Menu Close

Wickedness And Snares Of The Devil – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily December 4, 2022

“John the Baptist announces Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He’s announcing a new kingdom, a new king coming and as I said earlier, that usually involves an invasion, a taking over or a defeating of the existing kingdom. And while he tries to point out the insincerity of the Pharisees, he brings up the point that there is a wrath from which we must escape. That’s the topic of today’s homily. Last week we began a series of four homilies, and you’ll see me on this Mass throughout Advent because we’re all trying to stay at the same masses so we get the same story. We preach about the Kerygma. It’s a Greek word, meaning the proclamation. It’s a word that kind of means that the totality of the Gospel in a relatively short message, not 5000 pages, something that we can grasp. It addresses some questions, Why am I here? Where am I going? How do I get there? Father John Ricardo, the author of the book Rescued, that’s who we based these homilies on, puts the Kerygma in even simpler terms. He uses four words, created. That’s what we talked about last week. Captured, that’s what we’ll talk about this week. Rescued, what we’ll talk about next week and then response, how we respond to that. That’ll be the last Sunday of Advent. Ricardo says that if you know the biblical meaning of these four words, then you know the Gospel and each of those words as I said will be a topic. Today we address captured.

Last week we talked about created, the amazing good news of how God created everything good and what our destiny was and we’ve been lifted we’re the pinnacle of his creation. Yes, you and I. That’s good news. But to understand the totality of the good news, we have to understand the bad news, too. Matter of fact, we can only appreciate how good that good news is when we realize how bad the bad news is. In 2018, for the first time in 100 years, life expectancy in the United States went down for the third consecutive year, probably even worse now after COVID. Lives are shorter. People are dying younger. Despite all our resources and technology, it’s happening. 100 years ago, the last time life expectancy dipped was because of World War I and the worst pandemic ever, the Spanish flu. But the 2018 drop in life expectancy was from something new. Researchers call it death of despair, suicide, cirrhosis of the liver and opioid addiction. Since 1999, suicide rates have increased 30%, 40% in rural areas. Suicide in children 10 to 14 has tripled in the last ten years. From 99 to 2016 deaths from cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholism increased by an astounding 65%. And while the U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population, we consume 80% of the world’s opioid production. Deaths of despair. At the root of this dilemma, at the root of this despair is confusion about those three questions. Why am I here? Where am I going? And how do I get there? In a world where God is repeatedly pushed further and further off the stage, the creature who was made in His image and likeness, you and me, can easily lose our sense of meaning and fall into despair. The world, my friends, has been captured by a malevolent, malevolent force. And without the good news of Jesus Christ, we will remain captured. Have you ever asked yourself if God is good, created us good, created us to live with Him forever, sharing an eternal life, why do children die? Why do we have wars, violence, abortion, abuse, broken relationships, human trafficking? How did evil infect our world that was made good? How did sin and death come in? And I mean this when I say this. What the hell happened? I mean that literally. God out of love for us exposes through the sacred scriptures the strategies that capture us. We have to know this bad news or we’ll never get the good news.

Evil came into the universe because of the choices of one of God’s creatures, an angelic creature. We often think life’s drama involves you and me on this day or you and I and God or me and God on the stage. The two of us are the actors on our journey toward eternity. There’s a third actor, my friends. I’m talking about Satan, the devil. Now, some say the devil’s this symbolic idea. Not real. That’s a lie. That’s a lie. He’s very real and my authority for saying that he’s real is Jesus Christ himself. He’s personal. He exists and Jesus affirms that. Who is he? He’s an angel. He’s an angelic person, a pure spirit. He doesn’t have a body. In heaven he was known as Lucifer, the bearer of light, made good. Scriptures tell us why the good angel went bad, why he rebelled against God, why he exercises, why he exercised his free will and became evil by his own, doing something that each of us can do as well. Now, this being I’m talking about, he’s not equal to God. He’s not God’s rival. He’s just a creature. He’s a speck of dust compared to God, but he’s an angelic being, so he’s much more powerful than you and me. As I say, he was originally called Lucifer, but he’s been given other names, Satan, which means the accuser, the devil, which means the divider. He’s called the father of lies and the names he has describes his tactics. Revelation 12:9 says, and the Great Dragon was thrown down that ancient serpent who was called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to earth and his angels are thrown down with him. Revelation 12 implies that a third of the angels, a third of the angels in heaven, fell with Satan. Where did they go? Right here. Right here. Now Satan knows he cannot harm God. God is God and he is not, but he and his minions are out to destroy someone. Who is that? You and me. And why? The Book of Wisdom tells us God created man for incorruption and made Him in the image of His own eternity, but through the devil’s envy, death entered the world and those who belong to his party experience it. Pride might be Satan’s sin, but his motive is envy. Now it’s important, a lot of people get envy and jealousy confused. I might look at someone who’s got a full head of hair, who’s young and healthy and holy, and I might be jealous. There’s nothing I can do about the hair or the age, but jealousy actually can motivate me to try to get better health, to try to be holier, to imitate that person. That’s jealousy. That’s not one of the seven deadly sins, but envy is. Envy is when I look at someone who’s blessed and it saddens me or I become angry or I want harm to come to them because of their success, because of the good that they’ve experienced, because of the blessings they have. That’s envy and that’s what Satan has for us. Some suspect that this envy came about when the angels realized God’s plan to put mankind at the pinnacle of creation and asked the angels to serve these embodied creatures, these embodied spirits that he would have to serve these creatures who were lower than him in power and he became envious and wants to destroy and enslave. That’s our enemy, my friends. And it’s no little thing. He rebelled against having to serve us and now he wants to enslave us. Since he cannot harm God, he attacks and strives to destroy God’s. Favored creatures, you and me. 

