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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

What Does Sin Do to Us?

What does the devil look like? One traditional image of Satan is this: He is a man in a red suit, with horns and a tail, wielding a pitchfork. He is smiling–or perhaps sneering is the more accurate word–because he takes delight in tempting human beings to sin–and eventually to go to hell. Satan is the ruler of Hell, commanding hordes of devils beneath him. He’s extremely active and immensely powerful.

This image is a sharp contrast to Dante’s depiction of Satan in his Inferno. (I’m drawing from an article by Tod Worner entitled “Midnight Oil,” in the journal of the “The Word on Fire Institute,” Evangelization & Culture, Spring 2022). Dante visits Hell with his guide and idol, Virgil the great Roman poet. As they descend deeper and deeper into the bowels of hell, they come upon Satan himself at the very bottom. But Satan is not surrounded by legends of devils amid flaming fires. No, he is alone and encased waist deep in ice! His enormous wings, though flapping, only stir up the cold. His chin is resting in his hands–as if he’s pouting. (Satan, the Pouter-in-Chief!) He definitely is not smiling or even sneering. As Tod Worner says, “The King of the Inferno is sullen and supremely self-absorbed.” He’s even oblivious to the presence of Dante and Virgil.

Worner tells Bishop Robert Barron how surprised he was that Dante’s Satan is “not loud and audacious, darkly majestic and menacing, but is instead pathetic and cold, sad and self-absorbed.” Bishop Barron explains, “Dante’s Satan is the full expression of what sin does to us…It causes us to cave in upon oneself.” In fact, one of St. Augustine’s definitions of sin is just that: incurvatus in se, to be curved in on oneself.

Like Dante, C. S. Lewis also visits hell in his book The Great Divorce. The book is not about a marital divorce, but about the distance between Heaven and Hell. Lewis dubs Hell (or some say it’s Purgatory too) as “grey town,” a place where it is always raining–even indoors. But there’s a bus in the town that offers to take residents to a better place. Lewis boards the bus with others and soon they are soaring higher and higher through the clouds and into the air until they reach the foothills of Heaven itself. But, in order to enter Heaven, the passengers have to turn away from their “cherished evils” such as their need to dominate others, their cynicism, their craving for wealth, their pride, their lust. In other words, they must “repent” of their sin. Some passengers finally do repent and enter Heaven to be joined with loved ones already there. But others, unable to repent, board the bus again and return to “grey town”–for now.

Even though I read The Great Divorce 40 years ago, one image stands out for me. In grey town, people live separately in their houses. Soon they end up quarreling with their neighbors and move farther away from the center of town and from any neighbors. Some individuals are so far away, so isolated, they are light years away from their nearest neighbor. Take Napoleon. Two residents manage to visit Napoleon on the outer edges of the town and they describe what they saw.

Napoleon lives alone in a huge mansion in the Empire style with many large windows. When the two visitors peek through one of the windows, what do they see? Napoleon is “walking up and down–up and down all the time–left-right, left-right–never stopping.” And the whole time he is blaming others for his misery–beginning with his top generals. He mutters to himself, “It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English.” He is a man exhausted and taking no responsibility whatsoever for his life, his mistakes, his sin. He is a man seemingly incapable of repentance.

Heaven is a wedding feast! (Photo by Ahha Xa3oba – Pexels)

For both Dante and Lewis, Hell is a place of isolation from others, supreme sadness, and constant gloom. What a contrast to Jesus’ image of Heaven as a happy, loving, fun-filled wedding feast!

For reflection:

What did you think (or feel) about these two depictions of Satan, hell, or sin?

Did anything in particular stand out for you?

Our song today is a communion hymn by Dan Schutte, “Table of Plenty.” It is sung by the Sunday 7 pm Choir (from SFDS Parish in Ajax, Ontario, Canada.) Every celebration of Mass is a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet God has prepared for us when our earthly journey has been completed. This video has two versions of the hymn. The second version adds the descant. Otherwise both versions are the same song, same lyrics, and the same visuals.

