The devil appeared at the local supermarket one Saturday morning. He stood there by the main entrance looking menacingly and threatening. All the shoppers panicked. They escaped through every available emergency exits, jumped into their cars and drove off at speed.
All except for one shopper. A small, short man, standing there by his shopping trolley holding a long shopping list in his hand.
The devil advanced towards the small man and said angrily: “Do you know who I am?”
“Yes … I do” replied the shopper.
“Aren’t you afraid of me like all the others?” asked the devil.
“No, I’ve been married to your sister for 25 years!”
The devil of course is no laughing matter. He exists alright, although his greatest trick is to convince us otherwise. If you were to ask people in the street what do they know about the devil, they would probably tell you about satanic worship, or satan possessing people, as they may have seen in the cinema. Some may mention a man with horns, a tail and pitchfork. But few would tell you of his very real existence and presence here and now.
We Christians cannot possibly believe in God and not believe in the devil or hell.
When I was at school, years ago, a schoolboy described hell as being upside-down for eternity in a pile of manure. Now, there’s an image you’d probably never thought of.
Whatever you conceive it to be, hell does exist all right! It may be an ever-burning everlasting fire mixed with the acrid smell of burning flesh and sulphur. Or it may just be a state of consciousness in the total absence of God’s presence and love.
And as sure as hell exists we can be certain that the devil exists too. He is not just a euphemism for evil, wickedness and wrong-doings. He is a living being, a spirit, present with us here and now, every day, and intent on the destruction of souls. He doesn’t appear menacingly as he did in the supermarket in our opening story.
He is more subtle than that. He is present in our most innocent and slightest temptation; when we least expect him. He is that extra bar of chocolate we indulge in, that extra bottle of beer or glass of wine, that cigarette or whatever other weakness we may have.
He is that tiredness and sleepiness on Sunday morning which tells you it does not matter if you miss Mass this week.
He is those extra minutes you take for lunch instead of being back at work on time; or the leaving early to go home.
He is the odd flirtatious smile, which in time may lead you further on.
His subtleness and ingenuity are worthy of high praise indeed; for he tempts you when you least expect it; and the more devout you are the harder he works to get you off track.
He did after all try to tempt Christ, so you should not be much of a match for him.
Sadly for us, and fortunately for him, he has been cleverly air-brushed away from our sermons and our churches and our lives.
When is the last time you heard a sermon on Sunday about the dangers of the devil? I haven’t for at least a lifetime! Yet, he belongs to the priest’s sermon as surely as God does.
I wonder … Are there millions of Christians everywhere sleep-walking their way into hell?