An Image of the Noonday Devil from Rurouni Kenshin

 

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A couple of days ago, I wrote an article on the vice of acedia, which recalled itself to my mind while reading the twenty-fourth volume of Rurouni Kenshin.  Within its pages, I found a perfect image of the noonday devil.  This character perfectly described the end goal of this demon.  Permit me to translate liberally the scene below.  Forgive me if the picture quality of the images isn’t perfect.  It’s impossible to get a tankobun to lie flat!

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The Final Temptation of Jeanne D’Arc

In watching Shingeki no Bahamutsine dubio the best show of the past season, the temptation of Jeanne D’Arc struck me enough to produce the present article.  Their portrayal of demons and how they tempt people advancing in virtue is very true to reality.  Note well, the devil does not tempt everybody in the way that Jeanne was tempted but only the virtuous.

Jeanne at the stake

According to Aristotle, there exist four kinds of people in the quest for virtue.  Well, Aristotle does list two more; but one is a worse state of the vicious man, and the other is lukewarm.  Neither are especially important to my arguments here or to Aristotle himself.  The four classes consist of the vicious, the inconstant, constant, and the virtuous.  The vicious freely and painlessly commit sins out of habit; the inconstant fall often though they intend to do the right and are pained by their sins; the constant avoid wrongdoing even though the practice of virtue feels painful to them; and the virtuous joyfully and often painlessly do the right thing.  The devil does not bother to tempt the vicious, sometimes finds it necessary to tempt the second, fights against the progress of the third, and–in his bitterness at their good fortune–wages total war against those sane individuals who love the practice of virtue.

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Most of us are slightly insane in believing that sinful deeds are good for us.  We believe so either because of the pleasure obtained in the sinful act (occasions of lust, sloth, or gluttony come to mind) or because sinning appears to be to our advantage (e.g. theft or destroying a personal enemy’s reputation through slander and detraction).  On the other hand, the virtuous make for very difficult targets for the devil, because not only do their minds and will tend toward the right but even their affections and emotions.  Every sin repulses them, no matter how apparently advantageous or pleasurable, while the thought of any good deed spurs them to action no matter how arduous, self-effacing, or painful.  They possess true wisdom and solid good habits.  So how does the devil make war on them?

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We see the answer in Jeanne D’Arc’s temptation, which spans episodes nine and ten: the devil assaults them with darkness in order to take away their wisdom.  Not only does Martinet try to make the sinful desirable for Jeanne but even persuades her that goodness itself does not exist.  Martinet mocks her belief that she is a holy knight and states flatly that the gods have abandoned her.  Jeanne makes the fatal mistake, which everyone makes, of actually talking to the devil and engaging with his ideas instead of treating them with contempt.  Demons lack all wisdom and deal exclusively in lies–no matter how persuasive their words or how close they seem to match reality.  By engaging with them, we only become entangled and influenced by them.  Our Lord provides the perfect example of how to deal with devils when He does not permit them to speak (Mark 1:25 and 1:34).

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Shingeki no Bahamut‘s gods are finite beings; therefore, they did indeed abandon her.  However, when the devil tells us that God has abandoned us, we ought instead understand that the devil is panicking in seeing that God works ever more strongly in perfecting our souls.  In Jeanne’s case, Martinet even resorts to impersonating the gods in order to induce despair into her soul.  I can think of two saints against whom the devil has impersonated Our Lord: St. Martin of Tours and St. Padre Pio.  The people of St. Martin’s time esteemed him as equal to the apostles.  Padre Pio is the greatest saint of modern times.  Both saw through the devil’s schemes.  The more hotly pursued we are by evil, the more tightly God binds us to Himself: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

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Sadly, Jeanne allows her mind to become so disturbed by the abandonment of the divine and the problem of evil that she drinks Martinet’s poison.  Similarly, if we allow despair and distrust of God to guide our choices, we shall doff our wisdom, imprudently indulge our senses, and eventually drink the poison of the vices.  Fortunately, such failings do not turn us instantly into demons!  But, how shameful for someone who has been given so many graces and the honor of participating more in Christ’s Passion than other people to not only distrust God but to show Him scorn!  Surely, God will bring down many punishments upon such people and abandon them to the deepest hell!

