I recently had plans to go to weekday Mass. My good intentions were nearly thwarted.
First, the natives were restless and I woke up not once, not even twice, but three times in the night.
At the break of dawn, I had to drag my exhausted, bedraggled zombie of a self out of bed. A cup of coffee and a few rushed prayers later, I felt almost human. The kids and I were ready to go, but just as I was buckling my toddler into her car seat, I caught a whiff of something toxic. I checked her diaper and sure enough, she had a blowout that was now leaking onto her outfit. Lovely. So the three of us rushed inside for a quick diaper and wardrobe change for the baby.
Onward Christian soldiers!
Back into the minivan and off to church! We merged onto the highway into a sea of cars and I thought, “God, if you really want me to go to Mass today, why are you making it so difficult?”
There was no reply, just constant bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to my exit.
We finally made it into church and there in the presence of Christ, I thought of something I hadn’t before. It certainly wasn’t God blocking me from the Eucharist, making it difficult for me to get where I needed to be. He wasn’t the one encouraging me to stay home and snooze while I popped in a DVD for the kiddies or to turn around so I wouldn’t have to endure one more minute of heinous traffic.
But it was someone just as real but a whole lot harder for me to acknowledge. Maybe, just maybe, it was Satan whispering in my ear, telling me it was okay to not go to Mass, telling me I deserved a break and that God would understand, keeping me from the peace I so desperately craved, preventing me from giving thanks to Christ.
Nobody talks about the devil much anymore. Honestly, most days I don’t give much thought to his presence, and I definitely embraced God’s existence long before I accepted Satan. Why talk about a somewhat abstract source of fear, temptation, damnation, and evil when we can focus on the real mercy and love of Christ?
Interestingly, belief in the devil is a sign of spiritual maturity, according to many theologians, including Pope Benedict XVI.
I guess that makes me a teenager in terms of my divine development.
About a year ago I was trying to make it Mass while visiting friends in Savannah. We were looking at a map of the city and heading toward the direction of the cathedral when the sky turned a steely, dark gray. Powerful gusts of winds started whipping through the buildings. I was torn. I thought I might be close to the church, but I couldn’t tell for sure and it could be dangerous to continue roaming the streets in a storm without so much as an umbrella. So we all retreated into a restaurant. Hail began to fall.
One of our friends looked at the unexpected weather (it had been sunny only minutes before) and said to me, “That’s the devil working to keep you from church.”
My first reaction was to scoff at this fire-and-brimstone perspective. As if the devil comes in the form of sudden thunderstorms. Isn’t that a little melodramatic?
Yet, when the sky cleared with surprising alacrity revealing sunshine I found myself thanking God. To show my gratitude, I decided to try to make it to Mass in time. I had just a few minutes to spare, so I sprinted off in the direction of the cathedral. As I ran through Savannah’s unfamiliar and uneven streets, trying not to trip on patches of cobblestone, I realized my friend’s words must have wheedled their way into my subconscious because in my mind I was talking to none other than the devil himself, saying, “You’re not going to keep me from Mass.”
It all made sense. If I could believe God had given me sunshine in the midst of a storm as a signpost that maybe I should try again to get to Mass, then why shouldn’t I believe the volatile weather from only moments before was a comparable message from the devil?
Still, the idea of the devil tempting me through a mass of storm clouds and hail does sound a little too weird. Too Hollywood-like and maybe I am over analyzing things (I tend to spend way too much time searching for signs), but my friend’s comment as well as the challenges I sometimes face when I’m trying to get my family to Mass are important reminders that God’s not the only one at work in my life. There are far less virtuous forces in my life. Evilness exists, as much as my happy, God-is-love, life-is-full-of-hope-and-goodness, Jesus-came-to-save-us-all, self would like to think it doesn’t.
God works in mysterious ways but so does the devil. He doesn’t tempt me as the proverbial red-faced demon, prodding me with a pitchfork to join the Dark Side. I’ve witnessed no Exorcist head-spinning effects. In my cushioned, sheltered, and blessed life, I haven’t had a personal taste of true evil, although I see glimpses of it in the news or in statistics about genocide, abortion, and violence every day.
No, the devil’s much more subtle in my life. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Screwtape Letters, remaining incognito is all a part of his plan. He works “undercover,” so we won’t recognize him. He wants to be about as believable as Freddy Krueger. Because if I’m not aware of him or his motives or even think he’s a real, presence in my life, then how can I possibly be on guard against him?
The devil doesn’t come at me with metal-clawed leather gloves or temptations in the desert. Instead, he disguises himself as seemingly justifiable excuses and rationalizations. “I’m too tired to go to Mass.” “It’s rush hour. I can’t possibly make it in time.” “It wouldn’t be fair to my kids. They need their sleep.” “My baby’s got poop all over her.”
That just may be the devil talking.
I should be making every excuse to receive the sacraments. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
Now that’s God talking.
As a mom of young children, I don’t think God expects me to flock my herd to daily Mass all of the time. However, I should be able to squeeze an extra Mass into our lives here or there.
The devil went down to Georgia the other day. He tested me in the form of a crying baby in the middle of the night and a preschooler’s fitful dreams. He appeared in an atomic diaper and a congested highway. He whispered in my ear. “It’s okay. You don’t have to go. You can always go to Mass some other time.”
But I tuned him out and chose to listen to another voice that said, “Come to me all you are weary are burdened and I will give you rest.”
And He did.
Copyright 2009 Kate Wicker