The Victory of Christ over Sin and Death
The Incarnation and the Resurrection
I wish to clarify some fundamental truths regarding our Faith and the complex theme of evil spells. Even before speaking of these evils and their author, the devil, and in order to discourage the temptation of sensationalism, I shall put together two fundamental premises that regard Jesus Christ, the Master, the Savior, and the Liberator.
The first consideration regards the profound significance of the Incarnation of the Son of God for each man and woman of every era; that is, the birth of Jesus Christ the Savior, born of the Virgin Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit, which occurred one night more than two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, a small and insignificant locality not too far from Jerusalem. It is precisely this event inserted into the history of humanity that gives us great hope. It is necessary to look at that Baby as the Son of God, who was born in the midst of men and women in order to separate them from sin, egoism, death, and the power of the devil. With eyes animated by faith, one can see lying in that poor stable the Prophet waited for by the people — the Messiah, who, through preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, curing the sick, consoling the derelict, and casting out demons, will reveal, definitively, the merciful face of the Father.
The birth of Jesus, however, does not say everything; we must refer to the second fundamental moment in the history of the Son of Man: His death and Resurrection, which we celebrate each year at Easter. The Resurrection of Jesus is the cause of eternal salvation for the souls of those who died before His coming and for all those who came after Him. The Resurrection of Christ throws open the doors of paradise with one condition: that this salvation is liberally accepted by each man. God does not impose acceptance on anyone, and He is always ready to welcome us at every moment.
At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark there are four phrases that summarize the entire work of the Lord and that nurture and give meaning to our existence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Analyzing them, we shall understand the sense of the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus.
- The first phrase tells us that the time for waiting is finished: from the moment when Jesus is born on earth, He becomes contemporaneously the center of all human history.
- Here is the substance of the second phrase: heaven, which had been closed because of sin, is now open, in virtue of the transfigured flesh of Christ in His Resurrection. By now His kingdom of justice and peace has definitively arrived. It is helpful to recall that, according to the Old Testament, the dead had a particular destiny: Sheol, a type of common grave where the Jews believed their souls would end up after death. Sheol was imagined to be a dim, shadowy place that allowed a diminished type of survival after death. It did not, however, liberate man from the more perverse and adverse effects of creation: exclusion from perfect communion with God and men. But with the advent of Christ and His Resurrection in the flesh, revelation is now complete: the doors of paradise have been thrown open, and the dazzling light of Christ, raised and living, invades the resting place of all the redeemed.
- The third phrase reveals to us that in order to enjoy eternal beatitude, we must change our way of thinking, and therefore our life, in a total and radical way. We have been called to a continuous metanoia, a conversion, a reformulation of the priority of life, so that this reality can also be fully realized in our own existence.
- Finally, the fourth phrase tells us how to work this conversion: by living the gospel. There we have all that is necessary. The gospel, in turn, summarizes what Jesus commands His disciples: “love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
What must we embody in order to assume all of this in a serious way? Permit me to respond with a simple personal anecdote. For twenty-six years — from 1942 to 1968 — I went regularly to San Giovanni Rotondo to meet with St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Some of the monks had posters in their cells with inscriptions and reminders. Some were from the Bible but Padre Pio had this: “Human greatness has always had sadness for a companion.” The sense of it seemed clear to me: we must have humility, precisely like Jesus, whom St. Paul describes as “emptying” Himself (cf. Phil. 2:7), that is, of making Himself man — even though He was God — and of dying on the Cross, rejected by men. After this poster was stolen from his room, Padre Pio put up another: “Mary is all the reason for my hope.” If Mary, who is the Mother of Jesus, is our hope, anyone — anyone who suffers, anyone who is alone, or anyone who feels sad — can look at the Nativity of Jesus and at His Resurrection with a heart full of hope.
