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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Laughing at Lucifer in Lent

February 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Books, Dan Burke, Lent, Resources, Seasonal Meditations

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published one of his most enduring and endearing books. The Screwtape Letters is a collection of Gargoyle01aweb-300x213imaginative 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.

Over 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.

Lewis’ 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.

Lewis 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.”

For his part, St. Thomas More said: “The devil … that proud spirit … cannot endure to be mocked.”

A 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.

What 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.

Of 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.

We 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.

Of 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.

Laughing at Lucifer is a good way to do just that.

Laughing 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 gloomy defeatists.

This requires a clear understanding of our own faults and the reality of temptation.

As 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.

Then we can sidestep the attack and parry with a counterthrust in the robust spirit of a jaunty swordsman or a laughing cavalier.

We 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 plan.

This 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!”

We 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.”

Finally, 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.

Gargoyle Code 300

I 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.

G.K. 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.

By Father Dwight Longenecker – Published with permission of the National Catholic Register

Father Longenecker also has written a book in this tradition entitled, The Gargoyle Code

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Art for this post on Laughing at Lucifer in Lent: Gargoyle From Philadephia Fire House, provenance unknown, provided by DBurke. The Gargoyle Code by Father Dwight Longenecker book cover, used with permission.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Well-written, serious article that stays on topic. I have “The Screwtape Letters” on my reading list, I think I may have to move it to the top very soon.

  • $1650412

    ” …hoist with your own petard!” I love that he said this in this article because it was really brought home to me this past Sunday when Satan was quoting Psalm 91 to taunt Jesus-“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”- (Lk 4:9ff and Mt 4:6) but the very next phrase in that same psalm Satan was quoting is : “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” In our readings in Church it said “you will trample down the lion and the dragon.” He must ahve been pretty confident or pretty confused- but his own schemes have certainly defeated him- I guess that is the challenge to find in our daily lives where in our weakness Christ’s strength is made perfect. For sure, Satan does not understand love or humility at all.

  • underhermantle

    Have you read The Screwtape Letters recently?

  • Denise

    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.
    Could you tell me what the name of the video is that Fr. Longnecker is refering to?

    • Hmm – I am not sure. You might go to his web site through the link and send him an e-mail… sorry.

  • Cathy

    Thank you for this! I love your last paragraph! After a good confession, and acknowledgment of our weaknesses, God doesn’t want those weaknesses to bury us and prevent us from going on and doing great works in His name. You’ve given me a great visual – very freeing!

  • Guest

    Thank you, Dan. This article is superb and very fortifying at this time of Lent. I have learned a very good lesson on how to laugh at my own failures and weaknesses. Especially, when I feel so much peace after the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God bless you

  • I so love this article Dan, it is so informative and helpful to know that mocking the devil really upsets him. I love it. Now,  I want to read C.S. Lewis’ book and the Gargoyle Code. But your article also brings out that we should never take ourselves too seriously, and I am beginning to think when we do the devil is having fun and we fall into his trap again. 

    • I am glad you like it – I didn’t write it though…

  • Carol V.

    Hmmm—I think you gave me some inspiration for Lent this year:  Cultivate a spirit of joyous victory as I redouble my efforts on penance, sacrifice, and charity towards others (probably best to be exercised in my extremely annoying workplace.)  I’m usually one of those sourpuss sacrificers during Lent, and if nothing else, the enemy (the world, the flesh, and the devil) will wonder, with the change of attitude, just what I’m up to now!

  • CeciliaMarks

    Dan, would it be possible to run Fr. Longnecker’s ” Luciferian letters for Lent” on your site? I really enjoy Father’s writings but have not read all of them. If not do you know if has them on his site? Thank you…..

  • God loves a joyful martyr.
    It’s hard to be aware of so many souls we come in contact with will be  wailing and gnashing their teeth for all eternity in the fires of hell and laugh
    But truly laughter can be a weapon against satan and strength

  • $30899374

    I’m sorry to be a downer but I’m having difficulty understanding laughing at Satan and taking ourselves lightly with respect to sin. I see the point was made that this is all bearing in mind that we understand sin and Satan to be real but I still can’t relate to the idea behind the article. Contemplating the Agony in the Garden asking for the grace of true sorrow for sin coupled with the part of the prayer to St Michael which notes that even St Michael Archangel was not able to thrust Satan to hell on his own merit makes me rather fearful for laughing at Satan.
    Maybe I’m too melancholic…

  • Sad that the Books and Films you quote, Dan, are Greek to me.  However, from this wonderful Post, I have come out with this Sentence:

    “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.”

    When I learn how to remember, with absolute Humility, that without the Grace of God I can do NOTHING WORTHY OF HIM, and lean on Him all the more, always and at all times, then shall I begin to take the first wobbly steps to Conversion.  In the meantime, Prayer and daily striving to discern His Will and pleading for His Grace to help me fulfill it remains my “Northern Star”

  • THERESAEVENBLY

    Reading this article was very timely for me. I defended a blogger on another site only to have the commentor attack me for not being a “true Catholic”. I sat back, reread everything, went to Mass, prayed, and then came back to read your article. Gosh it was fun to laugh and laugh hard. Okay, I will pray for that commentor but seriously – your article reminded me that while we are dealing with a spiritual battle, Mr. Red Legs (as my friend calls him), doesn’t change tactics. I will continue to submit my thoughts and will to follow Christ’s because I know the victory is already won!

    PS I’m going to have to reread the Screwtape Letters!

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