Circular Letter: Lent 2001
Deliver us from Evil
Crying out to the Lord for Salvation
“I call upon You, for You will hear me, O God; incline Your ear toward me, hear my word. Show Your wonderful mercy, You Who save from their foes those who take refuge at Your right hand” (Ps 16,6-7).
The History of Salvation is the echo of the cry of God’s people for deliverance from their enemies. God answers our prayers, more on account of our trust and perseverance, than due to our merits. Whereas our merits are very finite, His love and mercy are verily infinite: “Because He has cleaved to Me, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he has known My Name” (Ps 90,14). A special ‘efficacy’ accrues to the prayer of simple petition based wholly on trust in the goodness and mercy of God, for in this God’s goodness is particularly glorified. Thus Jesus freed the woman’s daughter from the devil expressly on account of her humble, confident faith: she placed her entire hope in His goodness alone (cf. Mt 15,22ff).
For man alone salvation is impossible, but not for God (cf. Lk 18,27). It is for this reason that the Our Father culminates in the petition for deliverance from evil. Here we are asking for the final victory over all evil. St. Cyprian explains: “After all those things [the preceding six petitions], in summation of the prayer there comes a little clause concluding all our petitions and prayers in compact brevity. For at the very last we state: ‘But deliver us from evil,’ comprehending all adversities which the enemy undertakes against us in this world, from which there can be strong and faithful protection, if God delivers us, if, as we pray and implore, He furnishes us His aid. Moreover, when we say: ‘Deliver us from evil,’ nothing remains for which we should ask still further; when once we seek God’s protection against evil, having obtained this, we stand secure and safe against all the works of the devil and of the world. For what fear indeed is there with regard to the world for him who has God as his protector in the world?” (Our Father, ch. 27).
St. Augustine similarly understands this petition in a universal sense: “When we say: ‘Deliver us from evil,’ we admonish ourselves to consider that we are not yet enjoying that good estate in which we shall experience no evil. And this petition, which stands last in the Lord’s Prayer, is so comprehensive that a Christian, in whatsoever affliction he be placed, may, in using it, give utterance to his groans and find vent for his tears, may begin with this petition, go on with it, and with it conclude his prayer. For it was necessary that by the use of these words the things which they signify should be kept before our memory” (Letter to Proba, ch. 11).
But it also has a stricter, narrower sense, which we wish to reflect upon in this letter. For this more precise protection our Lord Himself in His high priestly prayer implored the Father for us: “Holy Father, keep in Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. … I do not pray that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the Evil One” (Jn 17,11.15). This prayer is perfect protection, for “no one is able to snatch anything from the hand of the Father!” (Jn 10,29).
This, the final petition, is closely related to the preceding one as indicated by the conjunction ‘but’: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. The relationship thus expressed is more emphatic than oppositional. “Deliver us especially from the Evil One” is the literal sense of the text.
To deliver in the biblical sense means to rescue, with God drawing the endangered one to Himself. “O God, hear my cry, heed my prayer… You will lift me up on a rock, You will give me rest, for You are a refuge for me, a strong tower against the foe. O that I might dwell forever in Your tabernacle, and find refuge under the shelter of Your wings” (Ps 60,2-5; cf. Ps 16,6.7-8; cf. 35,7; 56,2; 90,4).
Supernaturally speaking, deliverance from the evil of sin and the dominion of the devil comes from God alone, Who either preserves us from sin or, forgives ours sins, infusing a share in His own life into our souls.
From ‘Evil’ or from ‘the Evil One’
Christ came and died for us so that “through death He might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver them who throughout their life were kept in servitude by the fear of death” (Heb 2,14-15; cf. 1 Jn 3,8).
The English and Latin translations of the Our Father easily give the impression that we seek deliverance from some faceless, abstract evil, because these translations omit the particular article found in the biblical text. Speaking precisely, Christ taught us to ask to be delivered from “the evil [one]”, which in Greek can only be understood personally, as “the evil one”. All the Greek Fathers of the Church understand the text in this fashion. In this same way the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “In this petition evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (diabolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (2851). “The last petition of the Our Father is also included in Jesus’ prayer: “I am not asking You take them out of the world, but I ask You to protect them from the Evil One” (CCC 2850; Jn 17,15). Thus, St. Paul, after asking for prayers to be “delivered from … evil men”, (2 Thess 3,2) assures us: “But the Lord is faithful, Who will strengthen and guard you from the Evil One” (3,3).
