Devil still around, working

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, November 6, 2011

The devil is alive and well and hard at work undermining the relationships of Christians to their Savior, according to Father Louis Cameli’s new book, “The Devil You Don’t Know: Recognizing and Resisting Evil in Everyday Life.”

Cameli, who now serves as Cardinal George’s delegate for formation and mission and is a sort of “resource theologian” for the agencies of the archdiocese, said the book is for “anyone who struggles.” Which is to say, everyone.

“Some of the struggles are internal,” Cameli said. “But sometimes there’s another dimension to it. There’s something from the outside that is stirring this up.”

The idea that the devil is working to derail people on track to salvation is nothing new, he said. “This is fundamentally the preaching of Paul, who said you are fighting not just earthly powers. You are also fighting the powers and principalities of the Evil One. There is an adversary.”

Knowing that can help people fight the good fight, Cameli said, following the example of Jesus on the cross, who cried out in his feeling of abandonment and put himself into his Father’s hands.

“I want to tell people, ‘Don’t be surprised. Don’t feel alone, as if it were only you who struggled. And, above all, don’t be without hope, because Jesus is with us and he is our hope,’” he said.

Always active

“The Devil You Don’t Know” points out ways Satan has been active throughout history, both subtle and seductive, calling on examples from Scripture as well as the men and women who became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the church.

To begin with, Cameli said in an interview, our tradition clearly recognizes the existence of demonic possession and the need for exorcism, but full-out possession just isn’t terribly effective in terms of the devil’s goal of turning people away from God. If someone’s behavior would lead people to believe they are possessed, people avoid the victim, limiting his ability to sow the seeds of discord.

Instead, the devil plants the seeds of deception, division, diversion and discouragement and lets them do the job with whatever tools are at hand.

For example, deception in the modern world can come not with the outright telling of lies — although that happens — but with the skewing of the mountains of information that land on people every day.

“Information can be good,” Cameli said. “We need information. But information is not truth.”

Division in American society — even in the church — is obvious, between rich and poor, between different races and ethnic groups, between people with different political views, he said. Often, people are divided against their very selves.

Power in diversion

Diversion may be the devil’s tool of choice these days, as people’s lives become more and more harried and they take less time for God. In his most basic form the devil encourages people to divert their worship from God to idols of their own making, whether they be the golden calf of Exodus or money or status.

But not all diversions appear to be such direct affronts to God. Just as military commanders might try to create a diversion in one place while mounting a more serious attack somewhere else, the devil might divert one’s attention to one thing while allowing temptation to sneak through elsewhere.

The last of the four seeds the devil plants, and the one Cameli believes to be most dangerous, is discouragement. Discouragement, he said, might be the scourge of the age. It’s a certain kind of unhappiness, different from depression, in which the afflicted can see the possibilities for improvement, but just can’t seem to get to them. After a while, Cameli fears, people will simply give up, and never return to the relationship they should have had with Christ.

Evil at work

The genesis of the book goes back about 20 years, to when Cameli wrote a paper on “acedie,” usually translated as sloth in the list of the seven deadly sins. He developed it further as he was teaching a class on World War II and saw over and over again an evil intelligence at work. His study of the desert mothers and fathers also contributed, as he related their struggles to what he has gone through and what he has witnessed in people who come to him for spiritual direction.

The goal, he said, is to help people live in Christian hope as they fight the snares of the devil.

“There’s a kind of Christian realism here,” he said. “Christian hope is not wishful thinking. It’s clear-eyed.”