually saying that? Here's one headline in the Daily Mail:
Pope Francis blames
the DEVIL for sexual
abuse crisis in the
That's not at all how we read his statement. (See the part where the Church "at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes and abuses . . . .")
It is all of a piece with this pope, who has said since he was elected that he believes in the Liar and Falsifier, as do many Christians of all denominations. Earlier this year, in a document about holiness in today's world, Pope Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times: "We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable." C.S. Lewis couldn't have said it any better.
This pope even suggests a specific prayer all this month to combat the dark one. And invites help from angels, too. Can it be that Pope Francis believes in them as well?
It's as if the leader of the Church these days believes its teachings. And believes there's another world beyond the one we can see, where forces are at work to save and redeem man. But where forces are just as hard at work to make him fall--again. As Sancho Panza once put it, as he was fending off ghosts for his boss, Don Quixote: "I will venture to affirm, aye and swear to it, that these apparitions who stroll about us are not altogether Catholic." Maybe ol' Sancho was more aware and attentive than we've given him credit.
More from the Pope:
"In these times, it seems like the 'Great Accuser' has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The 'Great Accuser', as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, 'roams the earth looking for someone to accuse.' A bishop's strength against the 'Great Accuser' is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world."
Gosh, that doesn't sound like a CEO trying to spin a bad PR cycle. It sounds like a priest, praying, begging for a forgiveness that only comes through grace. And calling on his people to seek the Unnameable, in a never-ending battle against the Fallen One. Which has waged since a particular scene in a garden we could name.
For some of us, it doesn't take much to believe in evil. Just read the paper. Here's hoping that if he who goes to and fro in our land comes close to our elbow today, we have the wisdom to use all our well-learned politesse. And avoid his brush, and his gaze.
Come to think, if we get such a feeling, a prayer said aloud would be a good idea, too. Even if it upsets the secular who are too canny for such endeavors.
Editorial on 10/10/2018