Through the Evil One sin and death entered the world (cf. Wisd 2,24); his whole intent is to keep us from entering heaven. His definitive defeat will be accomplished only in the final deliverance of the Church and creation from slavery to sin (cf. CCC 2852). “When we pray to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future of which he is the author or instigator” (CCC 2854).
No Deliverance without Grace
Divine deliverance is the work of Christ’s redemptive grace, which alone frees from sin and slavery to the devil: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!” (Jn 8,36). Sanctifying grace makes us God-like and God Himself dwells within us (cf. 1 Jn 3,9-10. 24).
Considered in itself, sin is the culpable loss of the due and fitting goodness of sanctifying grace as blindness is the evil of the eye through the privation of sight; as sickness is the evil of the body through the privation of health, so is sin the evil of the soul through the privation of the divine life of grace. Sin, moreover, is a radical ‘no’ to God and His authority.
This is the evil of sin: the sinner chooses to cut himself off from God, often simply because the sinner chooses his own will over God’s. The sin of the devil, as St. Thomas points out, consisted in his intense aversion or hatred of the Divine Rule (cf. De Malo 16,2-3). For angels and mankind God planned eternal happiness (the kingdom) which they should achieve by hallowing His Name through the conformity of their wills with His in collaboration with His grace in Christ (our daily bread). In the final analysis, sin is the rebellion against this plan of Divine goodness; every sin is a kind of disobedience.”From long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve!’ (Jer 2,20).
The Our Father is, we could say, more than a prayer, it is also the ‘program’ that keeps us on course to heaven.
Three Degrees of Grievous Sin
In every sin there is first some ‘conversion’ or turning to some created good outside the Divine order. The attachment to this good moves the sinner to willingly disregard the Law of God. This is the first temptation and fall. The sinner is not oblivious to the fact that he has turned away from the Law of God, which he still acknowledges to be good and true. This is verified, as St. John Chrysostom points out, by the fact that sinners are ashamed of their sins and do them in hiding (Comm. on Heb.) For this reason, Adam and Eve hid from God after they sinned, thus acknowledging the goodness of the Divine Law.
If the sinner persists in hardening his heart, he will discover a second degree of malice, namely that he can ‘escape the Law’ by denying it: Thus it is written: “Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1,7). Here the greater malice is in the radical rejection of the law rather than in the particular forbidden fruit that was desired.
Ultimately, this entails apostasy from the faith: “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God!’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds” (Ps 13,1). Here, the fall is not only into mortal sin but away from the faith. Not to have faith means to be farthest away from salvation. Still, as long as the sinner lives, there is hope for his conversion.
Hell and Damnation
Damnation is the ultimate evil that can befall the soul, the everlasting privation of happiness that consists in separation from God. It is a frightening prospect that each one of us is capable of rejecting God and so brings about our own damnation.
Hell was created for the evil spirits at the time of their rebellion as an everlasting place of punishment. Unrepentant sinners will also go there: “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25, 41).
It was over the gates of Hell that Dante saw written: “Abandon all hope, ye that enter here”. The very thought of having to burn and suffer for all eternity ought to frighten us because we are not out of danger. Bl. Padre Pio wrote to his spiritual father: “The continual temptations which He, Jesus, unfortunately permits, and which are increasing from day to day; these temptations cause me to tremble from head to foot lest I offend God” (Epistolario I, nr. 20). “It is true,” he notes in a subsequent letter, “that in the past I have been strong with the help of God’s grace and did not yield to the insidious temptations of the enemy, but who knows what could happen to me in the future?”(ibid, I. nr. 21). “Our common enemy … wants to destroy me at any cost; he is constantly presenting before my mind the sad picture of my (past) life, and, what is worse, he is continually insinuating thoughts of despair” (ibid, I. nr. 37).
