The Devil in Lent

“Now it is necessary for each one of us to reform ourselves spiritually. Each person must not only save his own soul, but also all the souls that God has placed in our path!” Sister Lucia of Fatima.

A reader exclaimed recently, “This Lent, it is worse than ever – I feel as if the devil himself is working against me!” To which I replied, “Then you must be on the right track; otherwise, he would not waste his time.”

The Immaculate Conception - Because God hates sin!
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us now and at the hour of our death!

A helpful little ebook in this regard is Solange Hertz’ “Sin Revisited”. At the outset, she contrasts the intellectual approach of St. Thomas Aquinas with that of the early Desert Fathers, noting that,

“Sin may be described not as the intellect dissects it but as it happens to an individual. … Long before St. Thomas and the scholastics, the ancient Church Fathers described sin in no other terms than those the Bible uses. This was especially true of those stalwart easterners we call the Desert Fathers, who grappled nakedly with sin in the inexorable solitudes of the Egyptian Thebaid in the third and fourth centuries.

“Their (flight to the desert) was a calculated foray into an arena where deadly combats between good and evil could take place at the most elemental level without mundane distractions. They were following, they tell us, the example of Christ grown to manhood, who was led by the Spirit for forty days into the desert to encounter the Enemy at close quarters.”

Mrs. Hertz makes the assertion for gluttony being a very basic sin which arises in ourselves. if you have, (as I have) considered pride as the source and root of most of your sin, you will be fascinated by the case she makes for gluttony. It gave me an insight into why the media hammer us with food and drink advertisements relentlessly. It also helps us understand the importance of fasting. Consider Eve in the Garden of Eden, as told in the Scriptures,

“Our famous original sin in Eden, for instance, wasn’t portrayed dispassionately as grand, primordial pride. It describes our first involvement with simple gluttony. ‘Eve saw for herself that the tree was good to eat and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold; and she took the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.’ “

Hertz reminds us that gluttony cannot be destroyed as easily as other sins, because food is necessary to support our life and therefore the best we can do is check our superfluous cravings by the power of our mind. But this is an ongoing battle, and never won once and for all. The author  makes the point that vice is not natural to us, and it only seems that way because of our fallen nature. That is precisely why God gave us the Immaculate Virgin Mary and through her, His only begotten Son, those two perfect beings who exemplify in themselves what human nature is meant to be, when when this long, weary battle is won at last.

Quoting extensively from the early Desert Fathers, Hertz shows that they used the symbolism hidden in the Old Testament Book of Joshua to teach about the battle with sin. The seven nations Joshua drove out represented lust, avarice, anger, depression, boredom, vainglory and pride. If you notice that envy is missing, it actually, in this scheme, lurks in the territory between avarice and depression. Similarly, sloth falls in between depression and boredom. Note that pride comes at the end of the Desert Fathers’ list.

“In practice, pride, the ultimate rejection of God in favor of self, is the final end of human sinfulness. Only a purely spiritual being like the devil can be capable of it straight off!”

When reading the book, it may be helpful to go directly to the Postscript after you read the Introduction and then proceed to read about the Vices. In the Postscript, the author notes the congruence between the Desert Fathers’ approach to sin and devotion to the Immaculata. I found this helpful.

“Devil-fighting isn’t generally thought of as the first consequence of devotion to the Mother of God. If we progress in intimacy with her, however, we soon realize something of what almighty God meant when he said to Satan in Eden, “I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring.” Suddenly, her enemies are our enemies. By the time we wake up to the situation, we’re already in the thick of battle, locked in mortal combat with an invisible foe who seems to specialize in fouls. Devil-fighting, we learn, is basic Christian warfare.”

“Sin is never committed from the outside in, although it might look that way; it’s committed from the inside out. No temptation could gain entry into a properly God-oriented, disciplined mind. Inasmuch as “no one can be deceived by the devil but one who has chosen to yield to him the consent of his own will … it is therefore clear,” says Abba Serenus, “that each man goes wrong from this: that when evil thoughts assault him he does not immediately meet them with refusal and contradiction.” If you crush the head of the serpent before he can strike, you don’t have to worry about the rest of him.”

