My grandmother used to say, in her Neapolitan Italian, that every Easter and Christmas, the devil comes prowling around with extra energy. It does seem so. Every Easter and Christmas, Christians must endure, from people who do not know or do not care that the Faith built the civilization they take for granted, some “new” but really tired old attack upon the person of Jesus. He was not born in Bethlehem, he was only a social worker, he practiced hypnotism, he was married to Mary Magdalene, he never rose from the dead, he never existed at all—and so forth. Often the slander of this year contradicts the slander of last year. Not that it matters; the attack is all that counts.
This year, it comes from a rapper who, having made an identity out of his same-sex attractions, is selling, at $1,018 a pair, sneakers devoted to Satan, each one purported to contain a drop of human blood. He chose that price advisedly. It refers to Luke 10:18, when, after the spirit-filled return of the disciples he had sent forth to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning.” The verse is the heading for the rapper’s website, where you will see, upon a background of fiery red, a late medieval portrayal of hell, including human beings, devils, snakes, and other grotesque beasts doing the most disgusting things imaginable. Eating—as an infernal parody of the Eucharist—is prominent.
The rapper says he wants to avenge himself on the Faith, because he had been told when he was a teenage boy that he was going to go to hell for being gay. Thus has he fallen headlong, not into hell—not yet—but into a dreadful unintended irony.
We may set aside the excuses people make when they are doing something wicked, and want to blame it on persons who are conveniently vague, or who are not around to defend themselves and tell us what they actually said and did. Teenagers are not known for making careful distinctions, or for considering that their feelings are not at the center of the universe. The irony is simply that the rapper shows that he is halfway to hell already. He has been dabbling with Satan, and he is proud of it, and he displays, as evidence of his defiant pride, a scene of unspeakable degradation, while at an exorbitant price he sells sneakers to knaves and fools.
The devil is a confidence man. The structure of the confidence scheme is simply this: you “salt the mine,” as they say, planting some nuggets of gold there, or some genuine pleasure of a sort, and as the victim commits more and more of himself and his means, you give him less and less from the deal, requiring from him a deeper and deeper commitment, because after a while, he cannot extricate himself unless the false promise turns out to be true. And it never does, because Satan is, as Jesus says, a liar and the father of lies.
The rapper has been the devil’s mark. There is no joy in what he does, and he cannot help but show that Satan has honeycombed his mind with hell. As for the people who have bought the sneakers (the nation’s most prominent news source, crowing, said they sold out in one minute), they had better be advised, because they have bought more than they bargained for.
Or less—and here the etymology of the English word hell is instructive. It is related to other words that say that something is missing: hole, hollow. These in turn are related to words in our common Indo-European heritage that have to do with hiding or huddling or sneaking: Latin celare, to cover, to hide; Greek kleptes, thief.
Etymologies prove nothing, but they are powerfully suggestive. Hell is a hole in being, an emptiness, and it is where souls hide from beauty, truth, goodness, and the love and grace of God. This is just what the pathetically confused rapper is attempting to do. God reveals himself in glory and humanity in the person of the risen Christ; hell conceals its misery under a cover of brave words and empty promises. The grace of God is free and liberating. Those shoes of hell cost more than a thousand dollars.
In the culmination of time and the world, St. Paul says God shall be all in all. The alternative, so to speak, is to be nothingness in nothingness. Since God has given man an immortal soul, this alternative must ever totter upon the verge of non-being, without ever attaining it, or it is like a bottomless hole into which the soul has pitched itself in flight from God. And for what temporal return? A pair of sneakers, and the sickly pleasures of Sodom.
All human enterprises come to an end; nations, too. They are all rather like the walls of the public buildings in the time of Augustus Caesar, faced with marble but really made of crumbly brick. Still, we may draw a distinction. Some enterprises are founded upon a vision of good that they inevitably fail to make manifest; their aim is true, but the arms shake, and the legs are rickety with sin. But other enterprises are founded upon an evil vision; their aim is false. For a while, they can deceive the unwary, because evil, dispensing with such ordinary human restraints as decency, modesty, honesty, forbearance, and even care for the innocence of children, can appear to build up mighty towers almost overnight. Think of the dynamo that Stalin made of the Soviet Union. What we see among us now is like that. It will grow in rage and fury, and it will be quick about it, and so its crash will be all the nearer. For hell is plagued by its own apparent successes.
Be patient, pray always, keep the Faith, do not lose heart. Christ is risen. Everything else is smoke.