The death of Christ throws a penetrating light on our death. The Son of God, making Himself man, wished to accept the condition of men in its totality. God, as the book of Genesis narrates, created man in a condition of immortality. In the terrestrial paradise he received only one prohibition: not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Obviously, in order to make us understand better, the biblical author uses metaphorical language: what is related is not understood in a literal sense. The message is received in the depth of its theological significance: for man, it is a trial of obedience and a recognition of the authority of God and of His lordship over creation. In order to make them deviate, the devil used two expedients with Adam and Eve, and he uses them also with us. Above all, he leads them to deny what God has imposed. For this the serpent says to Eve: “You will not die” (Gen. 3:4). He acts in the same way with us, when he makes us doubt the existence of sin and hell and paradise and of their eternity; or, for example, as in our times, where euthanasia and abortion are passed off as signs of humanity’s progress. The second subterfuge is to make evil appear good, a gain rather than a loss. The serpent proceeds: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The devil also makes evil appear interesting, positive, and beautiful.
In light of this situation, by incarnating Himself, Jesus accepts the extreme consequences of this original sin, whose effect is death: “[I]n the day that you eat of it you shall die,” warns God when placing man in Eden (Gen. 2:17). By incarnating Himself, the Son of Man has accepted — as man and only as man — the condition of mortality and all its limitations: hunger, thirst, fatigue, and sensibility to pain. He accepted — in order to save us — the extreme consequence, death, in order to defeat it with His Resurrection. This fact makes St. Paul cry out: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Death has been defeated by Jesus! Included in the great consolation of eternal salvation — the Lord will dry each of our tears (cf. Rev. 21:4) — are those who are afflicted with spiritual evils. This is great news for our dear brothers and sisters who suffer so much.
The Consequences of Christ’s Victory
Let us ponder what has just been said, lingering a bit on the mystery of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord. The last —the Resurrection — obtains three victories for us against the three condemnations imposed on Adam and Eve after the original sin. The first condemnation is death; the second regards our body, which falls into decay (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return” [Gen. 3:19]); the third is symbolized in the closing of the doors of paradise.
Above all, Jesus obtains victory over death; therefore, immediately after closing our eyes to this world, our body does not go into the semidarkness of Sheol; rather, it is destined to rise again. This plan is expressed very clearly in the affirmation Jesus expresses to the good thief on the cross: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This tells us that we must not fear death, because in death we are going toward the peace, harmony, and love that await us and give us life without end.
Here lies the victory over the second condemnation: man is made of soul and body and cannot live with the soul detached from the body. Body and soul are destined to reunite at the end of time, that is, at the moment of the Last Judgment. St. Thomas Aquinas — in my view, the greatest Christian theologian — affirms that, if in faith we believe in this unity between the soul and the body, even from a rational point of view (using only the power of reason), it is impossible to conceive them separated. If we think of the saints — who already enjoy paradise but whose bodies are still not united to their souls, since that will happen only at the end of time — we can be certain that they already live the beatified state without the body and that they will reach their highest level of blessedness when body and soul are rejoined. And through the mercy of God, the same can be said of us when we reach paradise. Only when time is completed, when the soul and the body are rejoined, will there be a true fullness of life. To say it in simple terms: for the moment, the saints have so much happiness that they can be content with only their souls. The same can be said inversely for the damned.
Finally, regarding the third condemnation, we can maintain that Jesus, by His Resurrection, has opened the doors of paradise for us, the doors that had been closed and sealed by original sin. This is the fundamental lesson of Easter, for which we can say with the joy of our faith that our life is destined to glory and eternal happiness, together with the company of Mary, the saints, and the most Holy Trinity.
Giving Meaning to Suffering
Yet we experience pain and suffering in this life. How do we look at eternal life for those who suffer in body and spirit? God created everything for love and happiness, but He also established that each creature arrive there freely and without constraint. The Lord has fixed a trial for everyone. The angels themselves were subjected to this test. We know the final result: some of them rebelled against God and did not wish to recognize His authority or to submit humbly to Him. These are the fallen who were definitively damned. The other angels preferred obedience to God, and they chose paradise.
