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The Screwtape Letters Week 3 of 7 – Book Club

June 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

The Screwtape Letters Week 3 of 7

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As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago. And while he thinks that we do not have to the-good-portion-picturecontend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.

This dim uneasiness needs careful handling. If it gets too strong it may wake him up and spoil the whole game. On the other hand, if you suppress it entirely – which, by the by, the Enemy will probably not allow you to do – we lose an element in the situation which can be turned to good account. If such a feeling is allowed to live, but not allowed to become irresistible and flower into real repentance, it has one invaluable tendency. It increases the patient’s reluctance to think about the Enemy. – The Screwtape Letters, p. 57-58 (Chapter 12)

Lately, I’ve fallen into a rut. I've become a TV junkie. You think I’m kidding – and I really wish I were. But the whole thing sort of snuck up on me. One minute I was looking for some evening entertainment and the next minute I found myself addicted to a television series called 24. (To those of you who watched it back in 2001 – how did you ever wait a week for the next episode?!) Watching one season is akin to watching an eighteen-hour movie, and yet I can’t seem to pull myself away!

Still, on a moment by moment basis, I’ve known that somehow, things were not right. That I “haven’t been doing very well, lately.” This recognition hasn’t stopped me. It’s only made me uneasy. Contrary to all reason, rather than cause me to pull back, this uneasy feeling has compelled me to dig deeper.

I’ve been sneaking episodes on my way to bed instead of doing my nightly reading. Watching them on my computer while cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry or eating a snack. Even downloading a Netflix app and watching TV on my phone during my morning walk or while I wait in line at the store – something I thought I'd NEVER do!

If you remember from past posts, only a few months ago I devoted all this time to praying the rosary. Amazing how fast and how far one can fall!

Am I inspired by this show? Am I energized? No. Absolutely the opposite. I am disgusted by all the time I’ve wasted. As my eleven-year-old daughter has often said after watching too much TV – it leaves me drained and depressed.

Why? Because I’ve been filling any time meant for quiet reflection with nothing but Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!

Maybe you’ve never been a TV junkie. For you, perhaps there’s something else. Music? Movies? Sports? Internet? Email? Texting? Perhaps a combination of them all? The devil is always pleased to help us find distractions that will lead us astray. Often we start small; but before we know it, we’ve turned our backs on the One who matters most.

And what do we gain? Not a thing.

For me, I’ve seen a downward spiral in virtually every area of my life, even in this short amount of time. I’ve become more selfish with my time, less productive, more impatient and even more caught up with material desires. I’ve been eating out more, lately. And I’ve been eating MORE, period. In fact, I’ve even gained a few pounds through my indiscretion (Late-night ice cream seems to go well with late-night TV).

Thankfully, in His infinite mercy, The Good Lord has recently decided to step in and save me from my Self.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, our family split up for mass this past Sunday. My daughters and I ended up attending an evening mass at an unfamiliar parish. Afterward, the priest announced a two-hour Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament as part of the Fortnight for Freedom, and he invited the entire parish to stay as long as they liked.

I didn’t want to stay. I wanted to get home and get the kids to bed so I could watch my show. I told myself that my husband wouldn’t want me to stay – he had things to do too.

The priest asked everyone to remain kneeling until he and the servers had left the room. I kid you not – as soon as the door closed, nearly the entire parish was on its feet, filing out of the sanctuary. Out of a packed church of about 800 people, maybe 30 stayed for an additional five minutes.

I actually teared up as I watched the parishioners head for the door. Within another five minutes, there were fewer than a dozen people left, including the three of us.

Something deep within me had awakened. While I was upset by the exodus, I was absolutely ashamed of myself. I had wanted to leave Jesus to watch TV. Wow.

During the hour we sat in adoration, I felt calm, comforted and whole for the first time in a few weeks.  I enjoyed a warm reunion with my Dearest Friend.

Had I not been brought back to “reality” – a dangerous thing, as Screwtape would be quick to tell you – I would have continued down my self-made path of destruction.

What have I learned from this experience?

I’ve learned that the more I allow myself to get “sucked in,” the more I push God out. That it’s not my willpower that has helped me stay relatively detached over the years; but my relationship with God.

All that time spent in prayer, adoration, and daily mass as well as all the spiritual reading – these are not empty religious practices. These are the things that draw me to Christ. And the more I fill my life with Christ, the more fulfilling it will be.

On the other hand, if I fill my life with the things of this world, I am bound to turn away from Him. “No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

I’m not saying I’ll stop watching 24 altogether (at least not before I finish Season 3) – but I do plan to approach it in a way that won’t require me to address it in confession.


