April 7, 1997

[This letter in English]
[Dieser Brief auf deutsch]
[Esta carta en español]


April 7, 1997
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

"I was walking in a shadowy, sunken road in the country," a contemporary priest retells, "when I met, behind a thicket, an old woman watching her sheep, bent in two on her staff:

`Hello, Catinelle.'

`Hello, Father and company.'

`How's that, Grandmother? I am quite alone; where do you see any company?'

She straightened up, and I saw her face hollowed out with wrinkles and her still beautiful bright eyes. She said to me seriously:

`And the Guardian Angel, what about him?'

`Pardon me, Mother. I was going to forget my Guardian Angel; thank you for reminding me about him.'"

Five times a day

Cardinal Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, wrote to one of his nieces, a religious, named Sister Angela: "Your religious name should encourage you to have close relations with your Guardian Angel, and also with all the Guardian Angels of the people you know and love in the holy Church and in your Congregation. What consolation to feel this celestial Guardian near us, this guide for our steps, this witness to our most intimate actions. Myself, I recite the prayer "Angel of God, my Guardian dear" at least five times a day, and often I speak spiritually with him, always in calm and peace" (October 3, 1948).

Modern man, used to the scientific disciplines, is loath to admit the existence of that which the senses cannot detect and which escapes from scientific experimentation. Nevertheless, the Credo that we recite at Mass affirms that God is the Creator of Heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible. The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) teaches that God, "from the beginning of time has created out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly; then the human creature who consists of the two, being composed of spirit and body." Such is the constant teaching of the Church.

The existence of spiritual beings, not bodily, that Holy Scripture normally calls Angels, is a truth of faith, that is, a truth revealed by God. Faith in the truths that God has truly willed to reveal to us is more certain than all human knowledge, because it is based on the actual witness of God, who cannot be deceived, nor deceive us. Scripture, the Word of God (preserved, transmitted and explained by the Church), clearly affirms the existence of Angels. They are there at the beginning of creation (cf. Job 38: 7, where the Angels are called "sons of God") and throughout the history of salvation: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham's hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor (Saint John the Baptist) and that of Jesus Himself (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 332).

Christ is the King of the Angels. They were created by Him and for Him (Col. 1: 16). From the Incarnation to the Ascension, His life is surrounded by the adoration and service of Angels. They sing at His birth, and announce to the shepherds the Good News of the Incarnation. They protect Jesus in His infancy, serve Him in the desert, strengthen Him in His Agony in the Garden. They announce His Resurrection to the holy women. They will be there at His return, in service at His judgment (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 333).

The life of the entire Church and of each man benefits from the powerful aid of the Angels. From cradle to grave, human life is surrounded by their protection and their intercession. "Beside each believer stands an Angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life" (Saint Basil, PG 29, 656B).

A very beautiful secret

Pope John XXIII said, "Our faith teaches us that none of us is alone. As soon as a soul is created by God for a new human being, especially when the grace of the sacraments envelops it with its ineffable light, an Angel from the holy host of celestial spirits is called upon to remain at his side during the entire earthly pilgrimage.... In the course of a conversation I had with the noteworthy Pontiff Pius XI, I heard him reveal a very beautiful secret, confirming that the protection of the Guardian Angel always gives joy, that it takes care of all difficulties, that it brings down obstacles. `When it happens,' Pius XI confided in me, `that I have to speak with someone whom I know to be unreasonable and with whom it is necessary to call upon a certain form of persuasion, then I recommend to my Guardian Angel that he give all this information to the Guardian Angel of the person that I have to meet. That way, once there is an understanding between the two superior minds, the conversation occurs in the best conditions and takes place easily'" (September 9, 1962).

Padre Pio was accustomed to say to his friends: "When you need my prayers, call on my Guardian Angel, using yours as a go-between." Indeed, Guardian Angels are swift and sure messengers. An anecdote will illustrate this truth: A busload of pilgrims, en route to San Giovanni Rotondo, the residence of Padre Pio, ends up at night, in the Apennines, in a frightful storm. At first panic stricken amid the lightning, the passengers recall the advice of the Father, and they call upon his Guardian Angel. Thanks to his help, they come through the ordeal unscathed. The next day, even before they have the chance to tell him of the problems with their trip, the priest approaches them smiling: "So, my children, last night you awakened me and obliged me to pray for you...." The Guardian Angel had faithfully carried out his mission.