Man is also subjected to the test of fidelity to God’s laws. This happens in an eminent way during a time of suffering, which, as we well know, is experienced by everyone. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Magisterium of the Church reminds us that “the messianic victory over sickness, as over all other human sufferings, does not happen only by its elimination through miraculous healing, but also through the voluntary and innocent suffering of Christ in his passion, which gives every person the ability to unite himself to the sufferings of the Lord.” Therefore, human suffering associated with Christ’s becomes salvific: “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”
Pain, especially that of the innocent, is a mystery that overwhelms our capacity to understand. The sufferer, who bears the pain of illness or of some other spiritual evil, such as diabolical possession, is elevated to a level nearer to Christ, making him capable through faith of cultivating hope. Indeed, the sufferer is called to a true and proper vocation, that of participating in the increase of the Kingdom of God with new and more precious modalities. The words of the apostle Paul can become their model: “[I]n my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). Offering oneself to the will of God in suffering is the only path one can take. It is the mystery that I encounter each day in my ministry of releasing so many brothers and sisters from the sufferings of evil spirits, sufferings that they, in turn, offer for the salvation of the world.
In order to translate these theological concepts into popular terms, let us borrow what was said in my region, in Emilia [Romagna]: “No one goes to heaven in a horse-drawn carriage.” It’s necessary somehow, to earn one’s way. But let us understand that everything is grace; paradise can never be “merited.” It is Christ alone who has earned it for everyone through the narrow passage of His Passion and death on the Cross that led to the joy of the Resurrection. We are given the opportunity to accept it through the trials of life. And this is so for everyone. We read, for example, that some saints endured extraordinary sufferings. But the Lord does not demand this from everyone.
Each of us endures his tribulations, his ordinary and his extraordinary difficulties. To be tried in body and in spirit, entrusting oneself totally to God, is a true and proper test of faith, where love and fidelity to the Lord are given freely and not for some advantage. In brief, love for God has no other reason but love. Is it not also true of human love? Bernard of Clairvaux has illuminating words on the subject: “Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice; I love because I love.”
We are called, then, to love God and to believe in Him in the difficulties of life, because we recognize that the stormy things give us strength and the help to go forward each day. I cite again the example of St. Paul, who speaks of the “thorn in the flesh” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7). We do not know exactly what he was suffering; he speaks of a “messenger of Satan” who was persecuting him. We can infer that it involved a physical suffering due to the action of the devil and not from natural causes. “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me,” he affirms, nearly desperate (2 Cor. 12:8). God, however, does not free him. “My grace is sufficient for you,” He responds to him (2 Cor. 12:9), because virtue is manifested and deepened precisely through suffering, where virtue is tried and perfected. The apostle’s experience confirms that we learn to love God through suffering, perfecting ourselves in love. Suffering — I repeat — offered as reparation for the salvation of souls and the conversion of sinners becomes an instrument of true collaboration with God’s work for the redemption of all humanity.
The Signs of God’s Love
How, then, is divine mercy manifested toward those who suffer and, in particular, toward those who are vexed by demons? The response is: through prayer, the intimate communion with Jesus, and in the highest way, in the sacraments, the tangible signs of God’s love for us.
Those persons who experience spiritual disturbances suffer from a unique form of suffering: in the case of physical illnesses there are medical tests, and if doctors are able to understand the causes, they can make prognoses and often find suitable remedies at the right moment and proceed with the attempts. In the case of the sufferings caused by demons, no human or scientifically verifiable explanation exists. We are in the field of the invisible: no two cases are similar; each has its own story, and in each one it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know how things were developed. What is certain is that the interior suffering is always very great, and often not understood, at least at the beginning, not even by those who are around the afflicted person, such as relatives and friends. This situation often leads to great frustration and solitude in those who experience it. In the case of torments caused by demons, we find ourselves before a mystery that can be confronted solely through total abandonment to the will of God. It is indispensable to turn to Him, since no human cure exists other than the supernatural cure and the knowledge that comes from faith that one’s life, even in paradoxical situations like these, “is hidden with Christ in God” (cf. Col. 3:3).
Thus, God’s “prescriptions,” authentic instruments of grace, become tangible signs that nurture faith and hope even when one confronts the most inexplicable situations. Many persons who suffer from spiritual maladies, and whom I have encountered over the years, confirm this each and every day.
Art for this post on the victory of Christ over sin and death: Cover of An Exorcist Explains the Demonic used with permission; The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Piero della Francesca, between 1463 and 1465, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.
For further reading from Fr. Amorth, click HERE.