Don’t be deceived by the devil’s temptations to despair

I think one of the most important facets of the faith we can teach our kids is to develop the gift of discernment. As defined in the Catholic Encyclopedia, “discernment of spirits” is the ability to “give to judgment” to or to determine the difference between what comes from God and what comes from the evil one, so as to direct ourselves or others. Seems easy enough … until you realize we’ve lost the sense of evil in our culture.

My former career helped me realize two things: God’s presence transforms situations, and God’s absence denigrates them. And there’s a chasm between those two extremes that, if not careful, or if too prideful, can have its way with us and drag us toward the wrong ends.

In his book, Father Benedict, The Spiritual and Intellectual Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, James Day calls this the “departure of Satan.” And it’s all too prevalent today in our culture, and I would say, even in our Church.

Our human nature is unchangeable. We flock to the comfortable, even in spiritual matters. When someone, however, reminds us to check our intentions lest we be deceived by the devil, the temptation is to brush it aside like an annoying superstition.

Day endeavors to tell us why. “Many people today might wonder whether it would be better to put to rest the strange, disturbing verbiage about Satan, and eternal damnation so that the Church would appear more attractive and welcoming.” He suggests that we’ve gone from Fides et Ratio, to simply “Ratio,” or reason. Yet, our Church still very much recognizes the dangerous deceits present in our culture today; thus, Pope Francis’ consecration of Vatican City to the protection of St. Michael, citing the “unbridled spiritual warfare” as an ongoing struggle between the “city of the flesh” and the “city of the spirit.”

We need look no further than certain of our news outlets to see symptoms of this. We’re shown how little unity there is between us, and we’re foisted into an endless array of accusation, pointed at the human race.

It shouldn’t take us long to weed these accusations out, though, after recent events. Throw a couple hurricanes in the mix, and what do we see? People of a multitude of different races, religions and creeds pulling each other from frantic waters, carrying each other to safety, feeding each other.

A famous adage was coined by Charles Baudelaine in his work, The Generous Gambler: “One of the devil’s best ruses is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Unfortunately, he’s done this to too many people in the Church.

I responded to a number of difficult calls as a police officer. One that stands out happened on a Sunday afternoon in a small apartment complex. An adult son assaulted his 75-year-old mother, beat up his girlfriend, threw his 2-year-old across the room and fought us when we arrived. As we struggled with him, dragging him out of the apartment, someone on the sidelines yelled, “That’s not very Christian of you officers. What would Jesus do?” I turned around to see someone I’d attended church with a few years back. How convenient for this individual, without ever having to deal with the likes of this, to have the advice on how we’re supposed to restrain it.

When I have a blind trust that my intentions are always right, I run the risk of fooling myself. And when we have a blind trust that what the media tells us is representative of reality, it’s easy to despair – or judge.

I don’t believe God is the arbiter of our world’s disasters. But His Spirit that drives us to embrace the hands of strangers is a testament to why He’ll win. The voices my students listen to are endless — radio, television, Instagram, Snapchat — they all portend to be a moral compass. Somewhere along the line our Church was wise enough to interject an examination of conscience at every Mass. We’re wise when we take note of that.

Paul Stulligross

Until we do, we may find ourselves jumping to too many conclusions — the very thing we so casually chide others for.

Paul Stuligross is director of campus ministry for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory and is a former police officer.