Recently one of my closest friends came to me to confide a very devastating situation that she had been made aware of regarding someone else. She was stunned and understandably shocked. Like most of us, she wanted to know how people could fall into such deep dark places with little or no remorse. It’s the same question the vast majority of Catholics are asking themselves in the wake of the never-ending revelations of sexual abuse of minors and adults by some priests and bishops. As I’ve said in other posts, the scandals are devastating, maddening, shocking, and horrifying. It’s even more so within the priesthood because the diabolical elements of it mean that sacrilege also takes place which deepens the wounds within the Mystical Body.
How do people end up committing such scandalous and sinful acts? Part of the problem is, we have largely discounted and ignored the very real spiritual warfare that whirls around us on any given day and in every moment of our lives. Even high ranking members of the hierarchy and theologians have brushed off Satan as a myth or a symbol. The Enemy is quite pleased with this type of thinking because it allows him to have even more free reign within the Church. There’s no point of fighting against a symbol.
This ignores the fact that Satan is very real and seeks our destruction at every turn. He seeks the destruction of the priesthood with voracious hatred since it is through their ministry that Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity is made present to God’s people. It is through them that our sins are forgiven by God and we are given the grace and strength to continue on the path to holiness.
It is disconcerting that the Jesuit superior general, himself a priest, is completely blind to the gravity of the situation. It also reveals a serious lack of understanding among some members of the ministerial priesthood. If they don’t know who they are up against, then they will be even more vulnerable to falling into the snares he sets for them.
Satan is the liar, the seducer, the accuser, the murderer, and the scatterer. It has been this way since he was cast out of heaven by St. Michael. He seeks to drag each one of us away from the glorious Light and Love of God into the deepest pits of hell. We don’t think so because we think we are doing just enough in our daily lives to be “good” people. The problem is, that often it is the appearance of “good” people that masks the evil lurking underneath. This is why the scandals are so shocking. “He was such a good priest.” “I thought they were happily married.” “I never thought he/she could do such a thing.” And perhaps in the beginning they weren’t capable of such evil, but there came a moment in each of their lives when they needed to fight back and they chose to enter into temptation instead.
Scandalous behavior and grave sins do not usually begin right away. There is a slow slide into them as the Enemy preys on our weaknesses and seeks to lead us down dangerous paths. He whispers in our ear and attempts to seduce us so that we will commit certain sins. These sins seem benign to us at the onset, but they are the beginning of the trap he is attempting to set for us.
Many of us are not consciously aware of his tactics because so many people are ignorant of how spiritual warfare works in our daily lives. It’s something we have to learn through prayer, study, and guidance from a spiritual director and Confessor. The more we progress in holiness the more intense the fight becomes. It is often through large temptations that God allows us to be tested in order to strengthen us, lead us further down the path, and grow in perfect charity. The question put to us in these tests is will we choose God or the world? Regardless of how intense that fight may be at times, God is drawing us closer to Him if we let Him.
Our culture in the same vein as the Enemy, tells us that these small sins aren’t really sins. The man or woman lusting after someone running down the local Greenway trail isn’t the same thing as looking at pornography. Right? They’re just being human. Then all of a sudden the man (or woman) finds himself looking at images on the screen and it goes downhill from there. It started “small.”
Our relationships with others are the same way. We always have to be on guard and sure that we are rightly ordering the affections we have for other people. The Enemy will attempt to seduce us if he sees a possible weakness within us. And make no mistake, the demons are watching our every move and observing everything we do in order to prey on our weaknesses. Plus, their intellects are far superior to our own and we are often out-witted. Thanks be to God that our hope is not in ourselves but in Christ Jesus.
All of us have to be on guard and come to understand the ways in which we are weakest. We must constantly ask God to strengthen us in those areas and fall on Him in total dependence and trust. If we try to go it alone, then we will fall into temptation and before we know what we’ve done, we can find ourselves deep into gravely sinful and scandalous situations. It is not that we are never going to be tempted in this life. We will and in ways we never could have expected or foreseen. It’s how we respond to those temptations that matters. Our lives are often shaped in new ways by persevering through temptation.
