by Fr. Jack McArdle
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, while, at times, the road to heaven can be a minefield!
"A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, dressed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and cried out in pain, looking to her time of delivery. Then another sign appeared: a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and wearing seven crowns on its heads……The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour the child as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a male child, the one who is to rule all the nations; then her child was seized and taken up to God and to his throne, while the woman fled to the desert where God had prepared a place for her. War broke out in heaven, with Michael and the angels battling with the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and lost their place in heaven. The great dragon, the ancient serpent, known as the devil or Satan, seducer of the whole world, was thrown out. He was hurled down to earth, together with all his angels………..When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. Then the woman was given the wings of the great eagle…..Then the dragon was furious with the woman, and went off to wage war on the rest of her children, those who keep God's commandments, and bear witness to Jesus." (Rev. 12)
I quoted that at some length, because I consider this passage as painting in the backdrop to much of our journey back home to the Garden. No matter what Jesus has done, there is no way that Satan is going to surrender, and admit defeat. Indeed, I can imagine that, if Satan were offered forgiveness by God today, he would turn it down, because to accept forgiveness, he would have to admit that he was wrong, and he has too much pride to allow that to happen.
There is one point in this quote to which I wish to draw attention. I left out parts of it, but if I presented all of Chapter 12, I would read four times that Satan had been cast down to earth. In other words, Satan is not in hell, but is alive and well, and living on this planet earth. When Jesus came, he referred to Satan as 'the prince of this world' (Jn. 16:11). Satan brought Jesus up to the top of a high mountain (Lk. 4:5), and offered him the kingdoms of the world, if he would fall down and adore him. The implication here, of course, is that those kingdoms were Satan's to give.
One glance down the front few pages of my morning newspapers gives evidence that Satan is certainly busy. Why do I say that Satan is not in hell? If hell is a state of total alienation from God, then Satan is certainly in hell. However, the problem is that many people think of hell as a place, and if they believe that Satan is in that place, then he may not be around here too much!
"Be sober and alert, because your enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Stand your ground, firm in your faith, knowing that our brothers and sisters throughout the world are confronting similar persecutions." (1 Pt. 5:8-9)
"Give in, then, to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7) There are three kingdoms: the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of the world, and the kingdom of Satan. The kingdoms of the world and of Satan are happy bed-fellows, because their message is basically similar. The kingdom of Satan is based on lies and deceit, while the kingdom of the world is based on wrong priorities, and false values. At the end of time (the world) there will be a very dramatic finale, as the kingdom of this world comes to an end, and, yes, Satan is then sent all the way to hell, with all his angels, for ever ever more. No longer will he be able to harm any of God's children, who, like the woman in our first quote, will be brought away beyond his range.
"When Jesus reached Gadara on the other side, he was met by two demoniacs who came out from the tombs. They were so fierce that no one dared pass that way. Suddenly, they shouted, 'What do you want with us, you, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before our time?' At some distance there was a large herd of pigs feeding. So the demons begged him, 'If you drive us out, send us into that herd of pigs.' Jesus ordered them 'Go!'. So they left and went into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake, and was drowned." (Mt. 8:28-32) The interesting thing here is that the demons desperately wanted to be left on this earth, and were terrified that Jesus would sent them down before their time had come.
Jesus told us to 'watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation' (Lk. 22:40). Notice the order: watch and then pray. It is important for us to be on our guard, because the evil one is extremely cunning, and can tempt us even as we pray. He is also listening to our prayers, and he knows what it is we long for. Therefore, we must constantly, deliberately, and carefully keep ourselves under the protection that is afforded us by the Holy Spirit and by Mary. St. John tells us "Little children, there is a Spirit in you that is greater than any evil spirit you will meet on the road of life" (1 Jn. 4:4). Mary, the woman on whom Satan declared war, has been entrusted with the special task of protecting her children, and of crushing the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15).