The role of Guardian Angels is not only to keep us from physical harm. They bring us to the practice of all the virtues on the road which leads to perfection. They are entirely occupied with obtaining our eternal salvation and with making us live in the friendship of God. In this work, their love for us is pure, strong and constant. Faithful in their mission, they do not forsake us or abandon us, even if we have the great misfortune to turn ourselves away from God by serious sin. Also, as Saint Bernard recommended: "Let us have devotion and a particular acknowledgment towards such Guardians: Let us not lack in loving and honoring them as much as we can, as much as we must.... Every time that we feel pushed by some violent temptation, and threatened by some great ordeal, let us call on the Angel who guards us, who leads us, who aids us in our needs and troubles.... Finally, let us have the habit of speaking with our good Angels in a particular familiarity. Let us think of them; let us call upon them, by our fervent and continuous prayers, since they are always near us to defend and console us" (Sermon 12 on Psalm 90 [91], No. 7, 9 and 10).

Radical refusal

If Divine Revelation gives us the consolation of being surrounded by powerful Angels who protect us, it also shows us other spirits, who are our enemies, and who use every means to turn us away from God.

These evil spirits, whom we call demons or devils, whose chief is Satan or Lucifer, are Angels that God had created as good as the others. The Fourth Lateran Council teaches: "The devil and the other demons were created naturally good by God, but they made themselves evil." Scripture speaks in fact of the sin of the Angels (cf. 2 Peter 2: 4). This sin consists of the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably refused God and His reign. Doing this, they deserved eternal damnation. It is the irrevocable character of the choice of the Angels, and not a defect in divine mercy, which made their sin unpardonable. "There is no repentance for them after the fall, as there is no repentance for men after death," says Saint John Damascene (On Orthodox Faith, 2: 4).

Since the beginning of mankind, the demons endeavor to inspire in men their own spirit of revolt against God in order to make them fall into hell. We find an echo of their rebellion in the words of the tempter of our first parents: and you shall be as gods (Gen. 3: 5). Thus, Satan leads man to break the divine commandments. He seeks to inspire revolt in those who suffer (cf. Job 1: 11; 2: 5-7); he is at the origin of death, which entered into the world at the same time as sin (cf. Wis. 2: 24). Enemy of God and truth, he is especially relentless in preventing the preaching of the gospel truth. According to Origen, Lucifer is reflected in the Old Testament by the Pharaoh of Egypt who, overwhelming the Hebrews with work and forbidding them to offer sacrifice to God, wishes to prevent souls from raising their eyes to Heaven, occupying them with worldly desires and worries. For he wishes above all that no one seek the Creator, that no one recall Heaven, his true fatherland (cf. Homily 2 on Exodus).

The father of lies

Among the names that the Lord gives to the demon in the Gospel, that which perhaps characterizes him the best is that of father of lies (John 8: 44). Indeed, he is the deceiver par excellence. He proposes an illusory and passing happiness to men (riches; honors; lust, under diverse forms: masturbation, fornication, adultery, free sex, contraception, homosexuality...). In order to better deceive, he endeavors to pass unperceived, making us believe that he does not exist, as Pope John Paul II reminds us: "The impressive words of the Apostle Saint John: The whole world is seated in wickedness (1 John 5: 19), allude to the presence of Satan in the history of mankind, a presence which is growing just as much as man and mankind distance themselves from God. The influence of the evil spirit can `hide itself' in a more profound and effective manner: to make itself ignored corresponds to his `interests.' Satan's talent in the world is to lead men to deny his existence in the name of rationalism or any other system of thought which seeks every loophole in order not to admit the existence of his works" (August 3, 1986). Pope Paul VI said, on November 15, 1972: "One of the greatest needs of the Church today is to defend itself against this evil which we call the devil... He is enemy number one, the tempter par excellence. We know that this dark and troubling being truly exists and that he is always at work with a treacherous ruse. He is the hidden enemy who sows error and misfortune in human history.... He is the perfidious and faking seducer who knows how to insinuate himself into us by our senses, the imagination, concupiscence, utopian logic, disorderly societal relationships, in order to introduce into our acts deviations as obnoxious as they are apparently conforming to our physical and psychic makeup, or to our instinctive and profound aspirations."

Certainly, it is not necessary to see the devil everywhere; not all sins are directly due to his action: our fallen nature and the world around us, as much as it is under the power of the devil (cf. 1 John 5: 19), bring us to evil in and of themselves. "It is no less true that he who does not watch over himself with a certain rigor, exposes himself to the influence of the mystery of iniquity of which Saint Paul speaks, and compromises his salvation" (Paul VI, ibid. ). But if God gives some power to the demon on earth, if He permits him to tempt us, it is in order to give us the opportunity to conquer him, to gain merit for Heaven, and because He can bring good from evil. The combat against the devil sometimes takes on spectacular aspects, as in the life of Saint Anthony the Great.

The combats of the Lord

Anthony was a young Egyptian of the third century. Having heard, one day, the advice of Jesus to the rich young man: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven: and come follow Me

(Matt. 19: 16-21), he distributed all his goods to the poor and gave himself over to a life of asceticism, in continuous prayer and exercise of virtues.

