The devil's in the details

05-14-2023Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

The “devil is in the details”. In this case I am referring two recent films that feature Satan as best supporting actor. I always find it amusing how Hollywood is firmly atheistic but believes in the Devil. A devil without a God seems like a losing proposition. Still, Satan’s greatest success, via the Enlightenment, was to get society to accept that he doesn’t exist, except as a metaphor.

In his Preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall into about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves (the devils) are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

The first film, The Pope’s Exorcist, centers on Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who was the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome. Russell Crowe, who pulled off being a Scot in Gladiator, even though he is an Aussie, does a good job in portraying the generous personality, wryly wit and unflinching willingness of Fr. Amorth to enter the ring and go 12 rounds with demons. Other than that, the film is basically a horror flick, designed to frighten but not enlighten.

Nefarious, also recently released in theaters is a much more nuanced film and avoids the temptation to frighten and definitely enlightens. This film was written by serious Christians who understand the subject matter. Much in the style of C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, the film makers try to show why Satan is known as the father of lies. Nothing he says can be trusted. Mixing bits of the truth with falsehoods that are designed to manipulate and ensnare a person so as to entrap them in a life of lies.

Cases of demonic possession are horrible, but they are unusual. And that is because Satan is always the great Deceiver. He wants to slowly entice you, have you make small compromises, get you to ignore your conscience and the teachings of our Faith or just become indifferent. He works best undercover. He never presents evil as evil but rather as a seemingly good. And so, when you find yourself saying things like, “well it won’t hurt anyone” or “it’s just a small lie” or “just this one time”, well then you know you have been ensnared by the father of lies.

Just consider the trajectory of abortion. In the “70’s the justification was that it would be a “an exceptionally used procedure in exceptional circumstances”. And our society bought that line of thinking. And now we hear things like “Shout your Abortion” as now abortion is an unexceptional procedure used in unexceptional circumstances. We became indifferent to the consequences of what we do. And Satan laughs with delight.

At the Easter Vigil, when we renew our Baptismal Promises, we are asked: Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the Children of God? Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you? Do you renounce Satan, author and prince of sin? This is not a mere formality or a dead ritual but three of the most important questions you will be asked all year and in your lifetime. Take them seriously and live them with even greater seriousness.

Hollywood’s filmmakers might think Satan is a work of fiction that drives ticket sales. But the reality is otherwise. And we know it all too well. Watch films like these at your own risk. Do not seek to be entertained but enlightened. And pray before viewing and ask for the light of the Holy Spirit to show you where Satan is trying to get a foothold in your life and corrupt your will. And then prepare for battle. May Jesus Christ be praised!


Fr. John B.