When Jesus came and announced that he would usher in a kingdom, the Kingdom of God, it implies that there existed some other kingdom here first, the Kingdom of Darkness. In John 12 Jesus calls the devil the ruler of this world. In second Corinthians 4:4, they call Satan God with a small g of this world who blinds the minds of unbelievers. In Ephesians 2, Saint Paul calls Satan the Prince of the power of the air. Saint Peter, in his first letter of chapter five, verse eight, says, Your adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith. And first, John 5:19 says, ‘The whole world is in the power of the evil one.’ God out of love for us has revealed these truths through his sacred scriptures so that we can be on guard against the wiles and the snares of the devil and resist him. What’s the strategy? We better know it. We better pay attention. Genesis, we talked about Genesis last week how it’s the poetic expression of the truth presents this demon as a serpent, a dragon. So we know that he’s a creature. Genesis 3:1 is kind of a game film for us, if you know how football teams they work at game film so they know the tactics of their opponent. It shows the nature of who we’re up against. He’s depicted as the serpent, huh? Serpent’s an interesting depiction because they kind of blend in. They kind of camouflage, are kind of hard to notice. They seem slow at first, but they strike with amazing speed and their bite can be deadly. Genesis says now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, you shall not eat at any tree of the garden?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden. Neither shall you touch it lest you die’, which God never actually said. But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be open and you’ll be like God knowing good and evil.’ Note his tactics. Note how he engages in conversation. Kind of like going up to the water fountain at work where you see two friends talking when one of them walks away. Let’s say it’s Mark and Gail. You say, Hmm. Did Gail say anything unusual? I’m not sure she’s very trustworthy, huh? You planted a doubt. You planted a seed now. Mark is really close to Gail, he said, ‘ Nonsense, she’s the most trustworthy person I know.’ But if there’s any doubt at all, any weakness at all, any crack in their relationship, he says, ‘What do you mean? Tell me more. What’s going on?’ That’s how the devil works. If there is doubt in Eve caused her to question God’s motive, to questions God’s goodness, to question God’s love. Do you want to know how the devil works? Read C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters. It’s a fictional, it’s fiction, but boy, it touches on some profound truth, and sadly, Eve enters the dialog. He seduces Eve to doubt God’s goodness to question his care for them. Sound familiar? Questions that are placed in our minds when things go badly. How could God do this? Why didn’t He stop this? We too question and doubt, and those questions are planted by the evil one. The enemy of ours wants us to mistrust God, to doubt his absolute goodness and maybe even question his very existence. The devil’s tactics include that he accuses. He accuses us. Oh, this is your fault. People who are abused, often the devil will say, you’re responsible for this. That’s a lie. Or he accuses others. It’s always their fault. He even accuses God. ‘He doesn’t really love you.’ He convinces us, but he’s not powerful enough to change any of this.

Lies. That’s the second tactic, lies. He twists the truth. He can create nothing himself. He’s not a God. But he twists the truth. He divides. He turns one against the other. He polarizes and how we see that in our world today. He separates spouses and family members and friends and whole communities. He scatters. He flatters and by flattery I don’t mean compliments. I mean in a manipulative way of talking. Oh, you’ve been through so much. You’ve endured so much. Surely you can let yourself enjoy this sinful pleasure. And he tempts. We all know about temptation. And last he discourages, he steals away our hope. Satan’s goal for your life is destruction. He wants to destroy you. He wants to steal away your loyalty to God and lure you to all that is left. If you’re separated from God because all that’s left, if you’re separated from God is Satan’s kingdom.

Often we say the consequences of sin are separation from God. Tell a teenager that today and he’s most likely to say, ‘So what? Because I’ve got tik-tok and all that other stuff.’ But there’s more to sin than just separation from God. That’s bad enough. But either you’re with God, you’re joined with him, or you’re with somebody else you’re in another kingdom, Satan’s. There’s no middle ground. It’s one or the other. There’s only two destinies for our lives: Heaven or hell. Purgatory is on the heaven side. God offers us abundant life and eternity of unimaginable happiness, sharing in the very life of God. But we’re at risk of falling for Satan’s lies repeating Adam and Eve’s sin. The wiles of the devil revealed in the Scriptures is not what happened long ago in a land far, far away. It’s what always happens! Our first parents by their rebellion against God, by falling for Satan lies unknowingly sold all of us, sold humanity into slavery to the powers that we cannot compete against. What are these powers? Death and sin. In the Bible death and sin are powers. They rule over us. Romans 5:14 says death reigned sin too is a power. I hear confessions and over and over, people confess things they don’t want to do, but they do them repeatedly. Paul himself in Romans 7 said, ‘I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very things I hate. Now, if I do what I do not want, I agree the law is good. So then, is it no longer I that do it but sin which dwells in me?’ When we are born, we might look innocent and cute, but in reality, we’re born under the dominion, the rule of the lordship of Satan, the Prince of this world. That’s why baptism is so important. And there’s no escape from death or enslavement to sin on our own. There’s no way we can escape it on our own. How hopeless we would be if God had not done something. And thank goodness God has done something! We needed an invasion of the kingdom of sin from the outside. We needed to be rescued from the kingdom of darkness. My friends, to understand how good that good news is, that rescue, we first have to understand how bad the bad news is. Today we spoke about what it means to be captured. It’s horrible. It’s not middle ground. It’s not neutrality. It’s tragedy, eternal tragedy. Next week, we’ll see how God in Jesus Christ has invaded the kingdom of Satan. Remember what he said to Peter? The gates of hell will not prevail, meaning the gates of hell will be attacked. And Jesus led that attack and He initiated the Kingdom of God. Only in Jesus can we be rescued. That’ll be our topic for next week. St. 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. To thou O Prince of the heavenly host by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”