Fear And Ignorance In America

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."    -St. Matthew 10:28

One night, as young teenagers, a friend and I watched a horror movie involving something to do with the devil possessing one of the protagonists of the film. That movie terrified me, but the dreams I had later that night terrified me more. Upon awaking the next morning, I knew that I didn't want to ever be possessed. What the movie had presented coupled with my profound ignorance of parts of my own faith and an irrational fear led me to an incredibly stupid and dangerous conclusion. I figured that to get into heaven, while avoiding any from the devil, I would be just a little bad. I had taken the devil's bait and I was never just a little bad. Have you ever done something similar?

Christ teaches us that we are not to be afraid of Him nor of His Gospel. The fear that God and His angels inspire in the Sacred Scriptures is one of awe, wonder, respect and love. This fear is diametrically opposed to the fear that the devil inspires, which is one of horror, revulsion, disgust, terror, and hatred. Think about a time you spent alone in prayer, when you have felt a peace and a joy descend upon you, that leads you to a greater love of God and of yourself. Think of the time immediately after you committed a sin, when you have felt guilt, shame, anger, self-recrimination, self-hatred. How different those two experiences are. But because terror, revulsion, and horror are more visceral reactions and are played to more frequently in the entertainment provided by our culture, we are willing to do more to avoid it. So, the devil plays on this and leads us into sin in order to avoid having some demon pop up next to our beds in the middle of the night or so we like to believe. That's the lie, though. The devil does still show up at night, but not as a Hollywood-style bogey man. The devil comes as that voice inside our heads telling us what worthless pieces of crap we are for committing all of those horrible sins and how we are now lost forever, so what's the point? Keep sinning or, if you've had enough, kill yourself in despair and anger. It's all the same to him, because he knows we can't be just a little bad.

It's not all the same for us, though. None of us, not one of us, has the strength, the courage, the intelligence, or the experience to defeat the devil at his own game. When we think we can fight the devil or temptation all on our own, we need to think otherwise. The devil has all of the advantages. We must turn to God and give up. Just surrender to Him and rest in His strength. How do we do that?

There is a priest whose sermons are incredible and can be found at:  Romans 10:17.  He suggests a particular course of action. First, we go to sacramental confession, confess all of our sins, and hear Christ speak the words of absolution to us. The grace we receive at that moment binds us to God more strongly than we were ever enslaved to sin, but we must work hard to keep that bond of grace in mind during times of temptation. How do we do that? At the first moment of temptation, we physically, literally, stand up and walk away from wherever we are and do something else. Take a walk, walk a few flights of stairs, run an errand, take out the trash and while we are moving, we pray over and over and over. Two prayers I use are: "In the name of Jesus, I bind all spirits here not of the Holy Spirit and send you to the foot of the Cross to be judged by Our Lord. May the Precious Blood of Jesus wash over me and protect me from the wickedness and snares of the devil."

Despite our microwave mentality, fighting temptation doesn't happen in fifteen seconds. We must keep praying and praying and praying until the temptation finally subsides. This is incredibly difficult, especially at first, because the devil does not want to lose your soul. He will throw everything at you: memories, thoughts, ideas, physical sensations, various emotions. It is a horrible experience and we want to surrender, but we don't. We keep praying and praying and praying, because we are relying on God and He will protect us. Like a good coach runs his athletes "one more wind sprint" until they are beyond exhausted and about to puke, God may keep the temptation going for awhile to teach us the value of perseverance in prayer.

There is a lot of persevering to do, if we truly want to come to know and love Christ and rid ourselves of our base fears. We go to Christ to be drowned in the grace found in the Eucharist. Only by persevering in the Mass, in the sacraments, in prayer, and in reading and studying the Holy Bible will we ever come to know and love Christ. For in knowing Christ we finally come to know what we fear and what we fear is ever losing Him again.

"Are you fighting against your passions? Fight, fight, and be good soldiers of Christ! Do not give in to evil and do not be carried away by the weakness of the flesh. During the time of temptation, flee to the Physician, crying out with the Holy Church, our mother: 'O God, number me with the thief, the harlot, and the publican (i.e., with the repentant), and save me!'"   + St. Anatoly of Optina


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