We are called to fight back. It is by constantly rightly ordering our desires and our relationships that we will come to holy charity. Far too often people fall into grave sin and scandal because they are seduced by the lies of the Enemy and the good they see before them becomes their only focus. They turn away from God and seek the things of this world.
Once the Enemy has control over someone then even more horrible sins can be committed including the horrors that are coming to light in the reports about clergy sex abuse. The priesthood is as such that the Enemy seeks its destruction by also causing great sacrilege to the Sacraments. It’s why so many of this evil is committed in relation to the Sacraments whether it be a Satanic inversion of the Mass or the disgusting abuse during the Sacrament of Confession.
Every single one of us is going to fail and fall in our struggle towards heaven, but we have to constantly be on guard that we do not slide into grave and scandalous sin through the subtle seduction of Satan. We must pray for God to renew us and for our hearts to be converted each day. God will reward us for our efforts and our willingness to persevere. He knows in our Fallen state that we battle imperfectly, but if we rely on Him then He will be the one who keeps us from the type of darkness and sin that is coming to light in the Church, both in the clergy and in families. We may look in horror at these scandals, but it’s important to always keep in mind that those scandals began somewhere subtle and small and gave way to diabolical darkness. Our own small sins can easily lead us into mortal sins if we are not careful. We must look to our own hearts and the areas where we need the healing light of grace.
This is why frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession is imperative in the spiritual life, especially when we are battling serious temptations. The Enemy will try to keep us from the Sacraments by whatever means necessary, but we must answer in a firm “no” and get ourselves to Confession and receive Holy Communion as much as possible. These two Sacraments arm us and strengthen us for the intense battles this life requires of us.
The path to holiness is not easy. It is where we learn to crucify our own will for the will of God. That means saying “no” to lower goods of this life for a bigger “yes” to God. We often think that those lower goods are worth more than God, but that is a lie from the Enemy. The rewards of persevering and rightly ordering our desires and our relationships is far greater than anything we can temporarily attain in this life.
The next time you are tempted remember that the Enemy is offering you–or me–a counterfeit, an empty shell. This applies to any number of temptations, but especially in those situations that lead to widespread scandal and pain. Whatever it is that is being offered, it is a trick, a seduction, and a lie. Instead, God is calling us to turn in greater trust and love of Him, so that He can rightly order our souls.
We cannot truly love others as we are meant to if our souls are not rightly ordered to God first. This is where the Enemy gets the upper-hand at times. He sees this disorder within us and tries to lure us away with false desires and temptations. When this happens turn to Our Lord and to Our Lady. She crushes the head of the serpent and she will come to our aid if we cry out to her. St. Padre Pio is also particularly efficacious in spiritual warfare in my experience.
Scandals like what the Church is facing today began with small slip ups and sins. They occur when we are not discerning the spirits who are working in our lives. Just because something feels good, does not mean we are supposed to give in. Oftentimes the Enemy will move our emotions and convince us that something is a good that is in fact a lesser good or evil. I suspect, but I’m not sure, that this technique is the most common in leading people astray. We rely too heavily on our emotions and so we trust in good feelings, when we should probably be saying: “Be gone, Satan!”
Yes, all scandals are shocking and they reverberate throughout the Mystical Body. So many people are hurt by them. It’s important that we remember, however, that those small sins we are ignoring or waving away are the beginning of bigger sins. That “harmless” flirtation with a co-worker is that moment of choosing to rightly order that relationship or not. The minute we become aware of what we have done we need to ask God to rightly order our soul and our affections towards others. We must always be on guard. I cannot stress this enough.
It always begins small and the spiritual battle begins in that moment, even if it ends up becoming one of the most intense battles we are ever asked to wage. The point is to turn to God and not give in. Far too many priests and bishops in these scandals allowed those small slip ups to turn into very serious sin and they chose the Enemy over Christ. Let us pray for the grace and strength to choose Our Lord regardless of the battles He asks of us that are meant for our sanctification and growth in perfect charity. Pray fervently for our bishops and priests.