Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions
If it was a choice between Martin Luther's view ofjustification and that of the Catholic Church, 1 am sure the majority of people would choose Luther's because it is so close to their own experience. How is it that the Catholic account of justification seems so unrealistic?
ITRUST THE reader is referringto Luther's view of man after
justification as being like a snow-covered pile of dung. God declares him to be just but he isn't in reality. What the reader has alluded to is a common experience in our time the sense that an individual can have of being refuse, an unredeemed and unchanged wreck despite attendance at church. The life
of faith then can feel like the very thin covering of snow that Luther alludes to it occludes the wretched and sordid reality of our real selves and gives us only a veneer of renewal.
Of course this impression could be a pathology in a person revealed by a loss of self-esteem, but some pastors testify that this view of things regularly turns up in their confessionals. Something is amiss with a swathe of people some of whom are touched by Christianity. Pail of the difficulty is that some people who come to church nowadays, especially young people, be they regulars at Holy Trinity Brompton or Westminster Cathedral, have a very sorry story to tell. The story is one of extensive immersion in human
misery, in sin, addiction, desperation, in relationships that begin as excursions in love and finish as nightmares in darkness Their rave, house, garage or hip-hop culture encourages them to choose escape when faced with personal histories that are steeped in such misery.
Incidentally, the millennium parties that were scheduled this year rocked to the beat of a new "church". A church of rave, a pill of ecstasy, a message of excess and a communion of music in a haze of exultant bodies. This is the alternative "church" to Christianity and it is this "church" that poured out such vitriol over the No 1 hit, the Millennium Prayer. Intolerant, abusive of genuine religion, it seeks and speaks another language to Christianity but it is oddly quasi-religious in many of its features. "This is my church," says the hit tune Mize, and "the DJ is my priest".
The problem is that this "church" is devoid of the one central feature common to authentic Christianity the way of personal transformation. It avoids this feature because it is too painful. When one has walked down a cul-de-sac that leads to a moral wasteland in life, classical Christianity does not say "change the signposts and call it a floral avenue" but "retrace your steps and return to the beginning". It is not surprising that some people feel the Lutheran picture is closer to their experience, but perhaps this may be because when God's light first shines in a room its dust is illuminated. To retrace one's steps, to admit the need for grace, and to seek the company of Jesus in a daily cycle of prayer and praise this is the antidote that most people need . for the sickness of modem life. Justification is about renewal.
I recently saw the movie The Exorcist and found it very frightening. Does the Catholic church still believe in Satan as a personal force or has all that gone out with the Ark?
1im. venire the reader watched s a disturbing portreyal of the descent of an innocent young girl into the depravity of diabolic possession after a history of tinkering with invocation games. Most cases of explicit tinkering with such games conclude with a short sharp shock but we should not under-estimate the deceptive power evil can exercise on the young mind. The killer-members of the trench
coat nettle of Littleton High School in America all dabbled with invocation of spirits. This kind of behaviour is sometimes symptomatic of psychological illness but invocation-games can lead to isolation from the ordinary channels of grace, of virtue and of health.
Occasionally, however, a real descent into the dominion of evil is verifiable and this is where the Church steps in. It is appropriate that we reflect on the Church's teaching on evil especially given the popularity of the movie mentioned above and the publication of the new rites of exorcism. The Church believes that evil has its roots in the presence of a being and beings that fell from God's favour at the beginning of time, as fallen angels. In Padua there is a marvellous fresco of Giotto which depicts the empty throne of Lucifer in heaven which he lost through his intellectual pride and which was reserved for Francis because of his humility. Satan or Lucifer then is a proud being that snuggles against the disciples of Jesus but is more generally too the enemy of man. Called a murderer in scripture, a tempter, he also appears in the Gospels as the father of lies. He appears in the Old Testament as the author of original sin but is also identified by Jesus in the Gospels as the derailer of the divine mission.
In the mystical tradition of the saints throughout history since, he is also called a false angel of light, appearing under guise to deceive those that wish to progress along the way of perfection. Jesus calls him the prince of this world which suggests that he exercises a certain dominion over humankind.