26 February 2009

The Devil preaches on Lent

Back in Lent 2006, I preached one of my more experimental/literary homilies, "With the Devil in the Desert."

Some loved it, some hated it, and some thought I had gone over the edge into the diabolical by preaching a homily in the voice of the Devil.

Since the homily got exactly one comment on the blog, I'm curious about what folks might think about it now. . .I thoroughly enjoyed writing and preaching this homily. It's one of my favorites!

Give it a read/listen and let me know. . .

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  1. You turned my quick read (late hour) into a thorough read - helpless as I was in the web of intrigue.

    As your first-post commenter said, "Evocative to the point of being magical." Evocative is the right word.

    It's an ingenious and a fair and valuable point of view. Also, I wouldn't want to be afraid of the devil, and read it!

    I would oil the last one or two sentences, only slightly, to smoothe out the ending.

    Hats off!

  2. The link to the MP3 is broken, so these observations are just from reading the text.

    Hm, I am no homilist, and far too young to call myself an experienced speaker, but it does still feel a little rough. Perhaps my Australian formation leaves me insufficiently appreciative of American rhetorical style, but towards the end I was more conscious of reading a priest _playing_ the Evil One (ie my suspension of disbelief wavered a bit).

    Something I noticed mid-way though is that it would be very easy for someone to come away from this thinking of the Lord Jesus as more of another angel than the Second Person of the Trinity. I got this impression from his constant use of "our father" where I thought it would be more appropriate to refer to him as "my father" (more directly reflecting the Gospel use, and excluding Satan from the divine sonship, both intrinsic and adopted).

    The tone of Lucifer was well executed, and I imagine this to have been the hardest part. How could the highest of all angels possibly imagine he could temp the Most High? Surely he would know the core of God better than any other being ever could (infinitesimally as that is). VERY clever of you to think of attributing the devil's own vice to the Lord (though I suspect the Fathers must have pondered this themselves? I am yet too ignorant to know).

    Overall a great job already, far better than what I heard last night from my own pastor. Thanks for sharing this father!

  3. Anonymous4:00 AM

    I love it, more than I would have in 2006, because on some points it has exactly the right timing for me.

    My favourite part is the paragraph about the angels (it echoes a part of Chesterton's poem on St. Michael).

  4. Anonymous6:21 AM

    I think it is an excellent and evocative piece of writing that probably should not be a homily. I have some difficulty with someone "channeling" Satan while standing in persona Christi. I just can't get past that.

    I also agree with the previous poster's concern about Satan and Christ as brothers and therefore *equals* so you get a sort of dualism: are you with the good Son or the black sheep bad boy of the celestial spheres?

    I'm uncertain that any highly meditative work like this belongs in the liturgy for the same reason I wouldn't want even the best praise and worship music in the liturgy. The genre is such that it can be distracting from the overall dynamic of the liturgy.

  5. Anonymous7:16 AM

    Love it. Do more. It often seems that imagination is a shorter road to the heart than reason.


  6. But Jesus is using "brother" ironically...that's clear (or should be) from what he says next..."You are nothing..." That doesn't say "we're equal" to me.


  7. Anonymous7:48 AM

    Brilliant. Reminds me of the Grand Inquisitor from Karamazov.

    This part really hit home:

    "They won't love you for your sacrifice, you know? They will not come to you after you are betrayed and convicted, and sent into the dead ground. They will deny you. They will run and hide and waste time pointing fingers and accusing one another. I will make sure that they forget you." If anything he looked calmer, "Yes, I suppose you will. But they like me will have their forty days in the desert, their time and place apart to burn away the excess, to trim the burdensome and ridiculous, to pray and serve, and to remember that they are dust -- dust given life by our Father's breath and made holy in His love for them."

    The Devil is ostensibly talking about the disciples, but of course it's a perfect description of us. (Well, me anyway.)

    I had gotten off to a shaky start this Lent. Thanks for reminding me what it's about.

  8. I don't know how I would like it as a homily, but as a piece of reflective writing I thought it was great.

  9. Anonymous10:00 AM

    Thank you Father for making your homilies public forum, I just downloaded a bunch to itunes and look very much forward to giving them a listen in the near future; I enjoy the blog thoroughly, and appreciate the hard work and thoughtful posts.

