Tag Archives: Satan

Sitting on the low stool – suffering in our lives.

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We’ll begin and end this piece with Padre Pio.

Speaking about human suffering Pio said: “Jesus does not ask us to carry the heavy cross, but a piece of his cross, the piece that consists of human suffering.”

Suffering has shaken the faith of many.

Still does.

When good people suffer we question, we’re puzzled.

Yet Jesus always taught his followers to expect it, not to run from it, but to pick it up, carry it and follow after him.

It’s very clear that Jesus believed suffering to be an essential element on the path to salvation.

He even goes as far as calling Peter’s objections the work of Satan!

Jesus teaches that if you try to avoid suffering – the stuff that just comes your way, uninvited – which he calls wanting to “save your life” you will actually lose your life; losing your life here (in this context) means losing salvation.

Catch a hold of that! The refusal to carry the suffering you can do nothing about means the loss of salvation, the loss of the next life!

It’s a teaching that couldn’t be more opposed to the whole euthanasia and assisted suicide movement.

It’s a teaching that couldn’t be more opposed to the often voiced preference for a bullet rather than a care home.

It’s a teaching that puts most people offside!

Jesus goes on; if you embrace your suffering, seek to carry it for the sake of Jesus and the gospel (in the worldly sense “losing your life”) you’ll save it, you’ll merit salvation – heaven.

There is no resurrection for Jesus without the passion.

There will be no share in that same resurrection for you and for me unless we also share in that same passion, in whatever format it comes to each one of us.

In 1947 forty five people, most of them war orphans between the ages of four and thirteen lost their lives at sea, shipwrecked less than 100 metres from shore off the coast of Italy.

When Padre Pio was asked about the tragedy he replied:

“It would do you well to listen. There is a mother embroidering. Her son, sitting on a low stool, watches her work, but he sees everything backwards. He sees the knots of the embroidery, the confused threads. So he says: ‘Mother, what are you doing? Why is your work so unclear?’ Then his mother lowers the frame and shows the other side of her work, the fine part. Each colour is in place and the variety of threads is composed neatly and harmoniously.” Padre Pio concluded, “Down here we see only the reverse of the embroidery. We are sitting on the low stool.”

Satan is forced out of hiding by spiritual growth! Fourth Sunday, Year B.

The struggle between Pio and Satan became more difficult when Pio freed the souls possessed by the Devil. Pio recounts being physically beaten! Father Tarcisio of Cervinara said, "More than once, before leaving the body of a possessed, the Devil has shouted, "Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than St. Michael"; also, "Father Pio don't steal the bodies from us and we won't bother you."

The struggle between Pio and Satan became more difficult when Pio freed the souls possessed by the Devil. Pio recounts being physically beaten! Father Tarcisio of Cervinara said, “More than once, before leaving the body of a possessed, the Devil has shouted, “Padre Pio, you give us more trouble than St. Michael”; also, “Father Pio don’t steal the bodies from us and we won’t bother you.”

This weekend we begin the Confirmation ‘Spirit’ Programme. We’re beginning with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the gifts is to make us holy, like God. They’re the means by which God draws us into his own life, the Divine life.

Some of us will know them, particularly those of us of a certain age – we were taught them ‘by heart’ as we used to say. My mother can still list them – at 83 years. We’ll look at just two, briefly, the first two, Wisdom and Understanding.

Wisdom; what’s that? Firstly, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it does not belong naturally to human nature. It’s a gift given by the Holy Spirit and when we receive it, we know (instinctive-like) that it’s in the spiritual life and not in everything from health to wealth that we find lasting security. Those who don’t have the gift will naturally look for their security in everything from health to wealth.

Understanding; what’s that? When we receive the gift of understanding we penetrate the truths of our faith. As we receive it we move from faith into certainty. Those who do not have the gift are always unsure, they always lack conviction.

Now, the thing about the Gifts of the Spirit is that they can be difficult to understand. If you go looking for an explanation you’ll find multiple explanations, nearly all different, or at least they appear to be different.

Here’s the reason. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit. Therefore they’re supernatural. They’re not naturally part of human nature. We’ve almost lost this sense. This is the root of the difficulty with explanations. The gifts are known only by experience and cannot be really known outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth. So our understanding of the gifts tends to reflect the point where we stand on the scale of spiritual growth. That’s the reason we get so many different explanations.

Overall, in my lifetime, there’s been a tendency to reduce the gifts to the purely natural. I think this reflects the decline of Catholicism generally.

"The devil can confuse the most brilliant mind." Padre Pio

“The devil can confuse the most brilliant mind.” Padre Pio

Now, similarly – and this is the point I want to make about today‘s Gospel (Mark 12:21-28) – spiritual evil, both satan and unclean (evil) spirits, cannot be understood outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth.

The essence of the spiritual life is the death of self. This is the reason true religion will never be popular. The death of self is the last thing we want to hear and we ‘naturally’ fight it all the way, sometimes spending a fortune trying to avoid it! As John the Baptist said; “I must decrease and he must increase” (John 3:30). Here’s the point: Only when we’ve spiritually advanced to the point where we’ve truly died to self and started living for God alone, only then will we come face to face with spiritual evil. Only then will satan and the unclean spirits manifest themselves directly to us and become a part of our experience. It is spiritual maturity – a full complement of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – that forces satan out of the shadows, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Satan was always there, hidden, unseen, but now holiness forces him out. If only Jesus could get the same recognition from us!

So, we’ve looked briefly at both ‘extremes’ if you like, the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit on the one hand, and satan and the unclean spirits on the other, and we’ve seen that our understanding and knowledge of both is determined by where we stand on the scale of spiritual development.

Twenty-second Sunday Year A: Anyone who loses his life for my sake…

Matthew 16:21-27

Peter’s reaction is the standard human reaction, “Heaven preserve you, Lord. This (suffering and death) must not happen to you”.

Jesus uses the prophecy of his own grievous suffering and death (described as put to death) to teach his followers something that’s completely counter cultural. We just don’t think in these terms.

“… anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The use of “saving” here is interesting – it means keeping life for yourself, hoarding, accumulating, because you’re afraid to give it away, to give it to Christ.

“Saving your life” then means placing yourself and your own ‘kingdom’ at the centre of your existence which inevitably leads to materialism and consumerism. Most of us do this to some degree – herein lies the fundamental difference between the average Catholic (you and I) and someone like Padre Pio.

We do this because we want to be happy.. we’ve bought the belief that happiness is attained through consuming the material. But who told us that?

Actually, we must believe this in a society where the economy is “God” – although a false god.

The ultimate victory of this belief is to win the whole world – a point Jesus makes – but he then subverts the idea asking what good is it to win the whole world but ruin your life? He means ruin your eternal life; to possess everything the world can offer but have nowhere to go! But we don’t think like that because we’ve been conditioned to think that winning the whole world is life at its very best. But that’s not your life. Your life is your pulse!

Anyway, the inner dynamic is much the same; we give to receive…

However, Jesus is arguing that the secret to happiness is in placing not yourself and your own kingdom but rather Jesus Christ and his kingdom at the centre of your existence.

The inner dynamic remains; we give to receive which is what Jesus argues, “… anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”. The loss here is to one way of life, a worldly way of life, but in return we enter into (find) the kingdom of God, the life of God, which is so much greater.

Indeed, only when a man can see something greater (when seduced as in the First Reading) will he begin to let go of what he already has…

An after-thought:
We can use these terms to understand much about the Christian life including a vocation to the priesthood.