Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Satan and his angels rebel against Heaven. For their punishment, the Lord casts them into Hell. There Satan languishes for nine days in the fiery lake. When he rouses himself, he speaks to his ally, Beelzebub, and the “lost Archangel” boasts of his prison, “Here at least/We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built/Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:/Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,/To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:/Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Though sprung from the 17th century imagination of the English Protestant, John Milton, this crucial moment in Paradise Lost perfectly captures the voice to an ancient yet still breathing rebellion, the all-too-glib swagger of a sinner boasting aloud his own damnation, Non serviam. Where is this furnance-lake? Where does rebellion rule? In the heart and mind that brags about and revels in the demonic verse, “I will not serve.” Satan and his angels are driven from Heaven b/c they refuse to be great as our Lord is great. Jesus says, “. . .whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” When we seek to be masters in this world, we are placed in worldly chains. To be great in the Lord, we must be servants in the world.
In his self-serving speech to Beelzebub, Satan tells an astonishing lie, “Here [in Hell] at least/We shall be free. . .” Only the corrupted mind of a demon could look at the prison of Hell and call himself free. No state of being outranks Hell in the absence of true freedom. Hell is the “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed. . .”(CCC 1033). When we definitively, finally exclude ourselves from communion with God, we are in Hell. Since God—Who is Love, Truth, Beauty, and Freedom—is our supernatural end, our ultimate goal in this life and the life to come, the choices we make are freest when they bring us closer to our goal. If we have already given up on our goal of being with God forever, then every decision we make thereafter is chained to some other goal, some other end. Lucifer abandons his supernatural goal—one that he has already achieved as an angel—and chains himself to pride, jealousy, and power. To soothe his deeply wounded sense of self-esteem, He boasts that he would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. The lie that he lives is this: even though he imagines himself to be the King of Hell, he is actually a slave to every sort of corruption. He serves while believing himself to be the master.
All this talk about Lucifer's fall from heaven and his imaginary rise as Satan, King of Hell, serves to make a rather simple point: if we will to be free, we will serve. We will serve God, His creatures, His Church, and we will do so with the same love with which He loves us. This means setting aside willful pride, that entitled sense of self-sufficiency and independence; surrendering jealousy, the dangerous coveting of another's blessings and gifts; and the idolatrous worship of control, popularity, wealth, reputation, and the need to always be right. Loving and humble service given for the greater glory of God brings peace to a raucous mind and troubled heart. And the best way to set yourself on the road to destruction is to declare yourself independent from our only source of true freedom: service in love, service given for no other reason than because God loves you. Satan says it best, “I will not serve. For me, it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Good luck with that.___________________
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