It was sometime back in the 1960’s or 1970’s. The First Friday Club was a group pf Catholic professional men in Detroit who met for lunch in the Book Cadillac Hotel on the first Friday of the month to hear a speaker on a topic of interest.
On one such occasion, Father Charles Coughlin, the famed ‘radio priest’ of the depression years, who had been silenced by the Vatican for his political views about the Roosevelt administration, came out of his long absence from public appearances to speak to the men of the First Friday Club.
I shall never forget his opening words. In a rather high, strong, expressive voice he announced: “I want to speak to you men today about a subject that is as modern as tomorrow. I am going to talk to you about the devil.”
From those challenging words, he embarked upon a fascinating description of myriad examples of satanic influences in human life.
Father Coughlin reminded us that the existence of the devil, a destructive, malignant, hate-filled personification of malice, is as much an article of our Christian faith as are the benign angels and saints to whom we address our daily prayers and petitions.
In a day and an age of such human enlightenment that sees men walk on the moon and explores the atomic structure of every known particle of matter; that gathers and disseminates every scrap of information and every discovery of science, we struggle to explain and understand everything.
Including the vicissitudes of human behavior. We want to know why. We want to understand how a perfectly normal, mild mannered, law abiding, 64 year old accountant and real estate investor can suddenly become the insane perpetrator of an inexplicable massacre of historic proportions.
Stephen Paddock has been described as a very ordinary, well adjusted, unremarkable
man; a neighbor, a landlord, a gambler, an investor. His live-in girl friend described him in these words:
“I knew Stephen Paddock as a kind, caring, quiet man. I loved him and hoped for a quiet future together with him. He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of, that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen.”
No doubt criminologists and psychologists will seek to explain what may have caused Paddock to snap. Certainly, it was not a sudden onslaught. He accumulated an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. He researched various venues. The massacre was something he had planned for a long time; something he thought about, envisioned, and prepared for.
If he was deranged, it did not affect his ability to function. We ask ourselves. “How could anyone in his right mind do such a thing?”
It would seem axiomatic that Paddock was not “in his right mind” but if he wasn’t, who or what was in control of his thoughts and his actions?
Father Coughlin would have given a ready answer: Paddock was in league with the Devil.
It is indeed a frightening thought that the Evil Spirit can work his will through the agency of an otherwise ordinary and unremarkable human being. Assuming that the police and the FBI are unable to come up with a better explanation, that may be all we will ever deduce from the Las Vegas massacre.
It may or may not be enough. Certainly there is enough mindless slaughter of human beings on this planet and in our beloved United States of America to challenge our capacity to understand, accept and respond.
When a hurricane descends upon Texas or Louisiana, we accept it as a natural disaster. We circle the wagons of our emotions and face up to the need for collective, sympathetic response. Mother Nature forces us to come together, to hold hands, to help each other with words, works and the soothing oil of sympathy.
It is hard for us to accept that the work of Satan is ongoing and is, in a very real sense, part and parcel of our lives on Planet Earth. When someone like Stephen Paddock explodes into a demonic terrorist we have to realize that human nature is part of Nature; that, as Shakespeare wrote, “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
The slaughter in Las Vegas, as heart wrenching and disheartening as it was, is only a more dramatic episode in the day to day lives of the American people. More people are gunned down in Chicago every month than Paddock killed in Nevada.
It may be less dramatic, but the truth of it is that the Devil is as much in evidence in teen age gang warfare as he is in the mass killing of the patrons of a country music festival.
Somehow, some day, the good Lord will raise up among us the voices of men and women who will remind us that the beauty and success of Christian civilization is founded in the eternal struggle between Good and Evil.
No amount of arrest and imprisonment, law and order, or probation and rehabilitation can take the place of the fire and brimstone of classic Christianity.
Eternal damnation is the workplace and the residence of the evil spirit. It was and still is, the best regulator of human conduct.
You and I had better believe it.