How Satan Operates

(Homily for First Sunday of Lent, Year C)

On the First Sunday of Lent we hear the account of Jesus' forty days in the desert where he was tempted by Satan. Before explaining this Gospel I would like to address a question many people have: Does the devil really exist?

Cardinal Jorge Medina, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, answered the question on January 26, 1999 when he presented the New Rite for Exorcisms of the Roman Ritual. The reporters at the Vatican Press Hall asked him concerning the doubts of many Christians about the devil's existence. He replied:

"We know there are Catholics who have not received good formation and doubt the existence of the devil, but this is an article of faith and part of the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Whoever says the devil does not exist is no longer a believer." (See: New Rite of Exorcism)

It's interesting that while some modern Christians doubt the devil exists, a huge number outside the Church are convinced otherwise. Perhaps they have seen evidence in their own lives. Perhaps they know something about human history.

By far the most famous book about the devil is William Peter Blatty's novel, The Exorcist. It sold over thirteen million copies and in 1973 was made into a hit movie. The inspiration for the book dated to 1949, when Blatty was at Georgetown University and read local newspaper accounts of an exorcism, involving a fourteen-year-old boy in Mount Rainer, Maryland. In 1970 the author started his research work for the novel. Ultimately it was based on an earlier case from 1928 and other historical cases dating back to the Bible.

Peter Blatty was not just trying to write a scary story about a girl possessed by the devil. He attempted something much bigger: to grapple with problem of evil. If God is good and powerful, how can there be so much suffering, cruelty and horror in our world? On the opening page of his novel Blatty lists scenes of grotesque evil - Auschwitz, Dachau, My Lai. We could add more recent ones like the Bosnian rape camps. Altho it does not solve the "problem of evil," a starting point is to recognize the existence of a personal agent who operates thru deceit and confusion.

We see how he works in today's Gospel. What Satan offers Jesus seems sweet and reasonable. To turn a few round stones in bread rolls. To get where the action is. To make a dramatic gesture. Why not? Especially to avoid that terrible matter of Roman capital punishment.

Of course Jesus saw thru the deceit. You and I are not so successful. Our duty may be crystal clear, but the flimsiest argument can get us sidetracked. "You've had a hard day. Just take a few minutes to relax." Next thing you know we've spent an evening in front of the TV or surfing the internet. How many girls have given up their virginity out of "compassion" for some guy? She reaches out for abiding affection, but instead does lasting damage to herself - and the boy she loves.

In the hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God Martin Luther sums up our dilemma:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

What hope do we have against such an opponent? He requires no sleep. We get weary. We easily become confused while he is completely focused. Unremitting hatred. In the second stanza Luther describes the one hope:

Did we in our strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabbaoth, His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

There's a third stanza to Mighty Fortress which, at least in Catholic churches, we do not often sing. With it I conclude my homily:

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies):

First Things: Prayer (2016)
Do Not Talk to the Devil (2013)
Who Is Like God? (2010)
More Powerful than Satan (2007)
Temptation of Spirituality (2004)
How Satan Operates (2001)
The Hidden Sin of Gluttony (1998)

Complete List of Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):

2016: First Things: Prayer
2015: New Mind and Heart Week 1
2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 1
2013: Do Not Talk to the Devil
2012: The Convenant with Noah Today
2011: The Purpose of Temptation
2010: Who Is Like God?
2009: Knee Mail
2008: The Devil is a Logician
2007: More Powerful than Satan
2006: Sir, Go on the Other Side
2005: The Temptation of Sloth
2004: Temptation of Spirituality
2003: Lent with C.S. Lewis
2002: First Signs of Spring
2001: How Satan Operates
2000: The Rabbit's Foot
1999: Original Sin & Temptation
1998: Hidden Sin of Gluttony
1997: Jesus' Temptation & Ours

Ash Wednesday Homilies:

First Things
New Mind and Hear
Go to Your Inner Room
Return to Me
The Purpose of Lent
Two Cheers for Catholic Guilt
Don't Waste This Crisis
When You Give Alms
Back to the Basics
Dealing With Guilt
Exercise of Holy Desire

Ash Wednesday homilies:

Pope Benedict: How to Make a Good Lent (2013)
Return to Me
The Purpose of Lent
Two Cheers for Catholic Guilt
Don't Waste This Crisis
When You Give Alms
Back to the Basics
Dealing With Guilt
Exercise of Holy Desire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Devil has no knees, Billing Course at Providence Hospital, Ash Wednesday Earthquake)


See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm

The Fiery Furnace

Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven


Some Good News on Teen Pregnancy and Abortion

Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History

He Approached the Victim: "It's much more likely one of your relatives will lose his life by surgical abortion than by heart attack."

Germaine Greer on Birth Control

Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)

Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church

Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Stephen Jay Gould: Gorbachev of Darwinism?

Test Tube Offspring Want to Know Father

Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs

Call No Man Father

What is Original Sin of Sex?

Bicentennial Man (Hidden Assumptions)

Bogus Knights of Columbus Oath

Ossuary of James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus

my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin (be patient - sometimes we have problems uploading)

40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

Q&A about Planned Parenthood

Archbishop Dolan: Letting Crisis Pregnancy Centers Do Their Work


my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin

Parish Picture Album

(February 2010)

SMV Bulletin


(A child in Peru who needs your help)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish

Parish Picture Album

Seattle Men's Conference

March 2, 2013 at St. Mary of the Valley, Monroe

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

(new, professional website)