Among the many books by C.S. Lewis, the one it seemed to Lewis himself that everybody had read, was The Screwtape Letters. He said that he had more difficulty writing that book than any other, because he kept having to think opposite his convictions. For example, because Screwtape is a senior devil writing to a junior devil about subverting and damning the soul under his charge- his patient- he refers to God always as “the Enemy.” To help us with the parable in today’s Gospel we should look at part of the first of these letters. Writes Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood:
That is always the issue. If you wonder why some of us among the clergy are very dogmatic and even strict at times, why we don’t change with the times, why we don’t accommodate allegedly new ideas about morality, or about God, it is because the care of the churches is upon us. We are responsible for the cure of your souls. We are here to present the word of his Servant, His Suffering Servant who went to the cross for the sins of mankind; we must be the servant of that Suffering Servant, and so we must present His words. And, we know that just like Screwtape’s atheist at the British museum, even as you sit here in a pew as members of the Church, the devil can steal the word out of your hearts.
It is easy to see this happening. One trick is to make you think of yourself as a preaching critic. While you ought to be hearing, you are thinking instead about all the wrong and irrelevant things, like how well you think the delivery is going. The best advice I can give you is this: While I am preaching, listen, pay attention and learn. That may sound brazen and self-confident; but take the advice anyway. Another trick is for a little devil to sit on your shoulder and whisper in your ear about how long this is taking, and about how hungry you are.