A friend and I started reading The Screwtape Letters together a few weeks ago, and I’ve been reminded about how much I really love this book. If you’ve never read, it’s a peek at the correspondence of two demons. A senior demon, Screwtape, is trying to teach his nephew, Wormwood, how to “bring humans over to Our Father’s side.” Somethings feel upside and backwards as you’re reading it – like the reference to “Our Father” … that’s Satan. God is referred to as The Enemy.
I’ve found this book to be profoundly helpful in my own spiritual life. Some letters really strike me and then I look at what’s happening in my life and can’t help by say, “Get behind me Satan.”
One of my favorite podcasts just happens to be going through the book one letter at a time this season which has made for even deeper reflection. I wanted to share an episode and idea with you today from Letter 2. The whole episode is great and can be listened to here.
Screwtape opens the letter by saying it’s a “grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian.” Hope, however, is not lost because “one of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself.” This is where I was struck profoundly. Ideally they don’t want their patient at Church, but if he’s going to be there, they’ve got some good fodder for sin for him. Screwtape’s advice is to use the little annoyances at the Church to keep the patient from truly becoming a Christian.
Have him notice all of the people there who are just so very ordinary, and not quite as holy as him – since he knows them from other places where he tries to avoid them. Make sure the hymns are bad and the text is printed too small. Ensure that those around him sing out of tune or wear boots that squeak or odd clothes, and be, in general, ridiculous.
All of this struck me because not only do I focus on the cantor who’s out of tune, the neighbor singing way too loudly off beat, and the homily that just didn’t resonate … your parishioners are too. I know this because I read hundreds of survey responses who are critical of these things.
I thought that once we were able to go back to Mass after being shut out for so long, we’d learn to ignore these little annoyances.
I’m not sure what the solution is to this issue, but I think it begins with prayer, humility, and remembering not just that we don’t live in a perfect world – but that we’re part of the imperfection.