But the devil didn't see it that way. First he tried to make him abandon his austere lifestyle, by recalling his goods, the care of his sister, the love of money, the desire for glory and all the other nice things of life, and finally the seeming harshness of virtue, and the great labors that it demands. But, seeing that he would not win, he attacked the young man by obscene suggestions. The latter redoubled his prayers and fasting. The Enemy then took on the form of a woman, in order to seduce him, but he looked at Christ in his heart; he meditated both on the nobility of the divine relationship of grace and on the threat of fire which never extinguishes and the torment of the worm that does not die (cf. Mark 9: 47), and thus he overcame the temptation.

The demon did not consider himself vanquished. With divine permission, he physically harassed Saint Anthony, producing a horrible racket, of which witnesses were frightened, and afflicted the body of the generous athlete of Christ with wounds and pains so sharp that he sometimes seemed to be dead. Other times, it was under the guise of ferocious beasts that the evil spirits attacked him: lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, scorpions, wolves.... Whipped and gored by them, Anthony experienced more and more violent pains. That did not prevent him from mocking his attackers: "If you had some power, it would suffice that only one of you came, but the Lord has taken away your force, so you try to frighten me by your number. It is a sign of your weakness, that you come under the guise of ferocious beasts."

These spectacular demonstrations of the demon should not impress us to the point of producing feelings of terror in our souls, hardly compatible with the confidence due to the Heart of Jesus. The devil can do absolutely nothing without the permission of God, who will never let the enemy tempt us beyond our strength. According to the comparison of Saint Caesarius, the demon is like a chained dog. He can bark very loudly, mull around, but he cannot bite, that is, harm our soul, unless we willingly consent to the temptation (Sermon 121). In addition, the power of the Angels who guard us is much greater than that of the evil spirits.

After the furious assaults that he victoriously underwent, Anthony was strengthened by a vision of Our Lord. The monk said to Him: "Where were You, Lord? Why didn't You appear right from the beginning to stop my pains?" - "I was there, Anthony, I was waiting to see you fight. Since you held yourself well and with the aid of My grace you were not conquered, I will always be your help and I will make you famous everywhere." Strengthened in soul and body, the saint raised himself up again and took on the life of asceticism, awaiting new tests and new victories (cf. Life of Saint Anthony, by Saint Athanasius).

The combat experienced by the Father of all monks against the demon, in an extraordinary form, represents those which we have ourselves to undergo in the current life, in a less spectacular manner. The demon sometimes tempts in proposing sensual pleasures. Other times, he plunges man into the shadows, he troubles him, absorbs him in lowly and worldly affairs, brings him sadness, defiance, laziness, discouragement and despair. This last mode of temptation is frequent among those souls who go from good to better in the service of God. In order to conquer temptations, it is suitable to react, by giving more time and attention to prayer and meditation, by practicing some small sacrifices and by examining one's conscience with care. Far from harming us, the diabolical suggestions then become an occasion of merit and of progress in virtue.

An angel of light

It happens that the demon presents himself to us in a seductive manner, as he did to Father Marie-Eugene (1894-1967). This Carmelite religious was one day preaching a retreat in a Carmel. He was told that a religious desired to meet him in the parlor. He goes there and finds himself facing a nun having a perfect resemblance to Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus. She begins to give Father all sorts of compliments, congratulating him on his sermons, assuring him that he will become a great preacher, etc. The more she speaks, the more he feels ill at ease. He decides to ask her a question: "Sister, what is humility?" With these words, the nun disappeared as if by magic; Father Marie-Eugene then recognized the demon. So, sometimes, the latter transforms himself into an Angel of light and at first suggests to the soul good and holy thoughts, but which end in turmoil, upset and pride. Vigilance over our thoughts, even the good ones, and humility are the sure means to arm ourselves against these infernal ruses. The opening of the soul to a spiritual person can also be a great aid (cf. Saint Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, 326).

God guards and governs by His providence all that He created. He cares for everything, from the least things to the greatest events of the world and of history. His plan is to have us arrive at eternal beatitude, in His kingdom, where we will share His own life in perfect happiness. To that end, He uses all creatures. It enters into his providential plan to have the attacks of the demons and the aid of the good Angels work together for our good. So let us pray to the Blessed Virgin, who crushed the head of the serpent, to Saint Joseph, Terror of demons, and to Saint Michael and the Guardian Angels, to help us recognize diabolical temptations and to follow only heavenly inspirations. Thus guided by the Holy Spirit, we will be able to carry out, day after day, the divine will.

In our prayers we implore God's grace for you and for all those who are dear to you, nor do we forget your beloved departed ones.

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

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