Reading Assignment:  Chapter 15-20

 Note:  While you’re reading along (and even if you can’t), make sure you check out this magnificent Radio Production of The Screwtape Letters by our own Paul McCusker. Excellent Production!

Discussion Questions: 

1.  Have you struggled with any distractions?  If so, how do you manage to regain your focus?

2.  Please comment on anything from this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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    Dear Vickie: Thanks for you post. I periodically have problems with being drawn in by the temptations of the devil. The moment I recognize that I’m straying from my prayers or meditation(s), I repeat Christs command during his temptation; “Get thee behind my Satan.” I will also say a few Hail Mary’s. I confess that I don’t really know how long I’ve strayed before I recognize the devils work. God bless you for the strength to recognize the evil one’s work and to return to God. Your post today was on mark for me. God bless you and your family.

  • I try to pray the rosary on the way home from school. But there was a time I got addicted to playing Cut the Rope on my Ipod. I realized how bad my addiction was when I’d forget to make the sign of the cross when we’d pass the church near my house. So I stopped playing and started praying. And fortunately I finished almost all the levels last summer.

    • LizEst

      I learned something new! I never heard of Cut the Rope until you posted it. I checked it out and, blessedly, it is not the type of game that would keep my attention. …there are others, though! Ha!

  • Victoria Campbell

    This post hits home with a lot of where I was headed before I got the cancer diagnosis. My addiction Facebook and Facebook games. I know I am in trouble when I struggle to turn to God 1st. For me that means starting with the daily readings and devotion as soon as the house is clear and quiet in the morning. If I treat the daily devotion like an email from God it should be the first thing I open right?

    My day starts all wrong when the guilt of not doing this hangs over my head. There is a time for some Facebook which can be used for good there are lots of great like pages that cause me to pause and put my mind on God but it requires discipline which can be a challenge some days. I can also use FB to encourage others spiritually is a great evangelication tool but putting priorities straight is so important if we are not to lose focus.

    My selfishness with my time is a great challenge for me. I would like to say that having cancer has completely cured me of this weakness but that would not be honest. My goal is to get closer to God and treat the time he has allotted me as more precious. I am blessed to report that I am done with chemotherapy as of last Thursday. Next stop is surgery and radiation. Please continue to pray for all those affected by cancer and that during this time and beyond we will all walk closer to our Lord who sees us through.

    • Vicki

      Time is a great subject, and one that I’m certain Screwtape will address at some point in the next few weeks! I’ll bet that’s a big one for many of us. I’m so glad to hear that you’ve reached one milestone on your adventure. I continue to keep you in my prayers as your journey continues. God bless you!

    • LizEst

      Glad to learn you are done with the chemotherapy, Victoria. I will continue to keep you in my prayers, as I have been doing. How is your friend with cancer doing that you also requested prayers for? Did you post the name somewhere? Did I miss it?

  • Terese10

    I have struggled with Internet browsing overload. I realized recently it was crazy out of control. I felt guilty over wasted time and had to confess it over and over. I kept trying to pray, do my spiritual reading, but couldn’t break the habit. I felt like my whole life was spinning out of control to some degree, leading to lethargy and wasted time. I have been praying like crazy for help with this. Just yesterday I think it broke. I was able to take some active steps to get my life more in control. I don’t know what to attribute it to other than I’ve prayed more about it and tried to attend a few extra daily masses begging for help and strength in the Eucharist. I am determined not to fall into this again and if I do, to stop it earlier in the cycle.

  • LizEst

    Oh, which of my days doesn’t have distractions? I try to put something worthwhile in the place of these and, sometimes, that works! Other times, I do the reward method. Do something important, reward with a distraction. Other times, I just have to remove myself completely from the situation. I think it depends on the distraction, how strong it is, how weak I am, etc. Through it all, God’s grace and mercy sustain me even when I fall. Blessed be God.

  • Kim

    I tried and tried to get my TV watching under control. When I realized that I couldn’t do it, I finally gave it up all together. This was about 10 years ago. I know this is not the right course for everyone, but it was the only way I could find to NOT waste an inordinate amount of time on this mindless activity. Now I rent 1 DVD at a time from Netflix. Donig so keeps my watching totally under control (both in terms of time and content) and I have a whole lot more time for life-giving activity. It’s amazing how much time we really do have when we put our screens away.

    • Vicki

      Believe it or not, we gave up TV too- quite a while ago! Not because we watched too much (normally, I RARELY watch TV), but because we found little value and a lot of yuck for our kids. Instead, we subscribe to Netflix so we can watch movies once in a while. But beware of what you start – those TV series can be dangerous:)!

