Get Away, Satan!

On Tuesday, July 26th, near Rouen, France, Fr. Jacques Hamel was killed by two terrorists as he was celebrating Mass. In the midst of the attack, the priest cried “Get away, Satan!” (“Va-t’en, Satan!”). The words of such a witness reward reflection.

Satan is a person, not a personification. Many people today think that the devil is merely a symbol of evil—a personification of an impersonal reality. He is the boogeyman of our cultural childhood: “It’s 2016! The devil couldn’t possibly exist in 2016, could he?” The teaching of the Catholic Church is clear: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing” (CCC 391). For those who think of history as unavoidably progressive, it may come as a surprise that demons hardly appear in the Bible until the New Testament. Jesus is like a light turned on in a filthy, forgotten room, suddenly scattering roaches and rodents. As for Fr. Hamel, it’s unlikely that he would decide to use his dying words to rebuke a mere metaphor. Apparently, this gentle and joyous priest took seriously what God has revealed to us about the rebellion of certain angels. Perhaps, as is apparently the case for many close to death, Fr. Hamel was granted a special awareness of invisible realities. Perhaps he was made especially aware of the one whom Jesus called “a murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44).

Our war is not with flesh and blood. When Fr. Hamel was face-to-face with his assailants, what he saw was Satan. This is not to say that he identified the young men with demons. On the contrary, what he saw is that they had not come alone. When a priest is slain while offering the unsurpassable sacrifice of the Mass, we recognize, as if for the first time, that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).

God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4), and therefore we are commanded to love our enemies (Mt 5:44). It may be that, in telling Satan to be gone, Fr. Hamel was loving those young men who were his enemies. Maybe he was worried that Satan, in leading them to kill his body, was thereby killing their souls.

The demons can influence us. In modern Western society, we tend to think that, at the core of our being, we owe nothing to anyone. There we are utterly unconstrainedtotally alone and in control. This way of thinking is a little fantastical. God knows everything, and he is, in a real and mysterious sense, the cause of everything. And the fulfillment of everything is in God. Our freedom, moreover, is bound not only to God but also to other people. Neither God nor our parents consulted us when we were brought into existence. And as social, linguistic animals, we are ineluctably bound up with other people in a variety of relationships: familial, friendly, financial, civil, educational, religious, romantic. The case is similar in regard to angels. God creates in order that creatures may share in his life. One of the reasons that he created angels is that they might share in his governance of sub-angelic creation (not that he needed them, but that they might share in his life). Hence angels have been revealed to us as messengers and guardians. If a guardian is going to rebel, he becomes a destroyer and, in the worst case, a murderer. If a messenger is going to rebel, he becomes a deceiver. Hence the “murderer from the beginning” is called also “the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). Jesus came to teach us that we are vulnerable to these evil spirits and that we need to look for strength from God, whose Christ is higher than the angels (Heb 1:4). It is not that we need to be paranoid and paralyzed by fear. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (Jn 10:10). It is only that we need to be realistic. The irony of these “Satanic” groups making headlines in recent years is that, though they themselves seem to be mostly radical secularists who, not really believing in Satan, use the name only to mock Christians, it is highly likely that they have in fact become tools of the devil. Even if they don’t believe in Satan, he probably believes in them.     

Fr. Hamel reminds us that the demons’ war, at least in part, is with flesh and blood. Of course, he shows us also that in killing the body, they do not necessarily kill the soul. Even as Fr. Hamel was being killed, it was possible for him, perhaps on behalf of his young attackers, to echo the words of Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mt 16:23). Let us pray that Christ will enlighten these ignorant souls, so beholden to darkness that they think killing the disciples of Christ is offering service to God (Jn 16:2).

Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Easter Sunday Mass (used with permission)

You May Also Enjoy:

Blessed Brother Oderic Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series on the vocation to the cooperator brotherhood on the occasion of the Order's 800th anniversary. It is fitting that this week of blog posts dedicated to the cooperator brother saints of the Order of Preachers (those not ordained priests) should begin on the feast of St. Mark, frequently considered  the evangelist with the most workmanlike prose.  As St. Mark is oft-reputed the first of the evang...
Dominicans and the Message of Knock Angels adore the victorious Lamb as St. John proclaims the glorious revelation to which he was witness. Mary, the Queen of Heaven, and St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, give thanks and praise before the altar of the Most High God. This celestial scene, which we all hope one day to behold in Heaven, was witnessed one August evening in 1879 outside a parish church in County Mayo, Ireland. The church, now known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Knoc...
Dust and Breath Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Today millions of Catholics in America will hear these words as a priest marks their foreheads with ashes. They are powerful words—much more powerful than a mere memento mori. These words take us back to the garden of Eden and the warning that God gave to Adam and Eve about a certain tree: "when you eat from it you shall die" (Genesis 2:17). After they ate from it, he assured them th...
What is Fire? Growing up watching animated Disney movies, I always groaned when the songs began. Needless breaks in the action. Too sentimental. But music—to invoke Oscar Wilde—is the art most nigh to tears and memory. So nowadays the only thing I remember from Aladdin is "A Whole New World." And in an emergency I could probably produce a goodly portion of The Lion King's "Circle of Life." Turns out too that the songs weren't a total loss. Take "Part of You...
Br. Alan Piper, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Alan Piper, OP, was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and is the oldest of four children. He earned a BA in philosophy and theology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and a PhL from the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. Before entering the order in 2011, he taught at Holy Family Academy in Manchester, New Hampshire. On