You don’t see it as much anymore, but many good Catholic Examinations of Conscience used to refer to a “fear of Hell” as an acceptable, albeit imperfect, means of contrition when confessing one’s sins. Perhaps it’s our modern desensitization to the reality of Hell and the demonic, or the failure of Church leadership to adequately teach to it, but whatever the case may be, it seems as though Hell, and the demons and damned souls that inhabit it, have increasingly become viewed as figments of our old, dusty, Catholic imagination.
What’s puzzling about this, though, is that Our Lord certainly never minced His words when it came to the reality of Hell. In fact, one might very well be able to make the argument that much of Christ’s public ministry was to literally “scare the Hell out of us.” If that were in fact the case, what would be so wrong about that? Christ was, after all, a teacher; and good teachers know that in order to help a diverse group of students who have different learning styles, attention spans, and abilities learn one concept, they must employ varied methods of teaching. This is why we can be confident that when Christ speaks of “the many rooms in His Father’s house” in John 14:1-3 and entering “Hell and unquenchable fire” in Mark 9:43, He is essentially teaching us the same thing. That is, that in eternity we will reside in one of two places—Heaven or Hell.
Much in the same way that splashing our faces with ice-cold water can shake us from our weariness on an early morning, prudently reminding ourselves of the actuality of Satan, his works, and his realm, can be a worthy means of resetting our spiritual hard drives from time to time. One such time to do this, that may prove to be particularly fruitful, is Advent.
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Although the treatment of Advent as a penitential season of reverence and preparation for the coming of Christ seems to be making a comeback among many Catholics, for others it can still become drowned out and overlooked by the cycle of endless shopping and sales, secular holiday music, and the slew of “Christmas movies” that have run repeatedly on television for years. To break this cycle, one may very well need that deliberate reset of their spiritual hard drive as suggested previously. What might that reset look like? Perhaps a recounting of the bifurcation of the angels will provide us with some insight.
In a November 2013 article from his website, Dr. Taylor Marshall does an excellent job of summarizing St. Thomas Aquinas and his conspectus of the fall of Lucifer and the division of the angels when he writes:
Following passages from the Old and New Testament, Saint Thomas teaches that the angels were tested. Some angels adhered to God and were rewarded with the beatific vision of God’s essence (good angels) and some rebelled and lost grace (bad angels or demons). According to Christian tradition, Satan was once a seraph and the highest angel of all.
…Thomas cites Job 4:18: “In His angels, He found wickedness.” When they were first created, the angels did not have the beatific vision of God’s essence. They were literally blind to the vision of God. They were first tested (some say by a vision of Christ incarnate in Mary, see Revelation chapter 12) and certain angels could not accept serving God if it entailed serving a lower species—namely the human species. One third of the angels fell and became demons.
Maria de Agreda relates that when Lucifer learned that the Logos would become man through a human mother; [sic] Lucifer, the highest of all creatures, demanded the honor of becoming the Theotokos. He wanted the hypostatic union to occur through him. This is another reason why there is perfect enmity between Satan and Mary (see Gen. 3:15). It is also why Mary now has the highest place in Heaven.
When reading the passages above, it becomes clear that the Incarnation of Christ, which is central to the seasons of Advent and Christmas, was so significant that it literally caused the division of the angels in Heaven. Furthermore, it serves as the supreme reason as to why Satan harbors such a tremendous hatred for us and desires and works tirelessly to drag us to the depths of Hell to be with him in misery for all eternity. The pride and envy of the fallen angels could not bear what is detailed in Genesis 3:15, that God promised a Savior, born of “the woman,” who will conquer Satan.
Perhaps this is that reset that our spiritual hard drives need this Advent—a clear and unfettered reminder that Satan hates us, and he is, as St. Peter points out bluntly, “prowling around like a lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Yet as we bear this disconcerting truth in mind, let us not forget the ever important “why” of Satan’s hatred. Satan only hates us because God so profoundly loves us. Yes, us. We little humans of flesh and bone, stumbling and struggling through the ups and downs of life. God became one of us.
Through this extraordinary act of love, God provides us with the irrefutable evidence as to why John 3:16 is the perennial verse that so many Christians cling to with understandable and fervent hopefulness: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that whoever believes in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.”
This Advent, don’t forget that Satan hates you; but more importantly, don’t forget that God loves you—so much so, in fact, that He desired to become like you: flesh and bone, born of a woman, hungry, thirsty, tired, and tempted by the enemy. This is your God. This is the depth of His love for you. This is why Satan hates you.
[Image: “Satan Before the Lord” by Corrado Giaquinto]