The devil is a formidable foe, notwithstanding the disbelief of the modern world. Again Bl. Padre Pio writes: “The enemy has no need of deceiving us, he’s most powerful if you are not willing to yield to him. The soul understands this in the light, which God infuses, namely, the great danger it runs if it is not constantly alert. The thought of losing everything by a possible fall into sin causes the poor soul to tremble like a reed in the wind. I just mentioned that the power of Satan, which combats me, is terrible. Glory be to God that He has committed the cause of my salvation, the final victorious issue in the hands of our celestial Mother. Protected and guided by such a tender Mother, I will continue battling as long as God wills, for I am sure and filled with confidence in this good Mother, that I will never succumb.” (ibid, I, nr. 252).
To an arrogant soul who boasted that he did not believe in hell, Padre Pio simply retorted: “You’ll believe in it when you get there!”
On other occasions, Padre Pio refers his victory to the help of his Guardian Angel. “With the help of the good angel I was able to triumph over the insidious designs of that pirate [the devil]” (ibid, I, nr. 107). Confident in the angel’s power and help, he could assuringly wish his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina: “May your good Guardian Angel break down and reduce to silence all the tempter’s cunning suggestions” (ibid, II, nr. 58).
Final Perseverance and Victory
From this evil, from the empire of the devil, we beg God to spare and deliver us in this final petition. Final perseverance that leads to victory, cannot, according to St. Alphonsus di Liguori, be merited, it can only be received through humble and persevering prayer as a gift of grace from the Father through Jesus and Mary. Moreover, if we pray perseveringly we shall infallibly be heard. Our Lord gives us this lesson in the story of the man who asked his friend for three loaves of bread to feed a guest who had stopped in unexpectedly. “Although he will not rise and give him [loaves of bread] because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needs” (Lk 11,8). St. Alphonsus notes: “Men of the world cannot bear the importunate; but God not only bears with them, but wishes us to be importunate in praying to Him for graces, and especially for perseverance. St. Gregory says that God wishes us to do Him violence by our prayers; for such violence does not annoy Him, rather it pleases Him: ‘God wills to be called upon, He wills to be forced, He wills to be conquered by importunity. … Happy violence, by which God is not offended, but appeased!'” (Great Means of Salvation and Perfection, I, 3 in fine).
Positively, in this petition for deliverance from evil, we are requesting the ‘victory’ of life, admission into the beatific vision. “Show us the Father, and that is enough for us” (Jn 14,8). This is, moreover, Jesus’ final request for us in His high priestly prayer: “Father, I will that where I am, they also… may be with Me in order that they may behold My glory” (Jn 17,24).
In this, we can see again how the last petition reflects the first. God glorifies His name by saving us, by sanctifying us, by drawing us to Himself into His everlasting Kingdom. He delivers us when He definitively sanctifies His name in us by sharing His glory with us (cf. 1 Cor 2,7; 2 Cor 3,18). Thus, we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5,2; Col 1,27). “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8,18; cf. 9,23) for “when Christ, your life, shall appear, then you too will appear with Him in glory” (Col 3,4).
The ‘Hail Mary’: Model for the ‘Our Father’
In the Hail Mary we have a perfect mirror in which we can ponder the beauty and the efficacy of the Our Father. Just as there are seven petitions to the Our Father, so are there seven points to the Hail Mary. We sketch them cursorily.
“Hail Mary” is our Salutation to her, the Daughter of our Father Who in heaven “is a mother to us in the order of grace” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium nr. 61). She is the sign “in the heavens” (cf. Apoc 12,1).
1. “Full of Grace” is the title of her, who, as the Immaculate Conception reflects the Holiness of God before all creatures and who hallows His name by the Magnificat of her life.
2. “The Lord is with Thee” is the revelation of the Kingdom of God which has come into our midst through the Incarnation of the Son in the Womb of the Blessed Virgin.
3. “Blessed art thou among women”, blessed because she believed, blessed because she humbly and obediently spoke the words, “Be it done unto me according to thy word”, blessed because she heard the word of God and kept it.