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday.  He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday. He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

No, God is infinitely more merciful than even St. Michael in Shingeki no Bahamut.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “When we fly from Thee, Thou pursue us; when we turn our backs, Thou present Thyself before us; when we despise Thee, Thou entreat us; and there is neither insult nor contempt which hinders Thee from laboring unweariedly to bring us to the attainment of that which the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and which the heart of man cannot comprehend.” People are weak and ignorant, stray from the truth, and sin.  However, God is ever faithful, even if we are unfaithful: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  God Himself restores the light lost amidst darkness and the faith lost in bitter trials.  This restoration may take a long time, but we are assured to be more blessed then than we were before–as was the case with Job.  No matter how dark and bitter our present circumstances, God never swerves from being generous, good, merciful and caring.

Jinbee Tsukishima as a Model of Sainthood

The more I read the Mushibugyo manga and watch the anime based on it the more fond of it I become. One of its greatest moments occurs in chapter 33 of the manga–covered within episode 8 of the anime. Our hero, Jinbee, discovers that Mitsuki has abducted Haru, his love interest, in order to draw him into a trap. Once Mitsuki has him inside a cavern crawling with giant bugs and lined with debris and buildings from a destroyed village, Haru finds a way to escape her bounds. But, Mitsuki still intends to crush both of them by bringing down the house on them–literally dropping houses from the cavern’s ceiling! Rather than lament his predicament, Jinbee quickly hits upon the plan of using the houses as a means to ascend to the top and escape! Not only does he not utter a single lamentation for his situation, but he even excuses Mitsuki of any wrongdoing–claiming that she must be being manipulated somehow!

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How many lessons this short chapter holds for a Christian! Those of you familiar with the series know that Jinbee and Haru are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their very simplicity allows them to act without hesitation. Curiously, intelligence can actually produce barriers to right action. Dostoyevsky’s underground man states that a truly intelligent man would never do anything. A man of action must be stupid. Why? The intelligent man tends to overanalyze and complain because their very intelligence allows them to see more difficulties. The knowledge of these difficulties stymies action. In Jinbee’s case, on the other hand, he seizes upon what he considers the best course of action and follows it without hesitation.

Great Idea

Some of the best Christian saints were also some of the simplest people. Sure, Christ has need of intelligent people, and the ranks of the Doctors of the Church are filled with them. Also, few religions have placed the same emphasis on learning as Christianity. However, when God needs something done, he often turns to the simplest individuals. Once God showed St. Francis of Assisi a room filled with thousands of swords and spears, and told him that he should win as many swords for God. The next day, St. Francis immediately bought some armor and set about to raise a company of soldiers for the Crusades! Fortunately, another dream that evening described that St. Francis would be responsible for raising spiritual warriors rather than Crusaders to the Holy Land. Like the good and single-hearted man St. Francis was, he returned to Assisi and set about creating the foundations for the Order of Friars Minor.

Happiness in Struggle

Neither St. Francis nor Jinbee allowed the struggles to daunt them from achieving their purpose. Haru also immediately consents to the plan of house climbing. If we take houses to symbolize temptations and difficulties, should not their ascent indicate walking the royal road to paradise? Temptations and obstacles ought to be met with cheer because overcoming them causes growth and sanctification. God permits temptations and obstacles in our lives so that we can triumph over them. As much as it may appear to the contrary, God would never permit temptations so great that we could never overcome them. We have no reason to be angry with God for the difficulties in our lives–though God is understanding of our frustration.

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For that matter, we should avoid becoming angry at the people who place stumbling blocks and temptations before us. As Mitsuki sends houses crashing down on him and giant bugs after him, Jinbee claims that she must be being forced against her will. Flabbergasted by these excuses and the cheerful attitude of Haru and Jinbee–they essentially treat the attempts to kill them as a game, she vehemently asserts her malevolence, which produces more resolute denials of her wickedness from Jinbee. In a like fashion, Christians should make excuses for the people that wrong them and remember both that Christ died for that person and that their enemies possess the spark of divinity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

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Lastly, we cannot ascend to heaven on our own strength. No one is saved alone. At times, we must like Haru accept help; at other times, we must like Jinbee help others for the increase of our charity. John Donne puts it very well in his seventeenth Meditation:

…for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

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But, other people and our own efforts can only help us along so far. Our good deeds and patient suffering increase our merit and fortify our good will, but God Himself must draw us up to heaven as heaven is so far above our deserts. We often sin and must have recourse to God in straightening out our crookedness or indeed even infusing supernatural charity back in our souls after we do a grave wrong. And, we might say that that ever-present need of God’s salvation is symbolized by Jinbee’s associates breaking into that chasm to rescue Jinbee and Haru from Mitsuki, who would surely have killed them had not the warriors of Mushibugyo dropped in at the right time.

