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BY Father Dwight Longenecker
In 1942 C.S. Lewis published one of his most
enduring and endearing books. The
Screwtape Letters is a collection
of imaginative epistles from a senior devil to his junior colleague, outlining
how he should handle his “patient.” Lewis wrote the book as a series of essays
for The Guardian newspaper and confessed that the pieces were not
fun to write.
the years Lewis’ Luciferian letters have become ever more popular. In 2003 the
Fellowship for the Performing Arts created a stage adaptation of Screwtape.
It ran for 11 weeks in New York City and is now on a national tour. Walden
Media, which produced The Chronicles
of Narnia films, has promised a
film version, and various famous actors have recorded audio versions of the
book — the most recent being Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies. (This audiobook is sold by the Register’s sister company,
Circle Press, at CirclePress.org.)
classic has also spawned a subgenre of books. Peter Kreeft wrote The Snakebite Letters. Randy Alcorn has written two books, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters and The Ishbane
Conspiracy. Screwtape has been featured
in a Bono music video and the cartoon strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” and there has
even been a Mormon book written in the same style.
didn’t apologize for the fact that Screwtape
Letters is an entertaining and
amusing read. Indeed, in the opening pages, he quotes Martin Luther and St.
Thomas More on the need to take Lucifer lightly. Luther wrote, “The best way to
drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and
flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”
his part, St. Thomas More said: “The devil … that proud spirit … cannot endure
to be mocked.”
few years ago, on my blog, I started writing some of my own Luciferian letters
for Lent. I found the exercise to be fascinating and frightening fun. It was a
challenge to see things from the devil’s point of view. Eventually, I fleshed
out the letters and added a plotline that begins on Shrove Tuesday and finishes
on Easter Day.
I came to realize as I wrote was that Luther and St. Thomas More were right:
One of the best ways to battle against the devil is to mock him. Books in the
tradition of The
Screwtape Letters do just that.
course, this doesn’t mean that we dismiss the devil or underestimate his power.
What it does mean is that we engage in the battle with a sense of humor and a
sense of proportion.
are not mocking the spiritual battle but, rather, the pride and vanity of one
who thinks himself the highest while he is really the lowest.
course we must take sin seriously. The reality of the devil must be admitted,
and, especially during Lent, we must enter the spiritual battle wearing our
full armor. All I am suggesting is that part of that armor should be the swift
arrows of good humor and humility.
at Lucifer is a good way to do just that.
at Lucifer in Lent means that we are happy warriors. We are launching out on
the spiritual battle with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. The
Gospel says when we fast we should wash our face and put on a smile, and the
spiritual writers speak of keeping a “joyful Lent.” We’re not going about as
requires a clear understanding of our own faults and the reality of temptation.
we engage in spiritual battle during Lent, we should do so with the joyful
knowledge that, no matter what, Christ’s forgiveness upholds us and that, in
him, as St. Paul says, “we are more than conquerors.” When we face temptation,
we should overcome it not just with a serious resolve and a whopping amount of
self-control, but also with the wisdom and insight it takes to see the
temptation for what it is.
we can sidestep the attack and parry with a counterthrust in the robust spirit
of a jaunty swordsman or a laughing cavalier.
fight joyfully because the devil is already defeated. On Easter Day he was
trampled down forever. Furthermore, he was defeated in a kind of divine
practical joke. It was a plot reversal that would make any filmmaker proud.
Jesus is down, and the devil seems to have killed God’s Son. Then, in a totally
unexpected twist, Jesus rises again, and Satan is defeated by his own wicked
is the ammunition to fire at Satan. Like a teasing teenager, we can point at
Lucifer and say, “Loser! You were hoist with your own petard!”
fight with confidence because Christ has won the victory. St. Paul again:
“[N]either death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,
nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
laughing at Lucifer in Lent reminds us to laugh at ourselves, too. When we see
his mock dignity, his pomposity, his wounded pride, his vaunted
self-importance, his know-it-all attitude and his sublime arrogance, we ought
to see our own souls reflected there — for, if we can laugh at his foolish
pride, then we ought to be able to laugh at our own, as well.
am often reminded of a dear old nun who told me that her confessor had fallen
asleep while she was making her confession. She smiled ruefully and said, “Oh
dear, it seems that not even my sins are very interesting!” Then she laughed,
and at that moment, her real humility was displayed.
Chesterton said that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. This
Lent, if we learn to laugh at Lucifer and laugh at ourselves, we might find
that, before long, we too are taking ourselves lightly. Then who knows? Come
Easter Day, we might just fly away.
Father Dwight Longenecker’s latest book, The Gargoyle Code, is written in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. He’s online at DwightLongenecker.com.