4. “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”. She is the first tabernacle of God, who brought us the true manna of the Father at Bethlehem, which translates, “the house of bread”.
5. “Pray for us sinners” that the Father be merciful unto us and forgive us our trespasses.
6. “(Pray for us) now”, namely in the hour of our trials and temptations. Never was it known that anyone who fled to her was left unaided.
7. “(Pray for us) at the hour of our death”, so that we may be delivered from the Evil One and come to enjoy together with her and all the angels and saints the happiness of Heaven in the blessed vision of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Help of the Holy Angels
The Great Battle
“And there was a battle in heaven; Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels. And they did not prevail, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, who leads astray the whole world; and he was cast down to the earth” (Apoc 12,7-9).
The victory, under the banner of the Blessed Virgin and under the scepter of Christ exalted up to the heavens, which St. Michael gained over the enemy, is the epitome of all spiritual warfare. With the help of the holy angels we too share in Christ’s victory. When we pray, “deliver us”, we pray for the victory of the Church and of all mankind over the Evil One, over sin and damnation. By implication, we are praying for the assistance of the holy angels whom God sends for that purpose.
Not perchance is St. Michael patron both of the Church and of the dying. Nowhere does the Church call upon the angels more insistently than in the hour of death. On the feast of St. Michael, in the old breviary, the Church prayed: “Lord, send Your Archangel Michael to lead the soul of Your servant into the felicity of Your paradise; send the Holy Spirit to lead the soul of Your servant into the felicity of Your Paradise” (Nocturns, 6th Response). Evidently, we are to understand that St. Michael carries out this mission in the power and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit!
Did not Christ assure us that in the end He would come with His angels (cf. Mt 25,31; Mk 8,38; Lk 9,26)? Moreover, He teaches us that the angels are the harvesters in the field, and that they will go out and separate the weeds (the wicked) for the fire, and gather the wheat (the blessed) into the Kingdom (cf. Mt. 13,39; 24,31). By implication, what the holy angels accomplish in a grandiose fashion at the end of the world, they are presently engaged in at the death of individuals. Behold, the holy angels brought the poor beggar Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham (cf. Lk 16,22).
Now the closer death approaches, the weaker the individual becomes in case of sickness. What a consoling thought it is, therefore, that the guardian angel’s power to sustain and protect the soul is potentially the greatest in this hour of eternal decision. How could it be otherwise? Every Our Father and every Hail Mary that has ever been prayed down the centuries has been prayed for each and every one of us, and the ultimate power of the last petition has been saved for this crucial hour:
“Father, deliver us from evil”; “Holy Mother of God, pray for us at the hour of our death. Amen”.
We have come to the end of our reflections upon the Our Father. In each and every petition and desire we could verify that our prayer is offered more nobly and worthily in conjunction with the holy angels. Moreover, in very good part God’s benevolent response comes to us through their ministry. This is one of the principal lessons we can draw from the book of Tobit on prayer and divine assistance: St. Raphael explained to Tobit and his son: “When you prayed, I offered the memory of your prayer in the sight of the glory of God” (12,12). And the response was not delayed: “At that time the prayers of them both were heard in the sight of the glory of the most high God. And the holy angel of the Lord, Raphael was sent to heal them both, whose prayers were rehearsed in the sight of the Lord” (3,16f).
Holy Mother the Church would have us unite in prayer and praise with the holy angels in the greatest of all possible acts of worship, namely, at the holy sacrifice of the Mass. We apply this lesson well, when we join with the holy angels in all our prayers. Since their entire mission is in view of our salvation (cf. Heb. 1,14), we can be sure that they are eager to join with us in this Divine Liturgy, for without the sacrifice of Christ we cannot be saved.
The association and intimacy with the holy angels is a special protection for the devout faithful in the hard times in which we live, where faith is diminished on many sides, and superstition and spiritism increase apace. Well did St. Augustine observe: “For as the truth counsels men to seek the fellowship of the holy angels, in like manner impiety turns men aside to the fellowship of the wicked angels, for whose associates everlasting fire is prepared, as the eternal kingdom is prepared for the associates of the holy angels” (Letter to Deogratias, nr 19).
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