It happened in a Manhattan church in 2012.
My eyes were intently fixed upon the altar. I was planted on a pew in the lower church. On both sides I was flanked by statues of holy men and women. The little flames of devotional candles were twisting and dancing before the statues, rising up as prayers to Heaven. The sweet scent filled my nostrils and it felt so soothing to breathe in hope.
They called the season spring on account of the weather. For me it was spring because I had been confirmed in the Catholic Church only a few weeks prior. On most afternoons during that spring of my soul I visited churches to sit with God in sacred silence.
A noise interrupted; low-toned voices that sounded like uttered prayers. Were they coming from the upper church? The hall? A room? I couldn’t tell.
Another noise; that of a woman coughing up and spitting. It sounded as if she were trying to cough an object out.
The sounds of low-toned voices and coughing and spitting followed one another in circles.
The Exorcist was one of my favorite films. I had read (perhaps in morbid fascination) several works by Father Gabriele Amorth. During my Evangelical days a friend (a doctorate student at Columbia University, not someone I could dismiss as a “dummy”) and I had exchanged stories of our coming to Christ during the long walk from a worship service to our homes, and his involved possession for a brief period. So, naturally I wondered: is there an exorcism going on up there or something?
The worst noise yet followed. A growl: guttural, far beyond what was possible for the human vocal range. The sound remains seared in my memory.
Two women, both dressed in scrubs, were standing at the bottom of the staircase to the lower church. Their stunned eyes met. They ran up the stairs, presumably toward the scene.
It was arduous to find apt words to express exactly what was racing through my mind in that moment.
I sat on the pew for a few seconds more, or maybe a few minutes more. When I poured out from the church, greeted by springtime warmth in that concrete jungle, I couldn’t think of anything else. A truth had bludgeoned me like a baseball bat to the side of the head: we live in a world far wilder than most of us would dare to imagine.
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven.
I was blessed with a memory to prevent myself from glossing over the truth: that good and evil exist in dimensions we cannot see nor measure.
This was incredibly inconvenient! How could I present myself as “sophisticated” while admitting to belief in the existence of angels and demons? Even today, I know that a friend or family member of mine may well come across this very article and conclude that I must be insane. But saving face is never a good enough reason to do anything, let alone to refrain from speaking on topics so important as the existence of Heaven and hell. And Our Lord, the most sane Man who ever lived, was presumed by many to be insane. I do hope that my own willingness to come forward could be enough to encourage another, because if enough of us would stop keeping our mouths shut, all of us would be encouraged to stop engaging in silent conspiracy to convince us all that the Truth, wild as it may be, is something that only “idiots” and “weirdos” to believe in.
And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is a reminder of the evil in our day. I was still living in New York last year when, on January 22, the state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo (a Catholic!) passed the Reproductive Health Act, and graduated to legally sanctioned infanticide. There are doctors all across our country who, in denial of evil, are convinced they perform a service by killing a child. There are millions of women who, having made a choice (exceptional cases, such as pregnancy from rape or threats to the mother’s life, scenarios which elicit an emotional charge that can affect discernment, are rare), fear they have no other choice but to flee the consequences of the pursuit of pleasure under the “pro-choice” guise, and having exercised this “freedom,” many go on to live the remainder of their lives under the slavery of shame.
So much of what is packaged as “feminism” in our day is a rejection of the feminine, and embracing of the androgynous. The institution of the family has been catastrophically undermined. There are so many “progressive” thinkers who are so eager to condemn the evil of slavery, which was dehumanization for economic convenience, and go about in superficial quest to cast out the slightest scent of bigotry from public domain that they may be “good” people on the “right side of history,” the types who in abstract “love for humanity” insist they “would have called out the slave owners,” and go on to dismiss a developing child as just a “cluster of cells” which can be terminated at convenience. A person can be gullible enough to believe anything so long as the world of flesh deems him “good” for it: and so we have “progress.”
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil.
Exorcists (those who have been interviewed) consistently say that a demon loses much ground when compelled, by the power of Christ, to give away his name. Identifying an evil is a crucial step toward casting it out. The March for Life is filled with men and women who have identified evil.
