Gospel Commentary for 1st Sunday of Lent By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap (Satan Exists, and Christ Defeated Him)
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org.) Demons, Satanism and other related phenomena are quite topical today, and they disturb a great part of our society. Our technological and industrialized world is filled with magicians, wizards, occultism, spiritualism, fortune tellers, spell trafficking, amulets, as well as very real Satanic sects. Chased away from the door, the devil has come in through the window. Chased away by the faith, he has returned by way of superstition.
The episode of Jesus' temptations in the desert that is read on the First Sunday of Lent helps us to have some clarity on this subject. First of all, do demons exist? That is, does the word "demon" truly indicate some personal being with intelligence and will, or is it simply a symbol, a manner of speaking that refers to the sum of the world's moral evil, the collective unconscious, collective alienation, etc.?
Many intellectuals do not believe in demons in the first sense. But it must be noted that many great writers, such as Goethe and Dostoyevsky, took Satan's existence very seriously. Baudelaire, who was certainly no angel, said that "the demon's greatest trick is to make people believe that he does not exist."
The principal proof of the existence of demons in the Gospels is not the numerous healings of possessed people, since ancient beliefs about the origins of certain maladies may have had some influence on the interpretation of these happenings. The proof is Jesus' temptation by the demon in the desert. The many saints who in their lives battled against the prince of darkness are also proof. They are not like "Don Quixote," tilting at windmills. On the contrary, they were very down-to-earth, psychologically healthy people.
If many people find belief in demons absurd, it is because they take their beliefs from books, they pass their lives in libraries and at desks; but demons are not interested in books, they are interested in persons, especially, and precisely, saints.