The elderly priest was one of the few remaining who had retained the services of a live-in housekeeper. Mary was a patient soul who listened carefully to his endless list of gripes against one person or another. No one escaped his criticism.
Mary had looked after him for decades, understood him more than most and knew that, once his tirade was over, he would calm down and whatever had sparked the incident would soon be forgotten. She refused, however, to let him get away with his rants stock-free, and would always endeavour to say something kind in the defence of the person who had triggered his angst.
One evening he was particularly agitated; everything had gone wrong for him. A delivery hadn't arrived, his car wouldn't start so he was late for an important meeting and his deacon had succeeded in annoying him for the umpteenth time that week. With her usual charity, Mary defended the deacon explaining that his arthritis was troubling him and he wasn't sleeping very well.
On this occasion the priest stopped in his tracks, put down his cup of tea, turned to her incredulously and said: "Mary, I do believe that you would even find something good to say about the devil himself!" She considered her response carefully, being acutely aware of the challenge in the priest's demeanour as he waited for her to reply. Eventually she broke her silence and said: "Well Father, he IS very industrious!"
The moral of this anecdote, told to me years ago by a young curate, is of course accurate. The devil is indeed consummately "industrious" and "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
The more secularised society becomes, the more freedom he has to create the havoc that he is succeeding in perpetrating, and he is present in all division and discord. He is ingrained in the skewed logic of the terrorists and wherever human life, dignity and worth are compromised; in the abortion industry and its spin-offs, and the promotion and practice of euthanasia.
He is the driving force in war-ravaged countries, in the worldwide persecution, murder and torture of innocents; in human trafficking, racism and discrimination. He utilises division and friction in communities and thrives on the medium of gossip and false rumour which seldom considers the praiseworthy aspects of people's lives, but instead feeds on and highlights their mistakes.
The devil can sometimes appear to hold the greater share of the reins, but his plans are disturbed each time we pray or show love, kindness, gentleness, charity and forgiveness. His work is thwarted whenever we try to become peace-makers or strive for justice.
Saint Paul encourages us, in Ephesians 6: 10-11, to "grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put on the full armour of God so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics." Amid the chaos that exists in the world we should be consoled by Christ's promise that "the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church".
In dying for our sins on the Cross, He redeemed mankind and every celebration of the Mass is the triumphant and unconditional "I love you" from our father in Heaven who "has prepared a banquet for you in the sight of my foes".