You are welcome to share a comment below:

12 Responses

  1. In a reading I had earlier this morning, it mentioned how often we neglect to acknowledge our sin of pride. The image of Napoleon playing the ” blame game” really brought that home. Thank you for your always insightful, thought-provoking blogs. And topping them off with beautiful music. God bless you!

  2. Good morning Sister ,
    I was so deeply informed by what you shared today as I never read either books
    and have been always curious about them.
    Also, I was shocked to see only one response at this time of morning. Now I am curious about that!
    Thank you so very much for sharing you faith and wisdom with us.
    Marilyn Woidat

  3. Thank you for opening my eyes and imagination to Dante’s & CS Lewis’ interpretations of Satan and Hell. It was a powerful reflection, and a good reminder of what NOT to plant, cultivate and fertilize in my own mind, heart and soul. Giddy up & God Bless, Barry

  4. How apropos to our present world and church situations…Always blaming others. Hmmm.
    And apropos to me who easily blames the gravity of such situations on others when I am also in that mix! Thanks Melannie.

  5. Satan is everything that God isn’t. Thank goodness for God’s patience was we continue the journey to become more like Him.

    Father John

  6. Sister Melannie:
    Excellent, thought provoking concepts of hell. Unfortunately, I believe “we” create our own version of hell as our Lord stated in Mark.7:2 “For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Interesting that our Seven Cardinal Virtues are opposed by Seven Cardinal sins!

  7. An excellent depiction of Hell and a great book I might add. I recently took a seminar at a local Catholic parish and the instructor said he (and some of his friends) thought the St Michael prayer should be re-written because the choice of words was quite harsh and they thought the prayer should be softer. Hey, we’re talking the devil here! I thought was this guy (and his friends) for real? The devil divides and Satan accuses as our parish priest said in a very powerful homily. Needless to say, I will not return to that parish for any future classes, nor will I recommend them. I pray for many to become aware of the truth.

  8. Most powerful reflection Melannie, provoked a lot of thought. My thought of Satan is that he is very quiet and sneaky. He catches us in our weakest state and temps us to think we can control and conquer anything on our own. The sin of pride indeed. We must be steadfast in faith that God is near and will put Satan behind Him when we call for help, that only He can provide.
    Beautiful music video. I love Dan Schulte’s music.

    1. Melannie, when I read your topic about the devil I immediately remembered that when I was an impressionable high school student I curiously read “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. It really left lasting impression me about my faith and temptations. So, after reading your blog I decided to look it up today on Wikipedia to get a summary of the book since I do admire C.S. Lewis. Yup! Still don’t like that clever devil in The Screwtape Letters”.
      PS. I read all your books a live them and often give them as presents. Right now I’m loving “Hanging onto Hope”, it’s so timely!

  9. Good afternoon, Melannie…
    Good afternoon, all…

    I have read “The Great Divorce” a way back in my college days, and I thought it a perfect explanation of purgatory/hell — I also loved the fact that according to Lewis, you can get out of there! That gave my teenage soul a lot of hope! God is indeed the God of the living and the dead. But I’m ashamed to say that I have yet to read “Dante’s Inferno.” Must get there! I like the way Satan is described — cold and self-absorbed, the opposite of John the Baptist’s prayer: “I must decrease and He must increase.”

  10. Thank you Sr Melannie for your insites on the devil and sin. It reminded me of the tie i taught sophomores the chapter about the devil. Every year i taught that chapter something really bad happened in my life after it was concluded but God also provided what i needed to get through it.The devil does not want to be acknowledged as real. He is very effective when people are wishy washy about their faith and want to believe he doesn’t exist. Thank you for being you. Love. Liz

  11. Omigosh, those images are just so thought provoking. I really really like the St Michael prayer. The words are powerful, I find myself saying that prayer frequently during the day, especially if I watch any news onTV. It’s one prayer I really think about as I say it. When I say those words
    I MEAN them…”Defend us in battle” (it IS a battle) and “against the wickedness and snares of the devil” …”cast into hell all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” Think about those “power words” –battle, snares, prowl and snares! That’s some scary stuff and very real. We should be vigilant because Satan is a powerful and very canny being who only seeks ill for God’s people.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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