To the Rescue

Sometimes, samurai anime can be remarkably fruitful for contemplation!

Broken Blade and Meditations on Human Misery

As many of you know, I’m incredibly fond of a manga called Broken Blade or Break Blade.  I just finished watching the superbly animated series of OVAs based on the first part of that manga.  They follow a protagonist named Rygart, who’s considered useless for his rare inability to use magic.  Somehow, this very deficiency allows him to pilot an ancient mech discovered around this time.  This fortunate event comes of the heels of war being declared against the kingdom ruled by Rygart’s best friends from college: King Hodr and Queen Sigyn.

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The mech transforms this useless and disappointing guy into a hero.  However, even all the talent he has for piloting this mech avails naught against General Borcuse.  *Spoilers ahead!  You have fair warning!*  In the final battle of the series with everything on the line, Rygart fanatically attacks Borcuse’s larger and more powerful mech with his now ragged looking mech.  All his weapons break and Borcuse toys with him.  At last, Rygart is given a curious looking weapon–which doesn’t work!  At least at first, but through swinging it around enough times, he gains the victory.  YOU MUST WATCH THIS FIGHT!!!!  ITS AWESOMENESS DEFIES EXPLANATION!!!!

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*Ahem*  Now, that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I can begin tying the above to human misery.  Rygart’s situation in the OVAs parallels a believer’s in many ways.  We are hounded by our sense of misery, incapacity, and guilt: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20).  Though we make great strides in faith and virtue, at last we find a difficult opponent who mocks us by our failure to conquer him.  We overcame large faults, but grow melancholy under nickel and dime temptations; or, we gain little virtues, but have a great fault that downs us often.  Our prayer and penance, by which we conquered our other foes, don’t eradicate this new enemy.  We get tired and frustrated.  Our hope wears thin.  Each prayer and penance seems a joke: our lower soul wishes to burst out laughing perhaps in the middle of prayer for humility, chastity, patience, peace, piety, hope, industry, or magnanimity as our higher soul mourns our infidelity.  Our efforts fall into Einstein’s definition of insanity.  Essential acts strike us as absurd.  Yet, their very absurdity is no argument for their discontinuation!

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Human misery, even if we focused on a single person, gapes as an unfathomably terrifying abyss.  We have no reason to “believe in ourselves” as the popular mantra goes, and many reasons to distrust ourselves.  These powerful foes or nickel and dime temptations I mentioned earlier cannot be escaped by dint of effort–especially the smaller temptations which attack us like annoying flies.  We need to patiently endure every hour of the day and carry these temptations even to our beds, knowing that victory is not in our hands, but in God’s.

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Yet, let not the struggle depress anyone: what more perfect edifice has God’s Infinite Mercy to build upon than unfathomable human misery?  Indeed, God’s Mercy shows its very infinitude by filling up human misery with its grace, forgiveness, and strength.  Like Rygart, we must swing the weapons of prayer and penance unceasingly.  We feel like asses in our inability to perceive the benefit of these actions, but we must also imitate the donkey in our stubbornness.  In patience, we shall possess our souls!

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I have borrowed from St. Francis de Sales for the above paragraphs, and would heartily recommend his Introduction to the Devout Life or Jean Pierre Camus’s The Spirit of St. Francis for anyone interested in learning more of his wisdom.

Advice on Prayer: Necessary for Salvation

As I mentioned in the introduction, thoughts about why people fall away from the faith led me to write this series of articles.  I arrived at the answer that all people are justified and preserved in faith through the action of God’s grace.  So, anyone’s perseverance in faith may be attributed to God’s grace and providence acting on the human intellect and will with such precision as to prevent that person from either losing faith or otherwise dying in a state of mortal sin.  So, all the elect owe their salvation to God’s mercy.

But, the thought still comes to me that there must be something we can do to contribute to God’s efforts: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phillipians 2:12-13).  He did give us free will after all, and it is certain that no one is saved against one’s will.  However, we do require His grace to will anything good.  Each sin is a refusal to act according to the grace given to us.  But if all good thoughts, good words, and good deeds both originate in God and are carried to completion through His grace, it seems that a human being can do nothing to advance his salvation.

