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Pastoral Attitudes Towards the Phenomenon of Satanism
SECTS AND SATANIC CULTS
From time immemorial, man's interest in the so-called forces of evil has stemmed from a spirit of curiosity about the transcendent. Ancient religions spoke of good and evil divinities in a kind of demonology, in which there were particular beings intent on doing evil or simply on tormenting man. Old Testament religion recognized the presence of Satan and his host in various ways. It is significant to know how Satan had his origin, starting from his rebellion against God, followed by his first efforts to destroy the communion between our first parents and their Creator. The Book of Job tells of the trials inflicted on its faithful protagonist by the devil, who sought to destroy his faith in God.
The New Testament, particularly in the Gospels, tells us of the clashes between the devil and Jesus. The action of the former, who seeks to demolish and defeat Jesus, is met with the action of Christ, who defeats and mocks him with his saving power. This victory is shown not only in the heading of the possessed, but especially in the paschal triumph of the Cross and the Resurrection. Elsewhere, the Book of Revelation narrates, in very particular terms, the conflict that the devil and his followers seek to wage against believers, but also their definitive defeat in the final triumph of the spotless Lamb.
Starting from this period and down the centuries, a very curious phenomenon has occurred which is not easy to understand. How is it that there are people who experience an attraction to the devil as: a sort of pseudo-religion? Basically, this means falling into the power of the forces of evil, and, at the same time, believing that one is participating in that ambition for power. In this regard, the growth of the so-called satanic cults, which imply or presuppose sects or satanic groups, is well-known. Many of these have two basic features: the acknowledgement of Satan's power over God's and, at the same time, the exaltation of death in its various manifestations (sin, sacrifice, etc.).
In the modern era these phenomena have occurred as in the past. There are scholars who specialize in this phenomenon; in libraries and bookstores there are many works on Satanism, not only for the scholar who has to provide answers, but also for the instruction and further initiation of those who wish to participate in these sects, or to join satanic groups. Moreover, there are other particular expressions of Satanism, such as satanic rock and other modern manifestations (the cult of death, mutilations, black masses, etc.).
Today a kind of syncretism is connected with Satanism. Certain religious expressions, formed by mixing elements of various religions, combine the rites of Christianity with satanic elements. In Latin America, for example, it is easy to find certain religious manifestations, like santeria, which contain a strong dose of satanic practices (animal sacrifices, mutilations, invocations of diabolic divinities, etc.). This creates confusion for the weak in spirit, who can reach the point of considering these things a normal part of their religious life. Some tendencies of the so-called New Age also display satanic influence. In addition, there is the sad reality of satanic groups linked to organized crime, especially with the drug world.
Obviously, we are dealing with a complex problem that, far from disappearing, is particularly evident in our society. Moreover, this phenomenon sometimes hides under the guise of modernity (as is the case with a whole culture of modern music, literature, television programmes, etc.). This deserves a constant, not just occasional, pastoral response.
Church's paschal activity
The Church is in the world, though she is not of the world, as the Gospel reminds us. This characteristic points to the continual challenge the Church faces: to defeat the forces of evil that seek to dominate humanity and to destroy all that is divine. It should not be forgotten, however, that the same Saviour gave the Church the guarantee of success: the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Nevertheless, this assurance also tells us that the Church will have to confront the harsh reality of Satanism in its various manifestations in the world. Being in the world has a purpose that marks the essence of the Church: to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to continue his work of salvation in the course of time, and to build the kingdom of God on earth. In doing so, the Church, as indicated in the Acts of the Apostles, tries to increase and unite to herself the number of those who are being saved. For this reason the Church recognizes herself as the sacrament of salvation.
In carrying out this mission, the Church transmits and realizes the paschal activity she has received from her Founder. The message of the Book of Revelation reveals this, as mentioned above. The Church wishes to make the saving force of the Lamb prevail, in the course of history and wherever her action is based. The final victory of the Lamb is foretold not only in this book, but in the very mission of the Church herself, a final victory which will represent the definitive end of the devil and of death.
