There are facts that cannot be denied, and yet, are likely to shock some of us as “unfair.” Why is it so easy for Satan to make us trip and fall? Man (homo) has been given intelligence; alas, he keeps forgetting that not only is his intelligence limited, but that moreover, it has been affected by original sin. As soon as he loses sight of these two undeniable facts, he is likely to become an easy prey to Screwtape, whose intelligence is so superior to ours and whose keenest diabolical satisfaction is to set traps on the path of human Pinocchios.
Even though all of us – except the Blessed one – have been wounded by original sin, we do not all have the same weaknesses. One thing is certain: if there are sins we have never committed, it is certainly because we have never been tempted.
Satan is a keen observer. Already in small children, he will notice that one is inclined to anger; another one to gluttony, another one is, from his very cradle, tempted by jealousy. In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes “…it was not yet able to speak, but was pale and bitter in face as it looked at another child nursing at the same breast.” (I, 7) Alas, there are children who enjoy being cruel. It is heart-breaking to know that some boys enjoy torturing helpless animals. Some are incredibly heartless toward their peer, mercilessly making fun of any defect they detect in others’ faces. Some children pick up the “art” of lying at a very young age. Vanity seems to be born with us: there are very young little girls who get upset when another child’s beauty or grace is praised. Some boys turn green from rage when defeated at a game or in a fist fight.
Once the Evil one has properly diagnosed our particular weakness, he delights in placing us in situations (real or sometimes even imaginary) which will lead us to defeat.
I have mentioned the green eye of envy. One thing is certain, for some of us, jealousy is a chronic form of torture. The envious person is, by definition, miserable.
He who is cursed by this serious flaw will, instinctively, never miss a chance of feeling that he (or she) is less loved, less appreciated, unfairly treated, overlooked, neglected. All sorts of “nobodies” are always given preference. Once the poison has entered into their soul, the Evil one needs not do much work: the envious person will keep “scratching” his wound that inevitably will become more and more infected until the “patient” becomes very sick indeed. Everything in his life turns to gall.
Such a person is incapable ever to give a “response to value”; he is so self-centered that everything is related to himself. If a member of his family, or a friend, or a colleague receives a promotion or is honored, one can only hope for his sake, that he will not be informed of it. His day will inevitably turn into a dark night. Let us assume that this award is fully deserved. Instead of rejoicing, his response will be one of bitterness: “Why not me? I deserve it much more.” “Why is it that nobody truly appreciates my merits? Why is it that others are always preferred to me?” What should trigger joy, is by the subtle chemistry of jealousy, changed into gall.
The victim of jealousy upon hearing that someone has benefited from a generous inheritance will respond with irritation and anger. “He does not need that money; I need it much more than he does. I am also a blood relation of the giver. Why am I always overlooked? I can only explain this crying injustice because my relative always was a clever politician. It is clear that he has been ‘apple polishing’ our relation, which I would never do because it is below my dignity. He is reaping the fruits of his flattery. I would never abase myself to do such a thing.” Another “valid” reason for being miserable.
This deplorable disposition also another consequence: it renders him incapable of ever being grateful for the very many gifts that he has received: a secure financial situation, a lovable wife, talented children, and the gift of faith. What he has received is denigrated; whatever he has not received is magnified, and Satan has achieved a major victory with very little effort.
To “feel joy” about another person’s misery is typical diabolical. Satan desperately wishes to catch us in his nets, but, and this is worth stressing, being damned he does not benefit by it. The torments of hell, being hellish cannot be alleviated. A thief benefits by his theft; a liar escapes from punishment. But Lucifer, being the very incarnation of evil, gets no profit when he succeeds in making us sin: he enjoys evil because it is evil. This is truly diabolical.
This depressing sketch could easily be duplicated with the other capital sins. Once Satan has diagnosed our weakness, he is like a talented chess player. And we, foolish creatures, fail to see that we not only offend God, the Giver of all gifts, we also hurt our immortal soul, we make wife, children, family and friends, miserable, and we give diabolical satisfaction to the Evil one. Such a person is deeply unhappy and is fully responsible for his misery. He is his own worst enemy. Caveat: let us daily be our guard, and learn to diagnose the snares laid the Enemy of God, before they have a chance to catch us in their poisonous nets.
How lovingly wise St. Peter was when he wrote: Fratres, sobrii estote et vigilate… These words have been repeated since the sixth century by all Benedictine monks all over the words when they pray Compline, the last prayer of their daily liturgy. We should all join this great order and before going to sleep beg God to protect us from noctium phantasmata: “defend our eyes from deadly fears and fantasies….”
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.