Tag Archives: devil

Two Women who Rocked the Early Church

March 7, 2012


Altar of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Photo/david_shane Licensed under Creative Commons

Last week I said that none of the most popular superheroes could defeat the devil.  But one woman martyr did crush him in a vision–the day before she and her companions died gloriously for the faith in North Africa in the year 203.

In my opinion, St. Perpetua had as much valor as a Navy Seal and so did St. Felicity, both of whom share a feast day this week. They were among the most well-known and venerated martyrs of the early Church.

Besides their bravery in facing a savage death for professing to be Christians, these women show us their great faith, hope and trust in God. They also teach us something about parenting under extreme stress.

Perpetua was a noblewoman from the  city of Carthage, near the modern city of Tunis in Tunisia. Felicity was a slave. They and three others were arrested for their faith, and for refusing to pay tribute to the Roman gods. Perpetua had an infant son; Felicity was eight months pregnant.

The women were sentenced to be torn apart by beasts as part of the emperor’s birthday celebration. They were baptized before being led away to prison.

It seems ironic that they were arrested for being Christians before they were actually baptized into the faith but it was common at that time for believers to wait for baptism until they were near death. They understood that baptism was for the forgiveness of sins and thus it was held with such value that many waited to receive the sacrament until right before dying.

Perpetua’s father visited her in prison with her son to convince her to abandon her faith. Eventually she was allowed to keep her son in prison with her.

Felicity worried that she wouldn’t be martyred with Perpetua and the others because Roman law forbade executing pregnant women. Two days before she and the others were thrown into the arena, she gave birth and her baby was adopted by a Christian couple.

Perpetua and Felicity’s Christian witness in prison resulted in the conversion of one of the jailers.

Perpetua’s vision of her battle with the devil was one of several she had while in prison. The day before her execution, she dreamed she was brought into the amphitheater but instead of beasts, she saw an Egyptian. Then a man taller than the top of the arena appeared holding a rod used by gladiators and a branch of golden apples. She was to fight the Egyptian and either he would kill her with a sword or she would conquer him and receive the branch.

She told of the gladiator battle in The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, one of the earliest pieces of writing by a Christian woman:

And we came nigh to each other, and began to buffet one another. He tried to trip up my feet, but I with my heels smote upon his face. And I rose up into the air and began so to smite him as though I trod not the earth. But when I saw that there was yet delay, I joined my hands, setting finger against finger of them. And I caugth his head, and he fell upon his face; and  I trod upon his head. … And I went up to the master of gladiators and received  the branch. And he kissed me and said to me:  ‘Daughter, peace be with you.’ And I began to go with glory to the gate called the Gate of Life. And I awoke; and I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil, but I knew that mine was the victory.

When Perpetua and Felicity actually were martyred on March 7, they were first whipped and then thrown into the arena where they were mauled by a wild cow. They exchanged the kiss of peace and were killed by a sword.

Before her martyrdom, St. Perpetua professed her faith:

For this cause came we willingly unto this, that our liberty might not be obscured. For this cause have we devoted our lives.

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How Do We Know the Devil Exists?

February 29, 2012


Photo/Daniel Dobleu Licensed under Creative Commons

If the real battle between good and evil were like a superhero movie, God, wearing a mask or maybe iron armor, would face off against his super villain, the devil, whom He would defeat after a very intense two-hour confrontation.

There’s no doubt that evil exists but often it’s hard to trace it back to an arch enemy. I think Satan would like us to think he’s Batman’s nemesis–or that he doesn’t exist at all.

Since he  is an angel and can assume any form he chooses, we might not recognize him.  But there is good evidence that he wreaks havoc and tries to get us to make bad choices.

According to Bl. Pope John Paul II:

The battle against the devil … is still being fought today, because the devil is still alive and active in the world. The evil that surrounds us today, the disorders that plague our society, man’s inconsistency and brokenness, are not only the results of original sin, but also the result of Satan’s pervasive and dark action.

Satan was at first a good angel, the Fourth Lateran Council taught, but he and other angels “radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign.” (CCC 392)  The story of their fall from heaven is found in Rev. 12:7-9. It is believed that Satan and his angels refused to serve Christ, whose human nature was below the level of the angels. But since angels don’t face the same weaknesses and temptations as humans, it’s not totally clear why he sinned.

