(With apologies to C. S. Lewis, Douglass Wallop, Stephen Vincent Benet and Taylor Caldwell)
Sean M. Wright, your correspondent: Good Morning, Your Infernal Highness. Glad to speak with you.
Satan: Needling me already, eh?
SMW: Needling you?
Satan: The “Infernal Highness” bit. Wishing me a “good” morning. And no one’s been glad to speak to me in five centuries.
SMW: But you’re the Prince of Darkness and …
Satan: And you live in a republic, not an aristocracy. I won’t be patronized.
SMW: It was unintentional. Let’s get down to business. The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent details your meeting with Jesus of Nazareth before He began His ministry. What did you hope to accomplish?
Satan: A lot! I just wasn’t aware of who Jesus was.
SMW: But all those prophecies, angels at His birth, the Star? Surely you had some inkling?
Satan: Listen, I hate to burst your bubble, buster, but I don’t waste a lotta time on this insignificant speck of a planet. What do you have? Caligula? The Borgias? Stalin? The petroleum cartel? Small potatoes! I usually leave temptation on Earth to lesser demons.
SMW: Then why are you so hellbent for us to join you in everlasting damnation?
Satan: Why? I have a bone to pick with my so-called Creator. He needs to realize that you puny humans, with your muddy intellects and slimy desires, are simply not worth saving. Ever read Job? The Unknowable One wants you, an object slapped together from water and minerals, to take my place among celestial beings forever in bliss. Merely contemplating the concept nauseates me.
True, every so often one of you comes along and catches my attention, so I test them:
Socrates, all those prophets, Livia, Hildebrand, that Aquinas chap, Catherine of Siena — now there was a real spitfire — Martin Luther, Giordano Bruno, John Vianney, that windbag Voltaire, John Adams, Dorothy Day, Daniel Webster, Margaret Sanger, my disciple of blood sacrifice; Karol — um — that Polish guy who became pope. I can never pronounce his surname — a few others.
And, hey, I’m not cheap! I’m willing to shell out plenty to snatch a soul out of His hands. You’d drop your uppers if you knew how much people you call saints reject. Or how little most sinners settle for. I win some, I lose some. Variety lends spice to the game.
SMW: I see. We were speaking of …
Satan: Yeah, yeah. Jesus, the Word made flesh. I dropped in from the Andromeda galaxy to give Livia some tips about who next to poison in Octavian’s court when Jesus was born. I had a lot on my mind, what with inventing orgies, gladiator contests and imperialism. By the time I noticed Jesus, 30 years had slipped by.
Jesus looked good — very good. Still, overwork made me sloppy. I shoulda checked out His Mother’s record first. Whoa! Was that ever a tip off!
See, I wanted to use Jesus the same way we use some of those televangelists today. It’s become my favorite ploy for your destruction.
SMW: What ploy is that?
Satan: It’s our “Gimme That Old Time Religion” gambit. A charismatic preacher comes along with an offer of cheap salvation. “Just believe!” he declares, backing up his claims with some snappy patter and biblical double-talk. Before anyone can utter a “verily” people are cleaning out their savings accounts “for the Lord’s work.” Often these funds are diverted into the stock market, a private plane, a charming little 26-bedroom chalet in the Swiss Alps, or a swanky condo in Orlando.
My Enemy’s tougher. He invites you to offer Him the best of your abilities; to love others as much as you love yourself; to crucify overweening ambition — and do it joyfully. What can He be thinking of?
That Spanish lady, Teresa, the one from Avila, got it right. After taking a pratfall in the mud, she glanced heavenward and sighed, “No wonder You have so few friends. You treat them so badly.”
Eventually the preacher we’ve set up is exposed as an embezzler. Or caught in a sleazy motel room. Maybe something worse. It depends. Then the press and TV news people close in. We have a whole legion of demons working overtime in newsrooms.
Next thing you know — BAM!!! Disillusionment! “True believers” find their expectations dashed. The Christian ethos now sickens them. That’s when we move in for the kill. “All godly leaders are hypocrites,” we whisper. “Forget the hereafter. Life is now.”
They anesthetize themselves with drink, drugs, infidelity — vices of all sorts. Anything to fill that inner void where they thought they’d made the Eternal One their pet. When despair hits, they’re ours. It works diabolically!
SMW: And this is how you hoped to use Jesus?
Satan: You bet! I thought Jesus would fit the bill neatly. He was in the desert meditating, been without food for weeks, and ripe for my suggestions.
“Hungry?” I asked Him. “So turn these stones into bread.” He had a comeback: “Man does not live by bread alone.” Big joke.
So I appealed to His showmanship: “Jump off the Temple roof, float to earth, take a bow, and start rounding up the suckers.” No dice. He saw through that one, too. Well, I thought He might.
That’s when I gave Jesus the big pitch. All the kingdoms of the world for His own, I offered. No effort whatsoever. He had only to put Himself in my hands.
I recall He smiled. It prompted a vague recollection. That same sad, shy smile I’d seen an eternity before. I grew uneasy. Was He going to laugh in my face? Worse. He simply turned His back on me. “Away with you,” He said softly, dismissing me. ME!
That was when the truth struck me. Divinity had embraced humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. What a cheat is my Enemy Above! God the Son slipped Himself among you guys as deftly as Houdini shuffled cards.
SMW: It must have been a big disappointment.
Satan: Humph! That’s an understatement. I admit I was trounced. It was a dirty trick, I tell ya. But don’t worry; I still have friends down here: phony fitness gurus, sleazy lawyers, propagandizing educators, internet porn merchants — not to mention parking lot owners.
And there are the self-loathing abortion venders inducing venal politicians to legalize infanticide. Destroying babies stamped with the likeness of my Enemy, the Eternal One? That’s always good for a vile hoot.
Lately, I’ve been developing a battery of scummy social media pundits and self-seeking celebrities to skulk around Twitter, Tik Tok and Facebook. Their task is to debase and confuse people shorn of morality into confounding evil for goodness.
[Satan chortled.] “I’m not finished yet!”
Sean M. Wright is a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Santa Clarita, California. An Emmy-nominated television writer and a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he responds to comments sent him at [email protected].