But, if that were the case, then God would also be the cause of the damnation of the reprobate rather than this occurring through their own sins, which–with due deference to any Calvinists who may be perusing this–is the blackest heresy.  So, I shall say along with St. Alphonsus de Liguori: “Whoever prays is certainly saved. He who does not is certainly damned. All the blessed (except infants) have been saved by prayer. All the damned have been lost through not praying. If they had prayed they would not have been lost. And this is, and will be their greatest torment in hell: to think how easily they might have been saved, just by asking God for His grace, but that now it is too late – their time of prayer is gone.” (From The Great Means of Salvation)  Even if virtue, faith, or perseverance is not present in us, God always gives us the grace to pray for these things.  And from employing this one grace, which he does not deny to any, the grace to persevere in faith or virtue will be obtained.  Remember that the unassisted human will or intellect will fall without God’s aid.  So, all serious falls may be attributed to people trusting too much in themselves or being too proud to beg.  (The Latin verb for to pray, orare, also means beg.)  Remember Martin Luther’s last words: “We are beggars.  This is true.”  And especially in our reliance on God, nothing is more true.  Nor should we despair of gaining the object of our prayers, especially if we pray “(1) for [ourselves]; (2) things necessary for salvation; (3) piously; and (4) with perseverance.”  (From St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Second Part of the Second Part, Question 83, Article 15)  Did not Christ say: “And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

Perhaps this seems too simplistic to some of you.  Perhaps many of your prayers have gone unanswered.  But remember the four conditions above: you must be praying for yourself, things necessary for salvation, piously, and with perseverance.  Sometimes, God does not answer prayers because they do not further our salvation, we demand rather than beg, we want things done in our own way, or we do not ask with perseverance.  The latter three are perhaps the most common reasons why certain former Christians, even though they were praying for faith, were unable to retain their faith.  So, I advise those of you who find themselves of this category to resume praying for faith so that God may grant it to you.

“But,” you may say, “how can I even pray without faith?”  Remember the story of the father whose son Jesus cured of an unclean spirit in Mark chapter 9?  The father said: ‘”But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”’ (Mark 9:22-24)  Jesus was able to heal his son with a word.  I wish to contrast this with the passage in Mark where Jesus is rejected at Nazareth.  The end result: “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6).  So, it does not seem that unbelief, as merely a state of not being sure, can prevent the action of God’s grace.  Rather, only the willful refusal to believe hinders the action of God’s grace.  That’s why Jesus was able to help the father, even though he was in a state of doubt, while he was unable to help his neighbors in Nazareth.

And, when one considers human misery–how utterly ignorant we are of some things and how powerless we are to do certain things which we would like or prevent those misfortunes which we would wish, why should the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, who did not spare himself for the sake of poor sinners, not have compassion on people who would like to believe, even though they find it impossible at the moment?  There was one section of St. Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, where Jesus temporarily removes some graces from her soul, and she wrote that she felt extreme difficulty believing even some of the most basic precepts of the faith until He again restored these graces.  This increased her fervor to pray and to make sacrifices for poor sinners.  But, if such a great soul as St. Faustina’s almost fell into disbelief, how much more do we require them?  Pray like this:

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for my sins and to receive the gift of faith.”

Even someone with great doubts may pray in this manner, and I doubt that anyone who seriously recited it everyday would fail to attain salvation.  But, if it is impossible for one either to pray this or to pray this seriously, one can always ask a friend or relative to pray for them.  Our Lady of Fatima says that too many souls perish for lacking someone to pray for them, implying that even this may be sufficient to effect a person’s salvation.

