Today at our church, the pastor told the famous allegory of “The Council of the Devils in Hell” as part of his sermon.
The allegory can be worded in any number of ways to either stretch out the story or to shorten it up, but in general it goes something like this:
Satan had learned of a large spiritual revival in a community, and so he convened a council of devils to determine the best step to derail this awakening.
Three devils spoke up with a plan. The first said “We’ll simply whisper in their ear that there is no God.”
Satan looked at him skeptically, saying that they would never believe it. “Too much beauty on Earth. They would simply look around at the mountains and sky, the seas and the forests, and know that He exists.”
The second devil then spoke up: “We’ll whisper in their ear that there is no Hell.”
But again, Satan shook his head side to side: “Never buy it. They’ll remember the most evil of men over time, and know that those men aren’t going to heaven, that there must be a place of punishment.”
The devils were becoming frustrated when a third blurted out: “Let’s tell them they have plenty of time.”
“That’s it!” proclaimed Satan. “Go spread the word to all mankind.”
This subtle yet powerful allegory should be a major warning to us all – none of us, no matter how young, healthy, happy, or successful knows how much time they actually have left in this life.
If it be God’s will that I make it that long, I will turn 55 years of age just two weeks from today.
Those years have been filled with the loss of friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and celebrities of all ages, economic situations, and levels of health and illness.
Last Saturday morning, I was the lector for an 8am Mass at church. After the Mass, I returned to the sacristy to retrieve my car keys and return the book of readings.
While back there, I ran into Fr. Michel, a 77-year old priest at the parish who looks a decade younger. He had just returned from a week vacation.
He looked great, smiling as he prepared for a funeral service. We exchanged quick greetings and pleasantries before I left.
This morning, the pastor let us know that just yesterday, Fr. Michel was saying another funeral service when he suffered what appears to have been a massive heart attack.
Kept alive by the quick action of someone present who knew CPR and the first-ever use of our church AED, Fr. Michel is now fighting for his life at a local hospital.
The pastor then told us that it wasn’t the only such incident that the priests in our parish were dealing with at that moment.
The youngest of the three assigned to the parish, Fr. Sean, lost his sister this past week. She was a 35-year old married woman, mother of two young children, and was in good health.
Her death was sudden and unexpected, and has left the family devastated and looking for answers, both physically and spiritually.
Just three weeks ago, 41-year old Philadelphia Police Officer Doug Bamberger, a 16-year veteran, married with two young children, left for a day at work.
Every police officer’s day is potentially dangerous, no matter the assignment. We all wear uniforms and carry guns, and can be called or run into a deadly situation on a moment’s notice.
But Doug’s situation was less hazardous than most. Assigned to the Court Liaison Unit, he worked inside the vast majority of the time, helping ensure the organization of officer’s needed for various court testimony during each day.
Apparently not feeling well, Doug let some co-workers know that he was going to take a break for a few minutes, and left the office.
He was found unconscious some time later on the ninth floor of the courthouse, apparently having suffered a massive heart attack. Doug was rushed to the hospital, but died a short time later.
The majority of us know stories like these. Someone taken young by an illness like cancer, or by an auto accident, or by some criminal activity or act of war.
We all hope to one day die peacefully in our beds at an old age while still in reasonable health, without any suffering. We hope, no matter how old we are, that the day is still decades away.
The devils whisper in our ear constantly to put things off: “make amends with your family another day”, “give up that bad habit next year”, “take your faith more seriously down the road.”
“You have time. Plenty of time.”
There are numerous stories of deathbed conversions, people who exclaimed all during their lives that they didn’t believe in God, or Jesus, but when faced with the finality of their lives gave in to the possibility out of panic, or a genuine faith experience.
Maybe that’s your plan? Coast along, act and talk tough, maybe even genuinely disbelieve. But at the end, if you really panic, well, you can accept then.
Problem is, you might not get that chance at a last chance.
You might decide that you’ll make your family amends another day, and then lose that family member to such an accident or physical condition.
You might decide to give up that bad habit next year, only to find that you don’t actually have a “habit”, but instead are addicted.
You might decide to go back to church some day, and never get that day. When that truck or bus plows into you out of nowhere, when your tire suddenly blows out and fly off the road, when you suffer that sudden, massive stroke, when someone pulls a trigger and kills you, you have waited too long.
Maybe you don’t like hearing about those things. Maybe you think I am being overly morbid. Tell that to the more than 150,000 people that those things and more happen to every single day.
James 4:14 – “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Don’t make the mistake of listening to the devils whispering in your ear telling you that “you have plenty of time.” You don’t.