  10. It reminds me of Giovanni Papini. Not that I am comparing you to him in any way, but...just the tone you use to put words in satan's mouth reminds me a lot of a piece he wrote in which the devil is being tempted to ask forgiveness to God, he then blames God for His pride as a reason for not asking forgiveness. In your, well, I don't know if it is a homily, reflection, Satan looks almost like a poor devil that begs for attention and to have things his own way; but won't heed. Mmh... I wonder how many times we ourselves behave like this before God. How many times in our own desert we get angry with God for not causing things to go our way, and then we instead try to "trick" God into doing things we want, or we simply try to twist His arm by means of our "sacrifices" which we perform as a condition to obtain soemthing from Him. A lot of food for thought. Thank you


  11. Anonymous1:23 PM


    Not bad….Were you reading Clive at the time it was written?

    Just for fun, and in the spirit of never deny, rarely affirm, always distinguish, how would you answer “funtohavefun” above? In other words, how can you speak for the devil at the pulpit “in persona Christi.”

    A more personal question for lent and dealing with temptation: How important or necessary is it to separate/distinguish between diabolic temptation and innate concupiscence?



  12. “My Lord, can’t you see that the course laid out for you is disastrous? Can’t you see the possibilities for us, the potential of our rule if you would turn to me for help?

    Sounds like the prayer of certain Catholic politicians I could name.

    I think that presenting things from Satan's point of view (even if it is merely a devise) can be highly effective in wresting people from the spiritual rut which is often of their own making and comfortable to them.

    I'm reminded that God once placed himself in the role of the people of Israel, offering a beautiful prayer of repentance: 1 "Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD; his going forth is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth."

    But then he springs His trap: What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.

    As for calling Satan "brother," well, Jesus himself was not above irony; after all he called Judas who kissed him "friend" (Matt 26:50).

  13. In response to Chrisacs' "Just for fun... how would you answer funtohavefun above?... how can you speak for the devil at the pulpit in persona Christi?"

    Presuming the "in persona Christi" part is actual, then there is no cause for question; and every reason to accept. But I'm not sure that "in persona Christi" is the case during delivery of the homily.

    In any event, I suggest this. Describe how it is that you can portray some friend, or foe, and you will have your answer - by such things as proximity, intuition, observation, intimacy - drawing from your particular composite of intellect and imagination. Same with this homily. And 'portray' is the operative word, not 'be.'

    Jesus knew the wiles of the devil and used what he knew resourcefully and creatively throughout his teachings to reach his 'students' - reaching them being the sole priority. Consider that each student was unique in just what that would take. As are today's 'students,' some of whom are Fr. Philip's.

    Fr. Philip's homily is not for everyone just as this piece I'm writing is not for everyone. But it is for someone. It will reach someone who needs it just like it is.

    So the homily is not for you? That's ok - it can't always be. But allow it for someone else while you tend to what is for you.

    In addition to the benefit of reaching someone for Jesus, other benefits of this homily include these: the interior process of writing served to hone Fr. Philip's view and discipline; also, this homily, as all of his writings do, has all of us engaged on behalf of Jesus.

  14. Anonymous8:20 PM

    I really like it as a writing, but I'm not sure how comfortable I am with it as a homily. So much of it is surmising, and I'm not sure how I feel about a fictionalized account being presented as a homily on the Gospel.

    Mind you, I think it's a great fictionalized presentation, and I'd love to see it published somewhere in some other context. It reminds me of a cross between Screwtape and The Imitation of Christ. And by the way, I like the ambiguity of Jesus' role as the Son of God / God the Son. Because I've always gotten the impression that Satan just didn't get it about that. I think if he had known that Jesus was divine, rather than "only" anointed, he would have possibly used a very different approach.

  15. Fun and Chris,

    Aspiring and Dim have done a good job explaining one way of interpreting what I was trying to do here...I'll make one Dominican-esque distinction that might help. Let's distinguish between "speaking for" and "speaking as." I wasn't speaking for the Devil in the sense of making a positive case for his deception but rather speaking as the Devil to let him make his own deceitful case. We rarely hear this...Milton manages it wonderfully.

    The clear picture that I get from comments here confirms what students at UD told me after the Mass...intriguing piece of writing but not a homily...and now, three years later, I agree.

    Thank you all for your comments. It's a gift to have readers who are willing to take the time to respond intelligently to these homilies...you guys really do push me to be a better preacher!

    God bless, Fr. Philip

  16. Fr. P.,

    Let me chime in belatedly-ish with another "loved it, but as a homily not-so-much."

    It does put me in mind of CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters and I consider it instructive to, as many military types would suggest, "get inside your enemy's head."

    Kudos, etc.