In the Chapter, “Revisiting Sin with St. John of the Cross”, Hertz traces the link from the Old Testament Desert Father Elias to St. John the Baptist, and on through saints Cassian, Basil, and Benedict and affirms that,

“to them we owe not only the knotted discipline and the rules of Christian asceticism, but also our blessed Lady’s Rosary and Scapular. When she appeared to the Carmelite Superior General St. Simon Stock and gave him the Brown Scapular, she promised that whoever died wearing it would never suffer hellfire. If the Rosary beads she had confided earlier to St. Dominic represented the 150 Psalms recited daily by the Fathers, what was this scapular garment but the mantle of Elias, which our Lady now saw fit to throw over the shoulders of all her children? By the Rosary and the Scapular, she declared that she would someday save the world!

“In direct line of descent from the mighty Elias and St. John the Baptist stands St. John of the Cross, modern reformer together with St. Teresa of Avila of the order of the ‘sons of the prophet,’ which according to ancient tradition had been founded originally by Elias on Mt. Carmel. As a religious society it is unique in that it was never designed to ‘do,’ but to ‘stand’ continually in the sight of the Lord of hosts in the spirit of its founder. Its entire rule is summed up in one verse of the first Psalm, where the just man is described as one whose ‘will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.’ Its inspiration has always been attributed to our Lady, the Flower of Carmel, whom Elias beheld in the distance from the top of his mountain, rising as ‘a little cloud … out of the sea like a man’s foot’ which grew till ‘there fell a great rain’ on the parched earth (3 Kgs. 18: 45). The spirit of Elias is one of unmitigated intransigence in the face of apostasy.

“His life already spanning nearly three millennia without tasting death, the prophet will die only by martyrdom in the final tribulation, for his fidelity is impregnable. ‘With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts!’ he told God, ‘before whose face I stand,’ in the cave on Mt. Horeb, and never has he departed from that declaration (3 Kgs. 19: 10;18: 15). To the public called to Mt. Carmel to witness the showdown between himself and Baal’s 450 priests and Jezabel’s 400 prophets, St. Elias had cried out, ‘How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him!’ (3Kgs. 18: 21).

“With similar lack of ambiguity, John the Baptist would speak of ‘laying the axe to the root of the trees’ when he caught sight of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism in the desert of Judea. ‘Brood of vipers!’ he called them. (Matt. 3: 7-10). St. John of the Cross, a true son of the prophets, would see the spiritual life in similar terms. As he wrote to one of his penitents, ‘Anything apart from God is constraint!’ For him, whatever is not God is nada, nothing at all. Reduced to one principle, his doctrine is that faith is the only proximate means of union with God in this life. Other means— vocal prayers, visions, preaching, even good works and the whole panoply of creation— can be very helpful, but have no power to reach Him except through faith. The less dependent on sensible supports faith becomes, the purer it is and the closer to its goal.

Spiritual progress, in other words, is a gradual discarding of inessentials, effected by a loving, Godward groping will. There is no denial of the natural order, but an emphasis on what lies above and beyond it, which is God Himself. Vested in the mantle of the mighty prophet who “is already come” but has yet to return, St. John of the Cross prepares the individual’s way to God as St. John the Baptist prepared Israel’s: “Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Matt. 17: 11; Luke 3: 5-6).

“Arriving on the scene just as the Great Apostasy began breaking over the heads of the faithful, the Carmelite master directed his teaching not only to spiritual directors unacquainted with the subtleties of the mystical ascent, but to any ardent soul unable to find a good director. How much more indispensable is he today, when the enemy has actually penetrated the Church’s fortifications and preempted her chains of command! (Hertz, Solange, Sin Revisited  Kindle Edition.)

This little ebook is an invaluable companion for our spiritual journey. I will conclude where Solange Hertz herself concludes:

“The beginner begins where he is, and if he perseveres, God in due time will introduce him into the “nights” of purgation of sense and spirit reserved for the stalwart. St. Augustine said the devil makes a point of circulating evil about good people “that the weak may then think there are not any good, and so let themselves be carried away by their own evil desires and become corrupted, saying to themselves, Who is there keeps a commandment of God? Or who observes chastity? And when a man believes that no one does, he himself becomes that ‘no one.’”

