Photo via Unsplash.
Photo via Unsplash.

The Lord’s words today from Matthew’s Gospel are designed to give us hope and peace, and indeed they should.

“Fear no one,” we are told by the Master. “So do not be afraid,” He emphatically states again. But in the midst of it all, the Lord drops a little warning: “(r)ather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.”

About whom is the Lord Jesus speaking? Who is the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna? The Evil One, Satan, the devil, the father of lies. It is said that the greatest lie of Satan is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. And yet, he does.

Time and time again, Sacred Scripture attests to this fact. The Sacred Tradition of our Church attests to this fact. The Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 391 attests to this fact, stating: “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called ‘Satan’ or the ‘devil.’

“The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: ‘The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.’ ”

Satan is called by the Lord Jesus in both Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 4:1-11) and John’s Gospel (John 8:44) a “murderer from the beginning.” In his jealousy of humankind, Satan is out to distort the reality of the Lord’s creation. Indeed, he is out to turn things upside-down, telling us that we are in charge, not God; urging us to do what we think is best for us, to put ourselves first, not God and the things of God, not others and their good. Satan in the Gospels even tries to pervert the Lord’s mission in the temptation in the desert.

It may seem odd to even speak about the devil. It may seem way too conservative and fundamentalist. Isn’t this Satan merely a metaphorical figure, a bogeyman designed to keep us good, a personification of evil, dreamed up because we don’t want to face the evil and harm that we do in the world? The answer to this is no, categorically. Satan is very, very real.

Pope Francis, since the start of his pontificate, has mentioned the reality of Satan in his talks and homilies over and over again. This may be due to his Jesuit training in the spiritual exercises, but perhaps it’s due to his prayerful realization that the prince of lies is active in the world today.

For example, the Holy Father stated on April 10, 2014: “The Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”

And again, the pope stated on Nov. 8, 2013: “The presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over the devil.”

Satan is real and we should avoid his snares. We should also take heart in the words of the Lord Jesus in this Gospel. The Lord Jesus has already conquered Satan. The devil lost. He is not the victor — Christ is.

Far from the suave Satan of Milton who would rather reign in hell than to serve on earth, instead he is the fat and bloated creature trapped in the ice of his own creation of Dante. Pope Francis stated on June 12, 2013: “It is enough to open a newspaper and we see that around us there is the presence of evil, the Devil is at work. But I would like to say in a loud voice ‘God is stronger.’ Do you believe this, that God is stronger?”

God has won and we should do what the Lord Jesus tells us, namely acknowledge Him before others. Yes, we should fear Satan, recognizing his seductive power, but recall that he only has as much power over us as we are willing to give him. Again, the Holy Father reminded us on Jan. 6, 2014: “We too need to guard the faith, guard it from darkness.”

Many times, however, it is a darkness under the guise of light. This is because the devil, as Saint Paul, says, “disguises himself at times as an angel of light.”

And so, our prayer is simple one from Pope Leo XIII in 1884, one we might wish to say privately at the end of every Mass:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.