Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bishop Olmsted on the Devil and John Vianney

Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted says a lot of things in his column this week that would have got him labeled a loon in my high school Theology class. But that was in the 80s when the real loons were teaching high school Theology.

We were taught not to take stories of miracles or the existence of the devil as literal. Such beliefs and talk were “mysto-babble” and indicative of an immature faith. We needed to get to the allegorical sense and to help us there we were given exhaustive naturalistic explanations of the miracles in the Bible. (note: My school was not in this diocese.)

It’s not surprising then that most of my classmates ended up thinking the Catholic Church was a lot of bull – That’s what we were taught.

Happily for the people of Phoenix, they have a very different kind of teacher in Bishop Olmsted. Continuing his series on the Year for Priests, Bishop Olmsted looks at the devil in the life of St. John Vianney, excerpts:

Satanic attacks were commonplace in the life of Fr. John Vianney. For 35 years, the devil taunted and harassed him, not only in spiritual ways but even in tangible and audible ones. These latter, demonic acts normally are quite rare. But, by the influence of the devil, the Cure of Ars’ bed was moved about, crashing noises resounded, fires were ignited, and other harassments occurred, all in an effort to stop or at least to curtail the priestly ministry of Fr. Vianney. . .

. . . Fallen angels, also known as devils and evil spirits, try to hinder all of us in our pursuit of holiness. Their ordinary ploy is by means of temptations, which God allows so that we can make good use of our freedom in resisting them and thus growing to fuller maturity in Christ.

In addition to these ordinary ploys, demons resort to other extraordinary acts, on rare occasions, with the same intention of thwarting the plan of God and undercutting our filial trust in Him. These harassments can be of three kinds: infestations, obsessions and possessions.

With infestations, the devil makes use of noises, outcries, rattling, apparitions and other extraordinary outbursts of some sensible nature aimed at terrifying people, intending to undercut their confidence in God. He used these repeatedly on the Cure of Ars, sometimes to keep him from getting badly needed sleep, at other times to disturb his peace of mind and to try to shake his trust in God. All these were aimed at disrupting the effective ministry of this holy priest.

Early on, Fr. Vianney became aware that these infestations were most outrageous just before an outstanding action of grace was about to occur through his priestly ministry, usually the conversion of a sinner. In fact, he remarked that the worst assaults of the devil happened when he was on the verge of “landing a big fish,” by which he meant welcoming back a baptized person who had fallen far into the darkness of despair. With this insight, Fr. Vianney calmly ignored the infestations, and looked forward with joyful hope to the next victory of grace about to occur through the Sacrament of Penance.

Read on to see why Bishop Olmsted believes, “It could be said that the priesthood is not fully understandable except in contrast with the work of the devil.”