Evangelization is the Church's paschal activity. By proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the salvation accomplished by the Lord on the Cross and in his Resurrection is made known. However, it is not a question of a mere intellectual proclamation. It must be accompanied by the witness of believers who make the renewing force of the paschal Christ felt. At the same time this paschal activity of the Church aims at making the saving light shine forth, the light which destroys the darkness of death, sin and the devil. Furthermore, this paschal activity implies a task which cannot be renounced: the invitation to participate in salvation, an invitation directed to all people, called to be converted into new men and new women. Therefore it presupposes a particular pastoral strategy. The realization that evangelization is the Church's paschal activity already indicates the way to deal with the phenomenon of Satanism in the world.
The Church's pastoral work regarding the phenomenon of Satanism
The Church cannot be indifferent to this phenomenon present in our society. Pastors and those responsible for pastoral care cannot afford to think that it could be a phenomenon distant from their own community, or consider that it is up to others to give a response. It is possible for them to use the help of experts or specialists. However, the problem is still before us, and we cannot remain indifferent or simply aloof towards it. In the Church's paschal activity it is necessary that everyone examine the issue closely and involve himself in actions that touch either directly or indirectly on the phenomenon and its manifestations. Some of these can be preventive, others curative, but in any case, indifference to this problem certainly cannot be the Church's attitude. To this end we also possess that security of which St. Paul speaks to Timothy: "For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of prudence" (2 Tm 1:7).
a) Acknowledging the existence of the phenomenon
This is one of the first actions that the Church must undertake. Let us not forget there is a certain tendency today among thinkers and theologians to hold that neither the devil nor hell exists. This is a fact that concerns our faith. Failing to acknowledge this existence presupposes that the problem of Satanism does not fully concern us. On the contrary, we need to take a step forward and acknowledge the existence of the phenomenon of satanic groups and cults. It is a complex problem and not only a religious one, since at times it also involves other areas of public life. Sometimes in our societies Satanism is even considered to be a State security problem, because of its implications in various fields. Acknowledging its existence and its various ramifications is a necessary step. One cannot continue to think that this phenomenon does not exist, since there are even organized groups with international branches, and there are other groups that live under their direct influence.
b) Knowledge of the phenomenon
It is not enough simply to know that this phenomenon exists. There has to be someone to study it, who can give sufficient information to pastoral workers and other members of the community. This knowledge cannot simply remain at the level of information, but must lead to the taking of a position on the basis of the faith. This will be an aid both to the one entrusted with the investigation, as well as to those who will use it in the service of a profession of faith in the paschal activity of the Church. The phenomenon, therefore, must be studied not out of mere curiosity, but to offer suggestions to those who have the task of direct evangelization. It is important not to underestimate the data about the phenomenon and to know how to classify it. This will permit pastors and catechists to have a clear view of the problem. Nevertheless two things are necessary: the first is that the materials offered to ordinary people be accompanied by the simultaneous action of the Church, and by clear, sound doctrinal teaching. Secondly, it is necessary that those entrusted with the work of investigation have the requisite spiritual, human and psychological maturity in order to avoid related problems.
c) Attention to more vulnerable groups
As in other situations of danger threatening the human being, there are more vulnerable groups to which priority attention must be given. Adolescents young people of every social condition as well as people with a limited religious formation, are most vulnerable to the invitation of satanic groups or cults. To these we have to add people who have had serious problems of social adjustment (delinquents, drug addicts, those who seek materialistic solutions to situations of conflict in their lives etc.). For this reason, the Church must turn to her weakest members with missionary awareness and :evangelizing zeal, to offer them the grace of God and the splendour of Christ's light. Failure to do this means exposing them to the risk of yielding to the seduction of satanic groups. This requires that they be attended to and accompanied with a pastoral spirit and in an ongoing way. Furthermore, this will permit them, through sound, creative pastoral care, to be offered new incentives (those of the Word of God) and a hope of growth, with the invitation to make a clear decision, and thus to commit themselves to following Jesus.
