If I make a reference to Flip Wilson in today’s blog, I do it realizing that I am going to date myself and that some of my younger members are not going to remember this comedian. In 1972 he was named America’s first black superstar. He appeared on several television shows and even had his own show from 1970 through 1974. He got his nickname “Flip” from fellow servicemen in the Air Force because he was always entertaining them with his “flipped out” stream of consciousness kind of comedy.
One of the most famous sketches that he performed and which he turned into a Grammy winning comedy album was titled, “The devil made me buy this dress.” In this comedy sketch he played the character of Geraldine who could never resist temptation. “The devil made me do it,” became a stock phrase that everyone expected to hear from him.
I could not help but think of Flip as I listened to the reading from the Letter of James today. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3) A little later on in the same reading, James writes: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b).
A good friend and fellow CUSAN frequently reminds me that the devil is very much at work in our world today. One only needs to read a newspaper on any given day to find the truth of this statement. However, there is also something to be said for realizing that much of the evil within our world today is a product of our own passions, as St. James calls them. In other words, we allow the devil to use our natural passions to create the evil in the world. Whether we identify the devil as a personification of evil or as sin itself, the warfare, the violence, the personal attacks, the vitriol that spills from our lips, the prejudice that blocks our hearts, and the pride that urges us to put ourselves and our needs first comes from us. We are sinners.
We have just finished celebrating the Easter Season in which we remembered that we have been freed from the burden of sin. However, it seems so difficult for us to hold on to that thought and recall it throughout our day. There is no question that we are surrounded by evil. We should not ignore, however, that the evil that surrounds us is the product of our own failure to resist temptation and our inability to contain our passions.
Like an addict who is controlled by alcohol or by drugs, the only way to release the grip of the devil on our lives is to admit that we are powerless in the face of evil and that we depend upon the strength of Jesus to overcome sin, not only in our own lives but in the world in which we live. Once we admit our weakness, it is possible to work through it and accept the strength of Jesus, the only human being who has conquered the power of evil.
Lord Jesus, strengthen me in my weakness! Hear my prayer!
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator