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Throughout His life and ministry, Jesus encountered people experiencing all manner of pain and suffering: parents who lost their children, men and women plagued by disease and infirmity, and people who were born poor and lived as outcasts. He also had a fair number of run-ins with evil, beginning with Lucifer himself tempting our Lord in the desert before the Redeemer set out on His divine rescue mission.
Thwarted but not giving in to defeat, the devil did what he had since the beginning of time and continues to do to this day: he sent his minions to torment as many people as he could, dead set on drawing them away from God and ensuring their destruction. The devil’s tricks are not new, but what he lacks in originality he tries to make up for in theatrics, and in spreading fear. Such was the case with a man who terrorized his neighbors, roaming the cemetery, escaping the chains used to bind him in a weak attempt to restrain his raging. Saint Luke, in telling the terrifying story in his Gospel, notes that the demons possessing the man routinely drove him out to “deserted places.” It seems that as much as Satan desired to make his presence known to others, he cared more to isolate this poor soul, all the better to keep it to himself.
Saint Luke goes on to tell how Jesus encounters the man, learns that not one but a legion of demons is tormenting the man, and He casts them out of him, sending these messengers from hell into a herd of swine. From that moment the man is clean, worships Jesus, and begs to follow Him. Instead, Jesus tells him to remain, preaching the Good News of his deliverance. Peace has come to the tormented man, and his mission in life is to share the peace of Christ with everyone who will listen.
We’ve likely heard this story many times – and if we don’t remember this one, we can probably recall other instances of Jesus driving out demons. But there’s one important detail we might miss: that the demons routinely drove the possessed man “to deserted places.” This is the devil’s m.o., his greatest weapon: to isolate us, to separate us from God, and from anyone who might draw us to God.
As I said before, the evil one is not original; when he finds what works, he sticks with it. Isolation, separation, and division are the weapons he used long ago in the Garden, when he tempted our First Parents to sin. Where there was peace and contentment, the devil crept in – slithered in, more accurately – to introduce chaos.
Honing his craft, the father of lies chose to isolate the Man and Woman in plain sight of each other, drawing the Woman into conversation while her husband looked on. Was the man frightened? Did he simply freeze, unable to process what was happening, and feeling powerless to stop it? In the chaos and confusion of a being so ugly invading the beauty of Paradise, did the Man not appreciate the threat to his wife and their happiness? Or had the devil’s plot been much more insidious, more clever because it was so simple?
The devil enticed both Man and Woman with the prospect of having the world (a world already freely given to them by God). He tempted them with the promise that they would be like gods (even though they were created in the very image and likeness of God). The devil convinced them that God was not for them, couldn’t be trusted, and that they can no longer even trust each other. And so, the fruit was taken, shared, and shattered their peace.
The story of Adam and Eve is one we all learned as kids, and I will guarantee every one of us has said – or at least thought – “I wouldn’t have listened to any dumb talking snake!” It’s a nice thought, and it massages our egos, but it’s likely not true. The devil drives us to isolation, to the “deserted places” where we believe we’re the strongest and smartest, and we don’t really need God unless it’s an absolute emergency. I’ve “read the book,” as they say; I know the story, I can see the trick of the devil a mile away. And yet – I seem to fall for it just the same. I let the devil isolate me, even when my husband is standing right there with me.
Jesus came into the world in the least likely of ways, but with a power the devil couldn’t have anticipated – and which Adam and Eve could never have imagined. The devil’s approach in the Garden was slick, clever, cunning. Jesus approached in quiet innocence. The devil charmed the Woman and her husband with smug confidence; Jesus appeared in all humility and vulnerability. The devil destroyed the Garden with his lies. Jesus reinstated the beauty of God’s image in all of humanity in the simple gift of Himself. In chaos, Adam and Eve hastily covered their nakedness with leaves and brush. Breaking through the disorder, Jesus restored their dignity – and ours – by swaddling us His merciful love. The devil declared war on humanity, firing the first shot at the innocence of Adam and Eve. Jesus declared His peace to reign forever. Adam and Eve were promised this reign of peace but were left waiting.
As we approach another Christmas season, be wise to the devil’s tricks. They don’t change – but we can. Wait for Jesus, anticipate the peace and mercy He is bringing – and know that whatever your personal chaos at any moment, He is always waiting for you.
Ann M. Koshute, M.T.S. holds a Master of Theological Studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America. While studying at the JP II, Ann and her classmates founded Theophany Catholic Theatre Company to perform the plays and poetry of Karol Wojtyła /John Paul II, including at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. She has worked in ministry and education over the years and has been a columnist for The Eastern Catholic Life, the official publication of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic since 2015. Ann is co-founder of Springs in the Desert, a Catholic infertility ministry dedicated to offering spiritual and emotional support and accompaniment to those couples bearing the cross of infertility and loss. She and her husband Keith enjoy family, friends, and football rivalries in Central Pennsylvania
Read Ann’s column in The Eastern Catholic Life