I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt. My high school classmates had Grandmothers who stashed extra condensed milk cans in their corn crib for use during Armageddon and had Deacon Uncles who picked up poisonous snakes during church services to prove that Jesus truly lived in their hearts. To me, an excessive concern about The Evil One, fell equally into this category of Christian "fruit-cake" beliefs.
When I became a Catholic, my nonchalance about the Devil didn't immediately change. I promised to renounce the empty promises of Satan on my Confirmation Day, of course. Yet I didn't fully conceptualize what this promise meant.
I remember the night that I first learned the Devil is real.
Three years ago, my husband and I asked the Legion of Mary to consecrate our family to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Legion sent two lovely Catholics from our parish to our house, along with a five foot statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The consecration ceremony lasted about an hour.
In the middle of our devotions, my three year old son started "acting up." Alex flipped somersaults on the carpet, slammed his body repeatedly into his two sisters, chattered loudly about his Transformers Collection, and started making disparaging comments that our rosary prayers took "forever!"
I watched my husband's face turn red from stress. My efforts to shush Alex and keep him pinned to on my lap had no effect. Finally, I whispered "Alex go to your room and play quietly until Mommy and Daddy are finished!" Alex burst up from my lap, ran to freedom, and banged his bedroom door shut.
Then one of the visiting Legionaries, a beautiful African immigrant, stopped her rosary prayer in mid-sentence. In a crisp French accent she said "Please, you must go and get the boy. Bring him back here!"
My husband and I started to make frantic excuses. "No, no! Our son is really naughty tonight. If we bring him back, it's only going to get worse and worse. He just can't sit still for so long."
The woman looked deeply into my eyes. "You must go get him. The Devil hates what we are doing here. In middle of the prayer circle, we are safe. But now your son is in another room. He is not safe. You must go get him and bring him back until we finish our prayers. The Devil is real! Yes? The Devil is real!"
"Is the Devil real?" I wondered. Now didn't seem to be the time to debate questions of Christian theology. This woman had a deep devotion to Our Lady. She seemed certain that my son was in danger. I trusted her protective instincts over my own.
So I grabbed my son and brought him loudly protesting back into our prayer circle. Together we finished an extremely uncomfortable and awkward consecration ceremony to the Blessed Virgin. I did not find inner peace while singing hymns of praise to our Blessed Mother with a thrashing, biting, howling three-year-old son in my arms. Mama Mary didn't mind. She still rained down her blessings upon my humble and inattentive family.
Many weeks later, our parish priest preached this message in his homily "If you believe that the Devil isn't real-- If you believe that the Devil is simply an outdated product of a medieval mind- then it's a sign that you are already lost, my friend. You are a POW, a Prisoner of War, in the enemies camp. The consequences to Spiritual Warfare are real. As Catholics, we must fight the Devil. And we must fight to free our many brothers in Christ who have already been taken as hostages by the Evil One."
As I listened to Father's homily, I nodded in complete agreement. I surprised myself. I'd grown so much from the night of my family's consecration ceremony. Now I believed the Devil is real. When I believed that the Devil was simply a medieval myth in the past, I made it super easy for the enemy to capture me in mortal sin.
Two years ago, I started my formation as a lay Carmelite. Whew! Good thing my Spiritual Mother had already started to prepare me for the reality of spiritual warfare.
I used to read stories of martyred Carmelite Saints in wonder. Why did the Communists, and the Fascists, and the French Revolutionaries care so much about a few girls dressed in brown? If there is one empty threat to the establishment of Absolute State power, it must be a tiny group of cloistered Sisters who pray long Latin texts every day. Carmelites are poor. They can't supply food or ammunition to rebels. Carmelites are required to "stay put." They can't leave their cells to offer Acts of Mercy to wounded rebel soldiers every night. Where is the perceived threat?
Slowly, I began to understand the power of intercessory prayer. On Satan's enemy lists, Carmelites are on the top. Shooting all Carmelite Sisters at the start of a Fascist Revolution in 20th Century Mexico makes perfect sense. The prayers of a few holy woman are more powerful than thousands of rebel soldiers in bringing down the elaborate plans of an evil dictator.
On the Eve of Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe last year, a Catholic neighbor had a bizarre meltdown in the middle of my living room at 11 PM. After weeks of her midnight knocks on our door, her 3 AM phone calls, and a mid-winter visit from policemen working on her Missing Person's Case, I finally learned from a priest that my neighbor was a Demoniac who had refused all treatment offered by the Archdiocese.
It's strange to have the Devil freely inhabit someone who lives in the same apartment building as me. Odd. Scary. Yet, also Useful.
Last week, I did a small thing for God. I skipped teaching Vacation Bible School at my old church this summer because of my pregnancy. I placed my tired body and teeny baby's health over my desire to chat with dear friends and the joy of teaching young kids about the Eucharist.
As a result, the kids and I had a plain, somewhat boring week, at home. We baked cookies. We played Lego games on our new computer. Hannah struggled to learn how to read stories about a dog named Biscuit. Alex taught himself how to make water balloons for the first time. Maria cooked plastic food in her pretend kitchen. I took many naps.
On Friday, the Church had a huge end of Vacation Bible School Party for the whole parish. There were carnival games and pizza and snow-cones that only cost one dollar.
At 8:43 AM, my phone rang. It was the Demoniac neighbor. "Hi! It's Lady X. So today is the big party. We're ready to pick up your family in fifteen minutes to drive you to church."
I had not heard Lady X's voice since the day of the big police investigation in early February. I almost dropped the phone in shock.
"Um, No Thanks! We're not going that party today," I answered. I hung up the phone as quickly as I could.
I have no idea why God wanted me and my children to stay home from Vacation Bible School this year. What's so harmful about a week of fun, friends, and sharing the love of Jesus?
Maybe I needed extra rest this summer. Maybe my new First Communicant could have learned some harmful misinformation. Maybe seeing all my "doer" friends at my old parish would have tempted me into signing up for a thousand committee assignments which were incompatible with mothering a newborn. I don't know. God's ways are mysterious.
I do know that the Devil thought it was a great idea for me to simply attend a VBS pizza party. He was so certain I'd say yes, He didn't even ask "Do you want to go to the party?" The first lines out of my neighbor's mouth were "Today's the Party. We'll be there to pick you up in fifteen minutes."
The Devil Is Real.
My job is to say NO to Him.