Saint Paul uses the unity of the human body to teach us about the unity of the Church with Christ Jesus. The baptized form one body with Christ their Head. Saint Paul teaches that when “one part suffers all parts suffer with it; when one part is honored all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor. 12:26). Sadly, the whole church is suffering, brought about by many things, including the sex abuse scandal and the poor teaching of the faith.
Such suffering forces one to recall the words of Pope Paul VI: “The smoke of Satan has entered the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” Pope Paul the VI made this statement in reference to the church, within in a decade of the Second Vatican Council, and just a few years after the encyclical Humanae Vitae. More than ever, these words of Pope Paul VI need to be pondered.
First, we must recall who Satan is. He is a fallen angel who in his envy, desires humankind to fall short of salvation and union with God. Yes, the devil wishes us to suffer the pains of hell, which is the fiery torture of complete separation from God, a separation begun now by immoral behavior.
Pope Paul mentions “smoke,” for smoke causes two things: difficulty in sight, and suffocation leading to death.
Smoke makes it difficult to see, causing us to wander about in confusion. Such confusion is present today, for so many are no longer certain what the teaching of the church is on so many matters. From the confession of the Divinity of Jesus to the substance of holy orders to the nature of marriage, there is much confusion, often created by both believers and non-believers, causing dissention, which leads to hostilities and infighting. This is what Satan wants: division in the unity of the Body of Christ, which is the church.
Smoke pollutes the air, which is necessary for life. The smoke of Satan is that smoke is made up of his many subtle lies that cause so much ruin. The devil is the father of lies, as Jesus states (cf. Jn 8:44). Satan’s lies slowly cause the life of grace to suffocate within us. Recall how he lied to Eve in the garden, asking: “Did God really say that?” while pointing out how good the fruit looked, yet not speaking of the dangers (cf. Gn 3). So many of the teachings of the church have been challenged in this manner. This is most evident in the moral teachings.
Many are asking how they ought to respond to this crisis. Should they abandon the church, or put pressure for more changes in discipline, or withhold funds? Not only will such responses not work, they will only lead to more problems in the future. The response needs to be different.
First, recall the promise of Jesus made to Saint Peter, and through him to all of us, concerning the church: “The gates of the nether world shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). This gives us great hope. For no matter how much Satan, or man for that matter, tries to destroy the church, he cannot overcome the power of the Holy Spirit. In every age of crisis, Jesus has raised up great saints who have brought true reform to the church. Such reform of the church is not a change in her teaching or in her discipline. Rather, such reform begins with the individual believer. Each of us needs to reform how we live.
This leads to a second point. Jesus teaches us that some demons are only cast out by prayer and fasting (cf. Mt 17:21, Mk 9:29). Each of the faithful need to do just that: pray and fast. By prayer we direct our hearts and minds toward God. This allows us to direct our lives by God’s Holy Word. Prayer also helps us to grow in our understanding of the faith, especially those teachings which are often contrary to the ongoing and rampant secularization of the world. Moreover, fasting helps us to control our passions, so that earthly goods and pleasures do not distract us from the joys of heaven.
Knowing the constant need for prayer and fasting, the church has established every Friday as a day of penance. The church continues to ask the faithful to make Friday a day of penance, particularly by abstaining from meat (cf. Canons 1250, 2251). It is time to start observing this precept. Allowing Fridays to be a day of penance, abstaining from meat, not eating between meals and forgoing other things like television, video games and the like, while spending some time in prayer and doing works of charity. Such observances as these produce the holy saints and vocations we need. It is these saints who will reform the church.
Prayer, fasting, penances and works of charity will help the Body of Christ push out the deadly smoke of Satan, allowing her to be filled with the life giving breath of the Holy Spirit.
Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.