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Deposing the Prince of this World

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C

Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

— Luke 4:1-13

Our Lord said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We may ask, then, whose kingdom is?

The Savior also calls the Evil One the “prince of this world.” These are things we will hear in the accounts of the Last Supper and the Passion later on in Passiontide. The Gospel lesson for this first Sunday of Lent, which is always an account of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, contains the bold affirmation of the devil himself that all the kingdoms of the  world and their power of glory have been handed over to him to be given to his worshippers as he sees fit.

Now, of course, God is the ultimate Master and Lord of all things whatsoever; “of things on the earth, in heaven, and under the earth,” as the apostle tells us. So how can the Lord Jesus call the devil “the prince of this world?”

The traditional theology of the Church, of both the Old and New Testament, has always understood that before their fall the angels were given various roles in the governing of the universe. The knowledge and power necessary for them to fulfill their offices in creation under God are a constituent part of their natures from the instant of their creation. It would appear that the devil or Satan is the angel to whom was given the care of human kingdoms and societies.

And just as with bad human beings, this angel’s fall did not deprive him for the present time of his role and his power. When a man turns evil, he still has his knowledge and skill and possessions, and so it is also with the demons. God’s Providence has determined that the domination of the wicked does not end when they sin. They continue to be part of this plan until the end.

This means that the devil especially resents the good who perform their roles in human society—the family, government, business, education—without being his followers. After all, as far as he can see, all these things would be his. So the very fact that there are good people in the world who follow the Savior rather than Satan is to him a kind of revolt, a punishable offense and an act of war. The appearance of Christ’s Church on the scene of the kingdoms of this world is actually the incursion of his enemy into his own territory and requires a violent response. This is why there has been and always will be spiritual war between the followers of Christ the King and the followers of the prince of this world.

As Our Lord has told us, it is by his being lifted up on the cross in his holy Passion that “the prince of this world is cast out.” The definitive battle has been fought already on Calvary, and the rest of history is a cleanup operation as the devil and hell desperately try to hold on to some power over human souls and bodies.

Although this can sound kind of scary, this state of affairs is in fact a source of consolation to the followers of Christ the King and Lord of all things. We are guaranteed the victory over evil, over sin and death and the devil already. We know the outcome will be the utter expulsion of the wicked from God’s kingdom.  As St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, the Lord overcame the devil on his throne, which is this world, and in his own home, which is hell, by conquering him utterly.

Thus it is important to pray confidently in union with the holy angels (of whom there are many, many more than the demons!) against the demons and for the victory that is sure to come. We should be confident of the power of Christ and his angels and rely on this power each day. If we have fallen prey to sin and have gone over to the devil by our own fault, we need simply to repent of our sin, make a good confession, and begin anew, reenlisted in the troops of the Savior. The Lord Jesus is far more determined than the devil to govern those whom the Father has given him, and he will always take us back, even should we, sad to say, betray him.

Let us pray earnestly the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, which was composed by Pope Leo XIII, and pray it daily, especially after Holy Mass and when we are tempted. This will gain us much assistance in our spiritual warfare and protect us from the prince of this world, making us share in our Savior’s triumph over his temptations.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

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