"We cannot divorce ourselves from the interpersonal network into which God has created us," says Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, "if we recognize that, all the better: you are in a community, so you better find the right one."
In the first part of my conversation with Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, we spoke about spiritual warfare, fighting Satan, and escaping the darkness of evil. These and many related topics are addressed in his trilogy entitled Called Out of Darkness: Contending with Evil through the Church, Virtue, and Prayer. The first two volumes, Christ Versus Satan in Our Daily Lives: The Cosmic Struggle Between Good and Evil (Ignatius Press, 2020) and Escape from Evil's Darkness: The Light of Christ in the Church, Spiritual Conversion, and Moral Conversion (Ignatius Press, 2021) are now out. The third volume in the current trilogy, entitled The Moral Wisdom of the Catholic Church: Principles of Personal and Social Ethics, is due out from Ignatius Press early next year.
In this second part of the interview, Fr. Spitzer further discusses the nature of the struggle against evil and the role of the Church, the saints, and the sacraments in combating sin.
CWR: Why is it important that we have the Church to help us in this struggle against evil? There might be some who would say "It's sufficient to simply call on Jesus for help." So what is it that the Church uniquely offers in this struggle?
Fr. Spitzer: It's a very good question. Of course, we can always start off with the question: Why did Jesus start the Church? What did he have in mind when he said, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I'll give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever you declare loose on earth will be loosed on heaven, what you declare bound on earth will be bound in heaven."
Why did he say that? Why did he do that?
The reason for me is threefold: first, we are interpersonal by our very nature. We are meant to be in community by our very nature. We're not alone in the world, so the very first thing we need to acknowledge is the whole Enlightenment philosophy that we are autonomous agents, out there solo by ourselves. That's a fallacy. We're all interrelated with each other, and that's how God created us. He didn't create us as autonomous human beings, that's wrong. If we make that assumption from the very beginning, then we have no responsibility to the community, no responsibility to the cosmic order that God has created us in, no responsibility for the Mystical Body of Christ — if we start from that assumption, everything we do from that point on will be dead wrong, because we are interpersonal beings, we are communitarian.
We cannot divorce ourselves from the interpersonal network into which God has created us. That's the first thing that's really important, and if we recognize that, all the better: you are in a community, so you better find the right one. If you sit in your room by yourself, I assure you that you will go nowhere and do nothing. The idea of "my private spirituality" is based on a wrong assumption about who you are, and a wrong assumption about how God created the world and how God interacts with us. We are not little automatons; he relates to us through the community and relates to the community through us.
Second thing: do you think you can really intuit what the truth of the Scripture is all by your lonesome? Do you really think you can just do this on your own? Do you really believe you can just sit on your bed and read a couple theology books and get it all figured out without a Church, without a definitive interpreter? Do you really think you can get beyond your biases?
Heck, I can't get beyond my biases — I've got the principle of Infinite Spitzerian Rationalization: give me five minutes and I can rationalize anything to my advantage! If you're smart enough, sensitive enough, you can rationalize to your heart's content. We need someone to turn to in order to get an objective appraisal of the truth. Luther was wrong! There's no possible way that a layman with Scripture is more powerful than a Church, the saints, the collective wisdom of the Church through the ages, through the power of the Holy Spirit that is granted to the offices which Jesus started.
The historian Arnold Toynbee said there is no institution like the Catholic Church that is armed with the sword of the hierarchy and the shield of the magisterium and the helmet of the papacy. This is a former secularist saying this! There is no other social institution that can compare with the Catholic Church. No other social institution has lasted for 2,000 years or is likely to last beyond 2,000 years. Those institutions started by the Church are by far the most resilient, effective, and long-lasting. Why do you think that might be? Because it really is this divine will inspiring it. We need the truth. Without the truth, all by our lonesome, we are going to be dead wrong, filled with our own rationalizations, biases, and lack of knowledge. Jesus started the Church because he wanted to keep us on track and give us a mode of accountability.
The third reason we need the Church, in simple terms: we need those sacraments. Look at what happened when the Protestant churches moved away from the Catholic Church. What's the first thing they lost? The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, etc. We need those sacraments.