d) A continuous, deep and extensive catechesis
When one speaks with people who have fallen into the snare of these satanic cults and sects, many of them relate that they had received little catechetical formation or never went beyond the initial pre-sacramental catechesis. This leads to the conclusion that one of the activities the Church needs to strengthen in the coming years is that of improving the catechesis of children, adolescents and youth: a catechesis that continues both inside and outside the walls where it is taught. This requires a series of initiatives in various fields, such as that of social communications, leisure time, etc. It must be a profound catechesis inviting those who receive it to take personal responsibility for their faith. Hence, catechesis must not be reduced to merely providing information about Christianity, but is to be a challenge leading to a response of living faith. It must be a "grass-roots" catechesis capable of reaching every person and the whole person, to make him resonate with the Word of God and lead him to a fundamental option for Christ. Carrying out this work, in addition to prevention, is the best way to combat the threat of these satanic groups.
e) Pastoral work with youth and the family
A pastoral action for youth which is adequate and suited to the challenges of the moment must not be a mere hotchpotch of activities, but rather a profound evangelization capable of making young people more secure disciples of Christ, enabling them to know the enemies that surround them and to take a position against them on the basis of a faith decision. This youth apostolate permits the Church, among other things, to transform young people into apostles to other young people, and thus to confront the problem not from the outside, but from within the most vulnerable age groups. Pastoral care of the family that accompanies and reinforces the youth apostolate will produce greater benefits, enabling parents to have tools for teaching the faith and for knowing the difficulties of young people or the members of the family unit. In addition, it will strengthen the family itself against the assault of groups linked to Satanism. For this reason, the pastoral care of youth and the family should not run separately, but ought to coexist within a unified, systematic vision. This will enable. these and other problems to be dealt with in a spirit of communion.
f) The development of adequate pastoral strategies
Knowing the problem, as we have said, makes it possible to formulate some pastoral strategies. It is not enough to know, but it is necessary also to take a position and consequently to develop methods and strategies starting from the difficulties of the moment. Here it must be emphasized that indifference or a feeling of impotence leads nowhere. It is necessary for the Church, with a missionary vocation, to commit herself decisively and almost aggressively in her evangelization to proclaiming the truth in defence of the human person and to liberating him from what threatens him. Among these strategies we can single out the strengthening of the sense of belonging to the community. One of contemporary man's temptations is to isolate himself. The pastoral void is filled by others. For this reason it is necessary for evangelizers to reach out to other people and invite them to join the ranks of believers, to live in the ecclesial community and to feel supported by all. It is particularly necessary to accomplish this task through the experience of communion in a Church destined to be at the service of men. This requires the strengthening of the liturgy as a faith celebration, for faith is lived, proclaimed and nourished by celebrating it. Hence we can see how urgent it is that the liturgy not be reduced to a mere formal exercise or to a lovely ceremony. It must be the festive celebration of faith lived in the world. Furthermore, it is useful to remember that communication strategies should be used to proclaim the Gospel in season and out of season, utilizing all the means at our disposal. in this way we will make known the harmful elements of these groups and cults, to which we need to pay heed, and above all we will announce the saving power of the Lamb, the victor over the devil.
We have already said that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of courage. This attitude is fundamental: it speaks to us of the strength which we can have with the help of God's grace,. knowing that we belong to the victors of the Lamb, as the Book of Revelation reminds us, and that we have to invite everyone to join us in choosing Christ. The pastoral attitude toward this phenomenon is that of knowing we share in the confidence God has put in our hands: he has chosen us so that we may bear fruit in abundance. As a result, our response must be to put our trust in him. We can do nothing if this element of faith is lacking, and our strategies for dealing with this phenomenon will be merely formal.
The Church's attitude toward the phenomenon of Satanism, therefore, cannot be oblivious to her mission and vocation, which in substance is the proclamation of Christ the Saviour and all its consequences: renunciation of sin and of Satan, the father of sin. Evangelization is the best way to confront the problem. Consequently, as mentioned, this implies some specific actions and a particular pastoral strategy, but always based on the mission of evangelization. For this the Church was born. The paschal message which the Church must proclaim, if done with decision and with the certainty of having the strength of the Spirit, will make its impact felt by those who receive it. We are convinced that this proclamation is not only preventive, but also curative for those who are already involved in satanic cults. We are aware of the difficulties, but we also know that God does not wish to destroy the good work that he himself has begun. For this reason God has put us in the world as the Church: to announce me Gospel which, in the message of Jeremiah, consists not only in planting and building, but also in leveling and destroying all that separates us from him.