By focusing on a few big issues, humans may forget other important ones:
The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls in your last letter only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. (Letter 17, Screwtape to Wormwood)
Are there lessons to learn when a pundit calls food “ the New Sex,” when people in commercials boast of being “foodies,” and when America’s obesity epidemic is news to no one?
Third, Screwtape instructs Wormwood to focus Christians on their own inner feelings and preferences rather than the priorities and facts of the faith. Have you ever been privy to liturgical wranglings? If so, you’d understand why many joke: “What’s the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? Sometimes it’s possible to negotiate with terrorists.” Lewis considered the Mass a “duty,” and our “marching orders” include participating in it. This “order” was far greater than any personal inclination to customize the words, language or music.
Lewis’ approach was the opposite of the approaches of psychologists such as Freud or William James. While Lewis applauded the efficacy of therapy for troubled people for whom even prayer did not bring peace and healing, he wanted to stir people into Christian activity rather than having them engage in endless discussions about what they “experienced or felt.”
Fourth, Lewis considered the lilies of the field -- they did not worry about tomorrow, Solomon in all his glory was not greater. The troubles in each day are sufficient for one’s attention. Lewis gave examples drawn from life in the 1940’s. Today, while prudent planning may be key in addressing global warming, saving for college or retirement, and keeping cholesterol at good levels, there’s always a risk that focusing on these larger concerns can take the focus away from putting the Gospel into practice today.
Fifth, indulge in appropriate pleasures often. People who cannot see the beauty of God’s great gifts all around them can end up bitter. Many of life’s pleasures are free -- friendships, music, gardens, sunsets, nature walks, exercise, watching children play, exercise, living within one’s means. The list may even be infinite. Making time for such pleasures daily keeps the devil away better than moderate exercise can keep us from cardiologists.
Sixth, gratitude. When one is happy and grateful, the devil’s temptations become irrelevant. The Psalms are filled with songs of gratitude. It’s a virtue found throughout Scripture and a key feature in the conclusion of Ignatian spiritual exercises. Gratitude is also a basis for many 12-step programs, some of which benefited from the presence of a Jesuit spiritual advisor when they were developed.
Satan is rarely fought with fanfare and massive armies. He is fought primarily in our own hearts and wills. Among the many he offered for our consideration, this may be one of C.S. Lewis’ most enduring observations.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Satan surely knows. As we often acknowledge in the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, satan prowls around the world seeking the ruin of souls. His presence is not confined to Harvard’s ivied walls. So be alert to how you can resist his clutches in your daily life.William Van Ornum is professor of psychology at Marist College and director of research and development/grants at American Mental Health Foundation in New York City. He studied theology and scripture at DePaul University.