This is part of why I like to talk about Eucharistic miracles. I'm not ashamed of using Eucharistic miracles, I think it's fantastic. And frankly the scientific investigation that the latest Eucharistic miracles have been subjected to is really, really excellent. It's first-rate. So I think we're talking about Jesus coming right down to us and saying, "Hey, believe me! This is my real body and blood, and I'm coming to be with you because I'm going to take the full power of my transformative presence and my transformative love and put it into your hearts. This is me."
CWR: The first book has an appendix of scientifically-validated miracles associated with the Blessed Virgin, the saints, and the Eucharist. What role can miracles like that play in this cosmic struggle, especially when they have been subjected to such rigorous scientific investigation?
God will not enslave us to a miracle, but at the same time he is going to give us enough clues so that if you have the eyes of faith and are open to the possibility that he loves you and wants to guide you, you will see it unmistakably.
Fr. Spitzer: I think it plays two big parts. We're dealing with a culture that has been de-catechized, has almost no sensitivity to the presence and power of Christ among us.
Now if you're really into your faith, you'll know that if you even feel the presence of evil around you, you can just say "In the name of Jesus, I command you, be gone, Satan," and truly, he will back off at that name. You know that; I know that. I've done it in my own personal life, and with respect to other people as well. And I can tell you, there's a power in that name; if you have faith and you say those things, the devil cannot resist.
However, let's take most people in this culture who just poo-poo everything. No — God's really present! Before we even get to the Holy Spirit and how he moves and works in our lives, first let's see if there's anything we can subject to science. Of course, you can't have a scientific proof for a miracle, because a miracle is trans-physical and all science has to begin with objective observations. So, that being the case, we can have a very good circumstantial case to do that with, so we can say there's no natural explanation, and all the evidence suggests some power beyond the natural world. Everybody loves and respects science, so I thought that would be a good place to start.
Think of some of the healings at Lourdes, or the tilma from Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is just incredible and boggles the mind. How are you going to explain these? How are you going to explain this Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires, where you can actually see the transition between the bread and the cardiac tissue (which comes from the upper left ventricle of the heart) loaded with white blood cells? What do you think, that the Church is going to perpetrate a fraud like this? This tissue reflects immense trauma, and the white blood cells mean the tissue would have had to have been taken from someone while they were still alive, since white blood cells disappear upon death.
So it doesn't make any sense that the Church would have somehow managed to perpetrate a fraud like this. What is the alternative? How are these things happening? Maybe God really is operating through the prayers of the saints. Maybe God really is operating through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Maybe God really is operating through the Eucharist.
Alright, we've established a foundation. So now let's go back and see how the Holy Spirit works in our lives, through consolations and desolations, through dreams, through the "school of the cross", through conspiracies of divine providence. There's something strange going on here — yes, of course you have the ability to doubt and to question. But on the other hand, there are a lot of good probabilistic grounds to believe, even without evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt". God will not enslave us to a miracle, but at the same time he is going to give us enough clues so that if you have the eyes of faith and are open to the possibility that he loves you and wants to guide you, you will see it unmistakably.
That's the second thing we have to do: see that God is present in our lives. He is not just "out there", he is here, and now. We can see him in our lives, in the lives of the people around us. We begin to see this kind of indirect amalgamation of all these things, almost as if there's this great impresario putting together the orchestration all around us, all the while allowing us to be free. But there is this vast conspiracy of divine providence. We are not alone. Certainly the devil is there, and he has his own conspiracy, but we know that ultimately the divine conspiracy will win.
We are giving the upper hand to the devil, but we ought to be giving it to the Lord of life, the Lord of love. If only we had eyes to see. But of course, at the end of the day, the devil and his minions will be cast down into hell, and God will win.
Paul Senz. "Why we need the Church, the Sacraments, and the Saints to fight Satan." Catholic World Report (July 8, 2021).
Reprinted with permission from Catholic World Report. Image credit: The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Luca Giordano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Paul Senz graduated from the University of Portland with his Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry. He lives in Oregon with his family.Copyright © 2021 Catholic World Report
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