"You have the anointing of the Holy One, so that all of you have true wisdom. I write to you, not because you lack knowledge of the truth, but because you already know it, and lies have nothing in common with the truth. Who is the liar? He who denies that Jesus is the Christ. He is the antichrist, he who denies both the Father and the Son…..I write to you thinking of those who try to lead you astray. You received from him an anointing, and it remains in you, so you do not need someone to teach you. His anointing teaches you all things, it speaks the truth, and does not lie to you; so remain in him, and keep what he has taught you." (1 Jn. 2:20-27)
I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter about the road to heaven being littered with land mines. What I am saying now is that we are supplied with every possible kind of mine detector, and we are asked to avail of these as we go along, and there is no reason why any harm should come to us. Good will always be tested by evil. Human life is warfare, in that there will always be a struggle between what I want to do, and what I ought to do; between what I want and what I need; between how I am, and how I ought to be. It has been suggested by one writer that there could possibly be a meeting at the moment of my death, between the me that I then will be, and the me that God created me to be. Don't worry! God loves you exactly as you are, and, so, he will love the you that you are at that time. (When I say that God loves me exactly as I am, I always stick on a little 'rider' to that, but he loves me even more than that, or he'd leave me exactly as I am!).
"The Spirit tells us clearly that in the last days some will defect from the faith, and follow deceitful spirits and devilish doctrines, led by lying hypocrites, whose conscience has been branded by the stamp of infamy."(1 Tim. 4:1-2). "Be quite sure that there will be difficult times in the last days. People will become selfish, lovers of money, boastful, conceited, gossips, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful unholy. They will be unable to love and to forgive; they will be slanderers, without self-control, cruel, enemies of good, traitors, shameless, full of pride, more in love with pleasure than with God. They will keep the appearance of piety, while rejecting its demands. Keep away from such people." (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
I must admit, thankfully, that I'm not one of those who see today's world as a den of iniquity, and who long for a return to 'the good old days', when everything was perfect! May the good Lord continue to protect me from such arrogance! Over the years I have had great admiration for my brothers and sisters who grew to the point of being able to accept that their children were not exact clones of themselves! While being every bit as good as their parents, they have their own ways of doing and seeing things. For my generation, who had a monopoly on right, on morality, and of proper behaviour, it certainly took some adjusting to be willing to 'live, and let live'. OK, a sin is a sin, and if I see something that I genuinely consider as wrong, I should have the moral courage to say so, if life has placed me in a position where I have a right to comment.
I know I am getting side-tracked in this paragraph, but I went down this line just to point out that each generation presents a new challenge to Christian living. Quite recently, we had the E.U.(European Union) failing to include any mention of God in its Constitution. The world is becoming more secular, and the spiritual is becoming more marginalised. I honestly confess that this does not worry me, because I just have to believe that the Spirit is quite capable to working through each and every object thrown in the path of the Christian message, and the living of that message. Rather than think of the problems facing the Christian in today's world, I think it would be more important to see these as opportunities or challenges.
In life, the miles stretch ahead of us, but the things that mess up our lives are inside us. "What comes out of a person is what makes him unclean, for evil designs come out of the heart: theft, murder, adultery, jealousy, greed, maliciousness, deceit, indecency, slander, pride, and folly. All these things come from within, and make a person unclean" (Mk. 7:20-23). What I'm saying here is that many of the land mines can come from within. There is some sort of basic rebelliousness within the human spirit, and it is the ongoing working of the Spirit to tame that, and bring it all under subjection to the reign of Christ.
When Scripture speaks of us being surrounded by evil on every side, we must also remember that this evil can be within us as well. We are earthen vessels; extremely frail, and fragile. We need to place ourselves constantly under the protection of the Spirit. It may sound a contradiction, but we really have no reason to be afraid, if our confidence in properly placed. If we trust in ourselves, we are doomed to death and destruction. If we trust in the Spirit, and in the promises of Jesus Christ, then our victory is assured. The more aware we are of our own weakness, and the dangers that surround us on every side, the more we will be thrown into the arms of the Lord, and our heavenly Mother, and the more our safety is guaranteed. I would go so far as to say that, even if there were no land mines on the road back to the Garden, we could never make it on our own anyhow.
The call to repentance is a wake-up call. "Arise from your slumber, awake from your sleep" A new day is dawning! Every new day brings its own tests and trials, as well as its own unique graces and heavenly surprises. To be fully human is to be fully alive. There is a vast difference between living and existing. Everybody dies, but not everybody lives. Part of the attitude of the Christian is to be as fully aware as possible in the living of each day. Each moment can be a moment of grace, if I am alert to the opportunity. I believe it would be really worthwhile to concentrate on the opportunities for good, and the moments of graces, than to become paranoid about the land mines. If I emphasise the positive, I believe I will be protested from the negative. Christianity is really more about what I am for, than anything I may be against.
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