Minister Speaks: Screwtape Letters

This is now the second time I have been invited to submit an article for The Sabetha Herald during a major liturgical season in the life of the Church. Last time it was during Advent and this time it is during the great penitential season of Lent. Surprise, surprise, the focus of my article is going to be colored by the liturgical season we find ourselves in.

In the fourth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, there is a disturbing account of the temptations of Jesus in the desert, a popular meditation for Catholics at the beginning of Lent each year. I say disturbing, because the account reveals the blueprints of the evil one — his master plan for undermining faith and true devotion in the life of a Christian. And despite knowing his game plan, we still struggle to overcome it, and the reason is simple — it works.

During the season of Lent, Catholics are encouraged to take up the weapons of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as they make their way through the spiritual desert of temptation and sin for 40 days, with their eyes fixed on Jesus. We choose to deny ourselves out of love for Jesus and everything he endured for our salvation, and we argue that this is fitting preparation for the great solemnity of Easter, which comes at the end of Lent.

A great meditation and application of this scene from St. Luke’s Gospel can be found in C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters.” If you have never read this work, I highly encourage you to do so. The focus of the work is attempting to break open the reality of spiritual warfare, i.e. the war taking place behind the veil between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a battle that we cannot see, and yet, which involves each one of us. The work itself is written in a satirical style and is presented to the reader as a series of letters between two fictional demons, Screwtape and Wormwood. Their game plan is simple — follow the basic outline detailed in Luke 4 and destroy us… rather disturbing!

There are 31 letters which make up the book, each containing detailed advice on how to promote vice, undermine God, and how to promote a desire for power and selfish gain in the heart of the patient (that is you). I wish to break open one such correspondence between these two demons that really caught my attention. It comes toward the middle of the work.

In this chapter, Screwtape begins to speak with Wormwood about time. He states that the focus is simple — keep the patient looking backwards into the past with regret, and forwards into the future with anxiety. But under no circumstances, allow him to keep his eyes fixed on the present moment. Because that is precisely what God is asking of him, to surrender the past in faith, and to look forward to the future in hope, but with his eyes fixed on the present moment.

And this got me thinking. How much time do I waste on the past and future? And how easily do I forget the beauty of the present moment? Yikes! Such a tremendous insight from the great C.S. Lewis. And one I am grateful for during this great penitential season of Lent.

I encourage you to consider picking up this work this Lent. See how many connections you can make with Luke 4. Hopefully it will help you draw closer to Jesus before the great solemnity of Easter, which will be here before we know it!


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