“In his prologue to The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John of the Cross admitted that it was never his “principal intent to address all,” but rather those “to whom God is granting the favor of setting on the road …” What’s more, in The Dark Night of the Soul he promises they will:  …  suffer great trials, by reason not so much of the aridities which they suffer, as of the fear which they have of being lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over for them and that God has abandoned them since they find no help or pleasure in good things. What better description of the purgative night Mother Church herself is now undergoing in those members who truly love God and will not bow the knee to Baal?

“Needless to say, shortly before the opening of the fateful Council which launched the tribulation, the mighty voice of Elias, ever faithful to his mission, sounded the alarm from the Carmel of Coimbra, Portugal. On September 26, 1957, a true daughter of his, Sr. Lucia of Fatima, told the Mexican priest Fr. Augustine Fuentes in what may have been her last contact with the outside: ‘Father, we should not wait for an appeal to the world to come from Rome on the part of the Holy Father to do penance. Nor should we wait for the call to do penance to come from our bishops in our dioceses, nor from the religious congregations. No! Our Lord has already very often used these means, and the world has not paid attention. That is why now it is necessary for each one of us to reform ourselves spiritually. Each person must not only save his own soul, but also all the souls that God has placed in our path! ‘

“Or, as Elias himself put it to the wavering Israelites on the Mount, “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: But if Baal, then follow him!” (3 Kgs. 18: 21)

Saint Elias, living still, Lead us upward, if you will!

Queen of the most Holy Rosary, hasten the triumph of thy Immaculate Heart by the Consecration of Russia!

Remember, pray the Rosary and confound Satan and all his works and pomps!

Thank you for reading. You may also like:

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

~ posted by evensong for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

5 thoughts on “The Devil in Lent

  1. Pearl of York says:

    Thank you. I never knew much about St Elias and Mt Carmel. This is very helpful. Intransigent in the face of apostasy–seems so few are these days.

    • Thank you for commenting. The quote is from Solange Hertz, who was a brilliant Catholic writer. There is no one writing today to match her skill, unfortunately. And you are correct that there are so few like Elias these days. But they were few then too. There are embers perhaps …
      awaiting a spark…

  2. Alysia says:

    Not a failed post at all. Thoughtful. Helpful. Inspiring. I can say much more but I understand that I must be careful not to lead you to pride… Thank you & God bless you.
    Alysia
    (I live 20 min drive from Mount Carmel)

  3. evensong says:

    In answer to a reader’s inquiry. The post was intended to help those who have asked, with a very basic approach to the spiritual discipline of Lent, dealing with our ordinary appetites which are what trip us up. Most of us are not tempted to start a new heresy or rule the world, but we constantly assert our tastes, our preferences, especially in our curiosity, self-indulgence and sloth. This is especially pernicious in those setting out on the spiritual path. Spiritual gluttony is real. And it feeds our pride and leads us from God, even while we convince ourselves we are piously serving Him.

    The remedy, as always, is devotion to the Immaculata.

    Quote from post: “As a religious society it (Carmel) is unique in that it was never designed to ‘do,’ but to ‘stand’ continually in the sight of the Lord of hosts in the spirit of its founder. Its entire rule is summed up in one verse of the first Psalm, where the just man is described as one whose ‘will is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he shall meditate day and night.’ Its inspiration has always been attributed to our Lady, the Flower of Carmel, whom Elias beheld in the distance from the top of his mountain, rising as ‘a little cloud … out of the sea like a man’s foot’ which grew till ‘there fell a great rain’ on the parched earth (3 Kgs. 18: 45). The spirit of Elias is one of unmitigated intransigence in the face of apostasy.”

    The cloud bringing rain to parched earth is Our Immaculate Mother, who ours God’s graces out on us, her children, with generous profusion.

    Just be with her, open your heart, let yourself be led by the Immaculata. It really is that simple.
    It is our ego that makes it complicated, in order to trip us up, make us stop doing what deep inside our sinful nature knows will be its undoing.

    Let yourself be led by the Immaculata.

    And after all is said and done, any post that requires this much explanation is a failed post. I am sorry.

  4. It seems this post went up before it was fully proofed. I have attempted to correct the most glaring errors but welcome your corrections.
    Mrs. Hertz, in her book, was certainly not criticising St. Thomas Aquinas, but merely trying to help those of us who are on a more mundane level to understand the basic concept that the devil uses our common tastes to lure us. I had hoped this would help us look at fasting and other small forms of self-denial with renewed appreciation this Lent.

    Thank you for your patience!

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