Yet, someone might still be scoffing at the idea of prayer’s necessity: “Surely, reason alone ought to be all that’s needful to convince someone of the truth or falsity of religion.  Whichever side has the stronger argument will naturally prevail.”  Of course, such a person believes that religious people are ignorant, stubborn, or arrogant.  The scientific worldview and modern philosophy has done enough to discredit belief in a Supreme Being.  But, is that the real reason behind certain people having religion and others being without it?  But then, one would expect that people with the same background, intelligence, education, and experience would have the same opinion on the matter.  However, the truth stands that: one intelligent man believes, a comparably intelligent man does not; one rich man believes, another does not; one poor man believes, another does not; one person with X personality type believes, another X type does not; one scientist believes, another does not; one fisherman believes, another does not; one man of integrity believes, another virtuous man does not; one person raised in a religious family cleaves to the faith, another falls away; one person raised as an atheist converts, while another does not; one person raised in a lukewarm household becomes fervent, another remains lukewarm; etc.  When one considers that none of these things by itself induces perseverance in faith or perseverance in disbelief, it becomes apparent that a person’s talents, background, good fortune, experience are almost immaterial.  Even if we found two characters extraordinarily similar in most respects, they might still diverge on the matter of faith.  God’s mercy and grace alone allows the Faithful to remain true and non-believers to convert.  The infallible means open to all persons of obtaining grace is prayer.

Now to deal shortly with how prayer prevents us from falling from grace or at least of regaining the grace of justification should we fall.  Let me here note that no influence can force the will to decide one way or another; however strongly a habit of vice or virtue inclines the intellect toward a certain set of actions.  Yet, once a habit of vice has been established, it is only God’s grace which can deliver anyone.  After the danger of dying while in a state of grave sin, the dangers of constantly giving in to such sins are lukewarmness, i.e. losing the desire to amend, or losing faith altogether, especially if one has struggled for a long time to overcome a particular sin.  They reason that, if God existed, God could surely prevent them from falling.  So, continued falling into grave sins and getting worse for them can only be attributed to God’s absence.  And so, their own sinfulness leads to them losing faith.  Truly, it is only by resisting the passions that we are set at peace and confirmed in our election.

One of the least lascivious images of St. Anthony the Great’s temptations.

One must see this conflict between virtue and vice as a battle with our foes, the demons, who constantly try to lure us away from Jesus Christ by love of the world or the flesh.  Often when we give in to base desires, instead of thinking of this as the battle it is, we think about the “benefits” or “advantages” which an evil act will bring us.  By looking at the immediate “gain” which the sin will bring, we put off all thoughts of the Just Judge from our minds.  For, who would sin thinking that they would surely go to hell in the next instant?  Even if this thought comes to our minds, we then say “Surely we’ll have time to repent” or “But I  just can’t resist” or “I don’t like the consequences of not sinning” or “This person has it coming to them.”  And then, we fall.  The good news I have for us is that only those who cease repenting, who cease continuing to fight, are lost.  For, Christ is infinitely merciful.

These vices may only be conquered through mortification, avoiding the occasions of sin, the sacraments, and prayer; full and frequent confession is particularly salutary since absolution makes us desirous to preserve our souls’ purity and Jesus adds special graces to the absolution for us to persevere in virtue.  But, how difficult is it to deny oneself after constantly giving in to oneself?  To avoid occasions of sin when we’ve been seeking them?  To pay not heed to all the phantoms and fears the devil throws at one in order to prevent one from confessing one’s sins?  And if we do not confess, how shall we eat the Bread of Life, the Life of Souls?  All the grace necessary for us to overcome this habit of vice is available in prayer.  Prayer produces true repentance in the soul and leads one to the confessional and then to the Holy Eucharist.  God, now dwelling in  the person’s soul, enables it to hate sin and persevere in good works.

The battle continues after this point, and our foes may strike at any time.  Virtue and Prayer are our chief methods of fending them off, but the former is not fully formed in the newly repentant, and even those who have long persevered in virtue may find themselves hard pressed.  Especially consider times when we seem to be in the throes of a temptation, and our minds are deluged with the “advantages” and “benefits” of sinning.  If we dally only with these evil thoughts, our will shall eventually give way.  To escape, we must turn to God in prayer, begging Him to deliver us from evil, thinking of the heavy punishment awaiting those who commit these crimes, and considering that every sin of ours increased the suffering of Our Lord during His Passion.  Often, people try turning to an earthly remedy when combating these passions, but God alone “is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).  Any remedy outside of or without prayer is certain to fail.  St. Anthony the Great, whenever he had to suffer many temptations, would often pray the Psalter for days without sleep until his enemies broke down in tears and admitted defeat.  But, grace alone gives us this resolves and prayer is often the only means we have available to beseech God to pour sufficient grace into our hearts.

On the scroll, it says that St. Anthony saw the traps of the devil spread out on the ground. When he wondered how anyone could escape all these traps, he heard a voice say “Humility.”

But more will be said on how to pray in later articles.  Pray without ceasing!