By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL (OR, THE EVIL ONE) - We live in an age when the secular often seems to overtake the sacred in our thinking. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of the existence of an evil destructive force - sometimes known as the devil, or Satan, the angel who opposes God. I remember speaking with a business man, who is a good and faithful Christian. At the time of our conversation he was being assailed by a serious temptation. When I mentioned the 'bad spirit' (a term St. Ignatius of Loyola uses in his Spiritual Exercises) as being an integral part of his struggle, the man responded, "Surely, Father Max, you don't believe in the devil!" In reply, I suggested he buy and read C.S. Lewis's masterful treatise on evil, "The Screwtape Letters." Upon completing this assignment, the man told me he now understood and believed.
Jesus certainly recognized the existence of evil spirits in his life and experienced their devious tactics. In his prayer for his disciples, in John 17:15, he asked the Father, "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one."
St. Paul would write later of the importance of 'putting on the armor of God' in order to be able to stand firm in one's faith against the tactics of the devil. He calls this struggle Christian warfare and uses other battle images to make his point (See his Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter Six).
This petition connects us to two of the Beatitudes, 'Blessed are the single-hearted' and 'Blessed are those persecuted for justice' sake.' We are asking God for help in keeping up our morale in order to stay true to our faith values even in the face of persecution. Pope Benedict VI, in his book, "Jesus of Nazareth," asks the Lord for assistance in these words, 'do not give the Evil One more room to maneuver than we can bear.'
Secular thinking notwithstanding, there is a power of evil in the world. We see its effects in the nightly news and in newspapers in the grisly stories of injustice and violence, of 'man's inhumanity to man.' However, as Christians, we believe that Jesus overcame "the Prince of this world" (John 14:30) in his death and resurrection. One of the early theologians in the church, Origen of Alexandria, captured this truth in these words, "Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him." And, as we saw above, we have a powerful Advocate on our behalf - the now Risen Jesus who continues to pray to the Father for us.
In our personal life and in our professional life we are faced with a myriad of moral and ethical challenges. Reciting The Lord's Prayer is an effective spiritual practice because this prayer reveals that God cares about us and protects us on our faith journey. We have only to put our experience of inner weakness in his hands with humility and trust.
(March 2008 Newsletter)