  17. Anonymous3:34 PM


    OK, I'm going to put my public school diplomas and crappy ccd classes to the test. When a member of the presbyterium gives a sermon as part of the liturgy of the word he is ALWAYS “in persona Christi.” This does not mean he assumes Christ’s perfection, personality or becomes Christ himself; it means Christ’s acts through the priest/deacon/bishop as a teacher and prophet to his bride-the church. The best example I can give is confession: Absolution is always perfect but the advice/instructions/penance given imperfect but the priest, through his office, always remains “in persona Christi.” It’s why I thought it would be fun to hear a strictly scholastic explanation to how Father P could “channel” the devil.

    Just for the record, I have no problem with this sermon as a sermon. I guess it is a matter of taste. I will once again ask my serious question about temptation (if you have the time or inclination-it is your blog): How important or necessary is it to separate/distinguish between diabolic temptation and innate concupiscence?


    PS Father, if there is something scandalous in this please don't post.

  18. Anonymous9:29 PM

    I agree with the other commentors: I'm not sure about it as a homily. But it's a very interesting, very creative piece. A unique reflection on the meaning of Lent. Also fun to read out loud, as I did, since I wasn't able to get to the audio; the link is broken.

    It's easy to just go about Lent mechanically, without really thinking about what Lent is about. Seeing it from a different perspective is very helpful for shaking us to attention.

    Thanks, Father!

  19. Chris,

    I'm sorry for overlooking your question on temptation...

    Here's my shot at 5.30am:

    Strictly speaking, it's not very important at all, meaning, in terms of how each leads to disobedience, both are a serious problem. Now, in terms of how to deal with the temptations each brings on, that's different.

    Our concupiscence tends to corrode habitually, that is, through vice (bad habit). While diabolical temptation tends to corrode episodically, that is, through events, people, places, etc. Now, a diabolical temptation can take advantage of our concupiscence and lead us to establish a vicious habit. So, it is important to understand the nature and limits of one's concupiscence so that a diabolical temptation cannot take advantage. The important thing to remember about diabolical temptations is that the devil has lost the war, so don't join the side that has already been defeated.

    BTW, your answer to aspiring's comment about the priest preaching "in personae Christi" is correct. Anything a priest does he does it as a priest. However, just to be clear: priests and bishops are configured to Christ "in personae Christi capitis" (in the person of Christ as head of the Church). IOW, the priest and bishop share the charism of ecclesial leadership where the deacon's principle charism is charitable service.

  20. Thank you both - Chris and Father Philip - for discussing 'in personae Christi.' I'm all ears on that one. As a (very) late comer to the Catholic Church, I have a lot to learn yet, and very much love when I do. :)

  21. Thanks ALSO, Chris and Father Philip, for the question and response that profited this:

    "... concupiscence tends to corrode habitually... diabolic temptation tends to corrode episodically... it is important to understand the nature and limits of one's concupiscence so that a diabolical temptation cannot take advantage."

  22. Anonymous3:03 PM

    Wonderful. Really great.

    God bless you Father!

  23. Anonymous9:04 PM


    Thanks for the answer. I think I will go over to Amazon as a token of gratitude. Of course, for I.R.S. purposes, this was not quid pro quo!

    You wrote, "However, just to be clear: priests and bishops are configured to Christ "in personae Christi capitis" (in the person of Christ as head of the Church). IOW, the priest and bishop share the charism of ecclesial leadership where the deacon's principle charism is charitable service." Does this mean when a deacon reads the Gospel and/or gives the homily he is not in persona Christi? If he is not, why are we seeing so much of that these days (or better yet, why in the world would a priest surrender that office)? Yes, please consider that respectfully and rhetorically.

    God Bless and get some sleep

  24. Chris,

    Strictly speaking, all the baptized are configured "in personae Christi"--"you died with Christ in baptism and will rise will Christ on the last day." Priests and bishops are configured "in personae Christi capitis," in the person of Christ as head of the Church. That "in capitis" part is the key difference btw lay and priestly ministry.

    During the Mass, there are presidential functions and ministerial functions. The priest presides. The deacon ministers. Reading the gospel is properly a ministerial function and therefore belongs to the deacon. When no deacon is present, the priest (who is also a deacon, of course), reads the gospel.

    Deacons preaching is a rather novel development. Once upon a time, only bishops could preach. Then in 1216, this little upstart order of preachers came along and got the pope to give them a universal mandate to preach.

  25. I do not know. I think that the homily, while very good, was most definitely a little course. The very last line was kinda freaky.

    That being said, I think had I been sitting there, I would have at the very least had no trouble listening.

    I think, you should clean it up a little and put it in a book. Because at the end of the day, it really is a great piece of work.

    keep it up!

    Dani Arevalo

  26. Anonymous7:45 AM

    I concur with the last comment - this definitely belongs in a collection of your homilies!