The Alien Presence

07-09-2023Weekly Reflection

The drama of the Faith has exorcisms against Satan a reminder of the Lord’s battle with the Evil One culminating in the Lord’s victory over Satan through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 1John 3:8 The Church in each age shares in the Passion of the Lord particularly in her struggle with the Evil One. A particular manifestation of Satan is infidelity. St. John refers to those who go from the Church and deny Christ as antichrists. St. Paul refers to his struggles with “false brethren.”

Of the two the latter are the more dangerous because they remain within the Church and work against her. They are an alien presence. John Henry Newman looked ahead to our era in a sermon called The Infidelity of the Future and saw this type of infidelity on a grand scale in the Church. The key characteristic of the alien presence is to remain in the Church ostensibly while rejecting some or all of her doctrines seeking to recast the Church according to some human image or vision of their own making. The Catechism of the Catholic Church treats of sins against faith in the section on the 1st Commandment.

Two Popes can shed some light on the struggles of the Church in our time: The first is Pope Paul VI. On June 29 , 1972 Pope Paul VI in a homily delivered a strikingly downbeat analysis of the state of the Roman Catholic Church post Vatican II. He told a congregation: We believed that after the Council would come a day of sunshine in the history of the Church. But instead there has come a day of clouds and storms, and of darkness ... And how did this come about? We will confide to you the thought that may be, we ourselves admit in free discussion, that may be unfounded, and that is that there has been a power, an adversary power. Let us call him by his name: the devil….It is as if from some mysterious, no, it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.

On October 13, 1884 Leo XIII had just completed a celebration of Mass in one of the Vatican's private chapels. Standing at the foot of the altar, he suddenly turned ashen and collapsed to the floor, apparently the victim of a stroke or heart attack. However, neither malady was the cause of his collapse. For he had just been given a vision of the future of the Church he loved so much. After a few minutes spent in what seemed like a coma, he revived and remarked to those around him, "Oh, what a horrible picture I was permitted to see!" What Leo XIII apparently saw, as described later by those who talked to him at the time of his vision, was a period of about one hundred years, when the power of Satan would reach its zenith. Leo was so shaken by the specter of the destruction of moral and spiritual values both inside and outside the Church, that he composed a prayer which was to be said at the end of each Mass celebrated anywhere in the Catholic Church. (Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel)

This struggle between fidelity and infidelity was a theme taken up by Georges Bernanos, a giant in the history of French literature. He wrote the famous book, Diary of a Country Priest, a literary masterpiece made into an awardwinning film by the famed director Robert Bresson. Less well-known and translated into English was another novel called L’Imposture (The Imposter). It is a novel about a priest who loses his faith but stays in the Church and continues to act as a priest and his encounter with the faithful Catholicism of a young girl. This struggle of our time is fidelity to the Catholic Faith versus infidelity inside and outside the Church. It is important to immerse ourselves in the victory of the Lord in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection and pray for perseverance. Key weapons in the struggle are humility and faithfulness to the Faith of all time; the apostolic faith will never fail according to the guarantee of the Lord. St. Peter Canisius S.J. teaches us: "Better that only a few Catholics should be left, staunch and sincere in their religion, than that they should, remaining many, desire as it were, to be in collusion with the Church's enemies and in conformity with the open foes of our faith.