On November 22nd, 1997 – the memorial of the patroness of music, Saint Cecelia – the lead singer of the 80’s rock band INXS, Michael Hutchence, was found dead in his luxury hotel room in his native land of Sydney, Australia, where he and his mates had been staging comeback tour. He was hanging – or, more, kneeling and leaning forward – from a belt wrapped around his neck, with significant traces of alcohol and various drugs in his bloodstream. His paramour at the time – he seems to have had a number of them – Paula Yates, the former wife of Bob Geldof, of Boomtown Rats and Band Aid fame– claimed that Michael died in a tragic attempt at auto-eroticism. Supposedly, sexual pleasure is increased when one is deprived – to some extent – of oxygen.
Whatever the case, his tragic life – the whole sex, drugs and rock n’ roll thing – ended tragically, yet we may hope, against hope, as Saint Paul says, for the souls of such as Mr. Hutchence, even if they have given themselves in some ways to the dark side.
‘Tis ironic, depending on one’s point of view, for one of their INXS’ biggest hits was a brooding number called ‘The Devil Inside’, with the refrain repeated like a mantra. The following – I just checked – is repeated five full times at the end, besides several through the song:
The devil inside
Every single one of us
The devil inside
At some point in his tragic journey, Michael let the devil, or at least a devil, inside. When and how is opaque to the outside world, part of the mysterium iniquitatis, to return again to the Apostle. The battle for souls is the real battle in this crisis, for our warfare is not primarily of this Earth – Christ could have called twelve legions of angels, and still could – but against principalities and powers. They only have power over us if we let them, as the tragic Hutchence sang, inside.
What happened in Nova Scotia during the night of April 18 to 19th evokes more tragedy than the sad death of rock stars, when Satan was allowed inside the soul of a 51 year-old Gabriel Wortman, a comfortably upper-middle-class successful denturist, with three homes, and an eccentric passion for all things ‘police’. He seems to have been a frustrated wannabe member of that executive branch. He had no family, except a girlfriend, a heated argument with whom apparently set him ‘off’. But these things have a history, and his descent into evil was not a one-time event.
He traveled through the province for hours in his replica police car, dressed up as an RCMP officer, shooting people at random, even pulling them over – flashing lights and all – and executing them. After 22 people were killed, the killer himself was eventually sent off to eternity by a real tactical officer at an Irving truck stop.
(Excursus: The failure of the police to warn the citizenry by sending out one of those annoying ‘alerts’ is under investigation. Our phones buzz noisily if a 15 year-old lad is late getting dropped off by his dad after custody time; or we’re told to ‘shelter in place’ due to a vague risk of infection; but the real possibility of getting pulled over and blown away by a fake cop warrants nothing more than a tweet? They must have known he was driving around in one of his restored police vehicles – after killing a score of people – not least since he left his girlfriend, who knew all this, alive and well.
And there at the Irving stop in Enfleld, where the death-dealing denturist met his end by police bullet, was a veritable army of camouflaged officers, armed to the teeth, looking like they’re about to invade some Balkan country. But they could not prevent 22 deaths. And what do these dressed-up soldiers do in-between every decade something like this happens, and they are ‘needed’? Do they hang out is some underground bunker, and float out of the mist, like some militaristic cast of Brigadoon? As the saying goes, when seconds count, the police are minutes away, but in this case, it was hours. Yet if a sixth person shows up to your five-limit ‘gathering’, they’d likely be kicking in your door in within minutes. End of excursus)
Justin Trudeau has his usual jejune shtick about ‘gun control’, even though the denturist had no gun licence. And just as violins don’t play music, so too guns don’t kill: People do. As Yehudi Menuhim quipped after a performance, when someone mentioned his violin had such a beautiful tone, he held the instrument close to his ear and said, ‘I don’t hear anything’.
But enough for now on Trudeau and his police and the yammering about gun-and-everything-else-control.
As is always the case in these tragedies, and this, the worse mass murder in Canadian history, the deeper and more abiding evil is the spiritual: As Pope John Paul says of abortion, and other crimes against life, more harm to the perpetrators than the victim, for the latter lose their lives, but the former lose their eternity. Or, allow me to be more blunt, since these times call for such: Without repentance, they will suffer forever in the state our tradition calls ‘hell’, whose principal pain is the awareness that they have lost the beatific vision, open to all those who say a simple ‘yes’ to God.
To say no, to make the cry ‘non serviam!’, is the true horror, the gaping abyss of eternity without God, serving oneself, a self-enclosed prison of one’s own devising.
In the words of Pope Benedict in his under-appreciated Spe Salvi:
There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell.
This is the fruit of what we call unrepented mortal sin, not discussed much in the Church today, and even less so in wider society, but still a reality, nonetheless.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the saints:
On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are
But most of us are somewhere in-between these extremes. Just as there are levels of holiness, from muddling mediocrity – amongst which this writer, alas, seems to wallow, all the way to the Jean Vianneys and Thereses of Lisieux; so too are there levels of evil and mortal sin, as Dante so vividly recounts in his Inferno, from the wan and weak illicit lovers, wafted around on in the winds of their lust, all the way to the cold and barbarous traitors, murderers and liars, being chewed eternally in the jaws of Satan.
Heaven or hell: That really is the choice, and at some point, likely many points in life, each of us has to make that choice, whether or not to let the Devil inside, who’s more than gleeful to find a ‘well swept house’ that he can ransack, ravage and destroy.
There’s always the hope of repentance, of seeking a way back – and God’s grace is always to be had in our time in the hinge of this flesh. But what of those who seek this not, who harden their hearts, turn away from the light, and flee the hound of heaven? This, dear reader, is the sin against the Holy Spirit, those who plunge headlong into the darkness, of rapine, rage and murder. And all of those who choose mortal sin – closed off from love and truth – are capable of such.
As Saint Therese once purportedly quipped, it’s not what people in mortal sin do that surprises her, it’s what they don’t do. After all, what’s holding them back?
Perhaps the same grace of God; some tinge of remembered goodness; shame, fear, imminent death.
But the Devil fears none of these, and once he gets inside, sometimes all hell is let loose. It’s little wonder that once these mass murderers end their rampage, they turn the gun on themselves, or ensure someone else does so.
A few days ago was the anniversary, if such be the term, of Hitler’s own murder-suicide: After marrying his long-time mistress, Eva Braun, the day before in his bunker 55 feet under the Reichstag, he poisoned her and their dogs – they had no children to poison, unlike Himmler – then took a cyanide pill and shot himself.
There’s evil, and then there’s evil and, as Dante evoked so well, levels and levels to sin and depravity.
My own thought is that the reason more people don’t do what the denturist and countless others have done, is that the devil has been kept on a leash by God, so that those in mortal sin don’t descend further into a blood-dimmed insanity, had they not been so restrained. We may hope that they are led back gradually by the grace of God, to which, at level in their hearts they respond.
But that leash is at times loosened, in that paradoxical mystery of iniquity, in those who ‘harden their hearts’ against the softening effects of grace, perhaps so that we, on this side of eternity, might see sin for what it really is, to experience some smidgen of the full effect of our evil, here and now, so that we all might repent, while the time is ours to do so.
After all, if we must speak of massacres and murder, we should not forget that there are hundreds of unborn children killed each and every day, and who knows how many of the old and sick offed by physicians by ‘euthanasia’, whether recorded as such, or not.
We might see more of what we saw last week, as the devil has his day, his mask ironically slipping off, as a fearful people puts theirs on.
What we must do, dear reader, as he prowls around the world looking whom he might devour, is gird up, fight the good fight of the Faith, and keep the fiend firmly outside.
Defend us in this day of battle.