Exorcists also consistently insist that only priests, acting under the express permission of the Church, are authorized to perform the very dangerous task of engaging the demonic.
So then what are we in the laity called to do? It is instinctive to want to fight evil, to want to banish it right now. But how? By arguing? By telling other people how horrible they are? Where does that get us? Isn’t it naïve to think we can make other people change? Does our present climate of political correctness and its backlash not illustrate that resistance is oftentimes as ugly when the wrong is fought on its own terms? Doesn’t the mature Christian know better than to dismiss another as “irredeemably evil” by understanding that that same good and evil cuts through his or her own heart, that everyone casts a shadow, that only the Grace of God prevents himself from being worse?
More than that, what happens when we offer down so much mind to evil? Don’t we become prey to overestimating evil’s strength? Is this not the Puritan folly? Doesn’t the devil, when he cannot settle for denial of his existence, wish us to believe that he is God’s rival? Doesn’t that same devil, a fallen creature, depend upon God for his own existence? Is Satan even as powerful as Saint Michael the Archangel? Isn’t Our Lord’s Resurrection proof that our guilt is ultimately powerless before the invincible Innocence which sustains us? Isn’t the Resurrection the turning point of human history, that the evil which distracts so much is already doomed to fail? Why would we believe in the losers? Isn’t a lie utterly dependent upon the existence of the truth which it warps? Can any lie have any more influence than that which we give to it? Evil is just a parasite!
But what is the most practical thing we can do to fight it?
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
What can the lives of the saints teach us about fighting evil? What did they focus on? Was it their hatred of Satan? Or was it rather their love of God? Was any saint’s earthly pilgrimage made in a perfect world? Were they challenged to fight, or rather to transcend, evil? And if you’ve sinned, so what? Didn’t the saints themselves have pasts? Then can it be that the evil in our present age is a call for us, the living, to sainthood?
Isn’t the Mother of God praying for us to become so much? Do the Sacraments of the Church aim to form us into anything less? Doesn’t the same Holy Spirit dwell within ourselves?
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” Our Lord tells us, and “the Kingdom of God is within you.”
Our individual lives, which have never really belonged to ourselves, touch countless others, which touch countless others (and vice versa), so that the individual’s consciousness affects the corporate conscience, and so the world’s sin and ignorance is the individual’s call to repentance and self-awareness. We cannot confess other people’s sins, but we can most certainly confess our own. And when we allow that majestic Goodness within ourselves to thrive, that we may see the face of Christ in our neighbors, even the worst of sinners, then it is through such friendship that they have an easier time finding that majesty within themselves. And for this end all we need to do is abandon ourselves, and with it the illusion that any good comes from anyone aside from God.
It is by seeking within that we change the world without, and the redemption of the world can only be hastened in our patience. And just as Calvary rescues us from the grip of sin and death, just as we gain our lives by losing them for Christ’s sake, just as acknowledging our guilt places us upon the path to recovering our innocence, the Christian faith is a paradox.
Will women who have had abortions, or advocates of abortion, ever repent because we despise them, or because we love them (personally, not just abstractly) as God first loved us, so much so that the sight of people destroying themselves becomes unbearable? And are the testimonies of saving grace which most stir our souls those of the mildest, or the gravest, of sinners? When our beloved country passes through all of the scourgings of atheism, she shall emerge, even with her scars, more beautiful than she ever was before.
Abortion will not be cast out by our knowledge that abortion is evil, but by our conviction that life is sacred. The devil’s work will be destroyed when we remember that Man was made in the image of God, and that as children of God we can say with all sobriety: we’re better than that.
Answering such a call becomes all the easier when we remember what’s at stake: that the life of a child depends on it.
Zubair Simonson, O.F.S., is a convert who currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order. His written works include The Rose: A Meditation, a narrative guide through the rosary now available on Kindle. The story of his conversion, and admiration for G.K. Chesterton, is included in the book My Name is Lazarus, published by the American Chesterton Society.
Follow Zubair on Twitter: @ZubairSimonson