The Readings for St Mark, Evangelist
Wednesday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)
Sobrii estote, et vigilate : quia adversarius vester diabolus tamquam leo rugiens circuit, quaerens quem devoret : cui resistite fortes in fide.Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith.
The Devil is at once very popular today and also totally ignored. I know a couple of bars in San Francisco named after the Darker Powers and I can vouch for the presence of same in them. But the folks otherwise occupied in those spaces probably think it’s spooky and cool to have a “mythological” name. Who’s scared of that old crap anyway?
This is where the Roaring Lion looks like just a big kitten. Get drunk, take home a demon. It’s fun.
160. We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding… He is present in the very first pages of the Scriptures, which end with God’s victory over the devil. Indeed, in leaving us the Our Father, Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to “deliver us from evil”. That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact translation would be “the evil one”. It indicates a personal being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask daily for deliverance from him, lest his power prevail over us.
161. Hence, we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities. “Like a roaring lion, he prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
This short text opens Compline (a.k.a. Night Prayer) every night in the Extraordinary Form. At my former Monastery we chanted it in the Relic Chapel, before processing into the Oratory and we followed it with a nightly rite of mutual forgiveness at which each member of the community bowed to the floor before every other member of the community – individually – and asked forgiveness of any sins that might have come to pass during the day. (To be clear that rite of mutual forgiveness is a community tradition and not common in other Western Monasteries, but it was very well placed here.)
Elsewhere St Paul says, “Sol non occidat super iracundiam vestram. Nolite locum dare diabolo.” Let not the sun go down upon your anger. Give not place to the Devil. This rite of Mutual Forgiveness and “adversarius vester diabolus” go together in a very real way. The end of the day, the wrapping up of business, and Satan waiting to devour one: it’s all connected somehow.
Our Ancestors (like Sts Mark, Peter, and Paul) would have been in bed not long after sundown. Our ancestors engaged in something called segmented sleep: so once the oil burned low or there was no candles, everyone went to bed. They woke up in the middle of the night and cogitated for an hour or so. They reproduced. They plotted. Then went on starlit strolls. Then they went back to sleep until sunrise. This sleep pattern is so ingrained in humanity that we still wake up in the middle of the night. (For us it’s a torture: we’ve probably only been in bed an hour or so. Or else we’re going to get up soon. We turn on the lights, get up and read or eat.) Anyway, I digress: this segmented sleep, and this nocturnal waking, for anyone who has gone to bed with any sort of anxiety or strong emotion, you know that you wake up usually in the full throes of that very same thought pattern.
St Paul knows that going to bed with sinful thoughts, or anger, or some other rupture of communion means that when you wake up at 1:00 AM to ruminate, this is going to be all you’re thinking about. Anyone who has ever had a spouse or partner sleeping next to them whilst, they themselves rehashed the argument from dinnertime over and over knows what this is about. Why wake up your sleeping spouse when you know what s/he would say anyway? Let the argument run in your head. You can get angry at them all by yourself.
The Cuddly Kitten might start to roar a bit more now.
This is why we have to resist the Devil “fortes in fide” or strong in faith or, as the Greek should be translated: steadfast in Trust. The next text is the key: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. We are all going through this nightly and constant temptation. We are all called to pray for each other, to help each other struggle. We have to cheer each other on when we are winning and send each other back to the battle when we are losing the ascesis, the struggle, the jihad. We are called to do this together. There is no I in “Saved”: it’s a team sport. We all do it together or it doesn’t happen.
We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.(Gaudete & Exsultate)
No one is saved alone. It’s an all-or-nothing option. Satan knows if he can trip you up in your late night anxiety attacks, or in your petty cubicle turf wars if he can get you, he can get a few of your friends too. Lions know: go for the weak ones. You can get the whole flock going one at a time.
This is where mutual forgiveness comes in: because any sin hurts all of us. Any sin is a sin against God and everyone else. My personal peccadilloes are damaging (and damning) to all of you. Before I sleep I need forgiveness from all of you – and you need it of me. Thus, be fore we sleep, we can restore unity and communion to the whole body. We can heal the divisions that only serve as points of entry to the Devil.
Your duty to be firm in trusting Jesus doesn’t just help you: it saves the whole flock.