We don’t know how high Satan is on the angel scale of importance. He is powerful because he is pure spirit, but he is still a creature and can’t prevent the building up of God’s reign. It’s a great mystery why God allows his diabolical activity. (CCC 395)

Jesus talked a lot about the devil–He mentioned Satan at least 17 times in the gospels.  Matthew 4:1-11 tells how the Evil One tried to derail the Lord’s mission by tempting Him three times in the desert.

The Apostles also thought Satan was real.  St. John wrote: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)   St. Peter warned: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

When Jesus prays, “But deliver us from evil” in the Our Father, evil “refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’  God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ.” (CCC 2851)

The devil isn’t responsible for all evil–we contribute to the evil in the world through our own wrong choices–but he brings intelligent direction to all the evil tendencies and forces.

Iron Man’s high-tech weapons won’t help in defeating the devil but prayer will. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi offers these rules:

  1. Do not forget that the devil exists.
  2. Do not forget that the devil is a tempter.
  3. Do not forget that the devil is very intelligent and astute.
  4. Be (always) vigilant in the eyes and the heart.
  5. Be strong in spirit and virtue.
  6. Pray tirelessly.
  7. Adore God.
  8. Listen to God’s words.
  9. Remember Christ’s victory over temptation. Remember man’s sharing in that victory.
  10. Be humble and love mortification.


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Get away, Satan! Repel temptation

March 11, 2011


Jesus is tempted by Satan with money. St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church in Seminole, FL

Temptation is the enticement to do something that is wrong, immoral, or harmful.  To give into temptation is to commit a sin.  Sin offends against God, neighbor, and self, and it leads to injury, guilt, shame, alienation, unhappiness, and spiritual ruin.

The first words of Jesus’ public ministry are the same words used for the signing on Ash Wednesday, “Turn away from sin” (Mk 1:15b).  Ideally, Jesus wants us to resist temptation with all our might, to stop sin before it ever starts.  But if we should fall into sin, as we often do, to take the season of Lent as a time to face our sin humbly and honestly, admit our wrongdoing, ask God for pardon, and renew our intention to live good and holy lives.

The gospel for the First Sunday of Lent (Mt 4:1-11) is troubling.  The devil is sly and bold.  The temptations came not once, but three times, and at a moment of weakness, when Jesus was hungry, lonely, and tired.  Worse yet, the devil is persistent and does not give up easily.  Even though Jesus fended off all three temptations, the devil did not leave permanently.  As Luke observed, the devil departed from him, but only “for a time” (Lk 4:13).

The gospel is ominous.  There will be future attacks.  The battle with temptation lasts a lifetime.  The devil is prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pt 5:8).  We need to resist the devil and the devil’s temptations, steadfast in the faith (1 Pt 5:9).

Jesus repelled temptation.  He told the devil, “Get away, Satan!” (Mt 4:10).  He spent his entire life saying, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt 8:33).  Jesus prepared for the assault waves of temptation in four ways, with solitude, prayer, fasting, and Scripture reading, and if we hope to repel Satan and temptation, we must do the same.

Solitary time is very important.  Life is jam-packed.  We are hyper-busy with so many places to go, things to do, and people to see.  Occasionally, at the very least, God deserves our full and undivided attention without distractions.  Quiet time with God is absolutely essential.

Our quiet time should not be spent idly, but in prayer, in conversation with God.  “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16b), so powerful, in fact, that when the devil attacks, the prayerful person is strong and determined enough to repel the temptation and say, “Get away, Satan!”

Some form of fasting is spiritually indispensable.   Luke states this most emphatically, “He [Jesus] ate nothing during those days” (Lk 4:2).  Jesus practiced self-denial.  Food and drink represent the desires of our bodies.  God, not our bodies, ought to be in charge.  Those who master their bodies are better able to say “yes” to God and “no” to temptation and the devil.

Finally, Scripture reading plays a key role in a person’s ability to repel temptation.  Jesus quoted Scripture not once, but three times, to conquer temptation and keep Satan away (Mt 4:4,7,10).  Those who are well-versed in God’s Word are well-armed to go to battle with the Satan and succeed.  Lent is a time to open our Bibles, read Scripture, and meditate on God’s holy Word.  Then, whenever temptation comes our way or the devil attacks, we, like Jesus, will be able to repel the temptation and say, “Get away, Satan!” (Mt 4:10).

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