  • Thank you Vicki. When this Book came on I felt that since I did not have a copy, there was no point in following it. This Post is the Third Episode this week, through which God is telling me I have taken a wrong turn and I am walking away from Him. The first was an Article in the National Catholic Register with the Title “Who Am I?” based on the Gospel of Sunday the 23rd and a Respondent stated how he has been struggling with clearing distractions from his life to create room for Jesus. That was a wake-up call for me to act and sort myself out. And today I stumble upon another louder bell ringing from this Post. In short, I feel Jesus is telling me I do not need to know what is happening in my Motherland because He is in Charge.

    Just like you, Vicki, I got caught up with keeping abreast of the topical issues before, during and after our 4th March General Elections. Yet from the time I became an Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy over four years ago, I completely stopped reading newspapers and watching the T.V. Recently I discovered I was getting sucked in and my Spiritual Rule of Life was being disrupted. By the Grace of God, I had earlier managed to throw out the Social Media on the Internet and the daily newspapers which were generating a lot of distractions and disrupting my Prayers. I am now struggling to cut off watching the daily News on T.V. Please pray for me. I sure need lots of prayers to help me get back my bearings.

    • Vicki

      I’m so glad God was able to use this site and others to speak to you! Current events can be a tough one and I will certainly pray for you in that respect. God bless!

      • God bless you, Vicki. Yes, He sure spoke to me loud and clear. And His commanding Voice, after reading your Post, jolted me to a screeching halt. Now as soon as the Technicians come to set my Plasma T.V. which my dotting Daughters bough me when I installed the Fibre Optic Internet Cable Connection, I intend to go back to not watching the News which have played havoc to my Rule of Life. And thank you, Mary, too. I am truly blessed to have such a caring “Family” in this, our Spiritual Home.

      • Oh, Vicki, you will never guess just how much you help us all. But you will know when He hands you the Diadem of Glory for the souls you helped in their messy struggle to remain on the “Straight and Narrow” path

    • Please check your email. I sent you something. 🙂

      • You are an Angel, Mary

        • LizEst

          Mary – Did Mary send you the book? If not, I can send you the pdf so you can print it out or read it on your computer.

          • I sent her the Word file of the book.

          • LizEst


          • Yea, Liz. She sent it and I put on MS Word to have it printed at the Cyber Cafe after our Divine Mercy Outreach Mission tomorrow Saturday. But I am still rushing to finish another Set I am knitting for my brand-new Granddaughter!!!…another distraction….but I am telling myself Jesus is O.K. with this one!!!!

          • LizEst

            Please knit! Your granddaughter won’t be a tiny size forever!

            I am so glad Mary sent the book to you. It has a lot of meat in it but is not difficult to read and moves along well. I think you will be able to catch up soon.

          • Yes, Liz. Between knitting, Divine Mercy duties and all, I am sure I will catch up. The little I have read tells me I will learn a lot. Thank you all.

      • LizEst

        Hey Mary – How was your aunt’s (I think it was your aunt) visit to Montserrat this spring?

        • Thanks for asking! It was also Manresa and other Ignatian sites in Spain. I haven’t been able to see her yet. Busy with schoolwork. Maybe tomorrow.

          • LizEst

            Oh, very interesting. I’ll be interested to know her impressions when you do see her. God bless you.

          • Sure! I’ll email you about it! 🙂

  • idaloren

    Thanks for your post Vicki. This resonates with me as well. The past weeks and days were filled with so much distraction for me. For example, just this Monday I got a new phone, and I was so distracted with personalizing and tinkering with it that I would go to bed really late. Now I have the habit of going to a church near my workplace so that I can pray and go to daily mass. But because I was too tired Wednesday morning I refused (really refused) to get up early to be able to go to the church. That, and I’ve also been drowsy during work, which isn’t good as well.

    This reminds me of a chapter of another book I’m reading right now. The chapter title is “A heart guarded.” It says:

    “The science of custody of the heart consists in order and struggle, defense and attack, knowledge and decision, renunciation and suffering;… Guarding the heart means keeping it for God, living in such a way that our heart become where he reigns, that it contain all the loves which are compatible with our state of life, but that all be based harmoniously on the love of God and be ordained to it.”
    – Jesus as Friend by Salvatore Canals, p. 26

    Now the part of regaining focus is hard, especially I’m really into the distraction already. It’s like walking in a pool of tar and just settling there. But at some point I’d have to say “I don’t like it here!” and really, really push struggle to get free. The Ignatian principle “Agere contra” is very helpful. There was a time I wrote the words on a post-it and posted it on my monitor screen. Maybe I should do it again.

    Each moment is really a struggle, and it reminds me how each moment I need to ask for God’s grace. Thank God for his infinite patience and mercy.

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