Early Christians believed that at certain times of the year, like All Hallows Eve, humans could more easily see ghosts and demons through the veil separating Earth from heaven, hell and purgatory.
So it would seem that the Halloween season of carving pumpkins and collecting treats is an opportune time to discuss demons and the devil with our children. Such discussions – even with the youngest children – are important, says Father Troy Schneider, parochial vicar of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. Father Troy believes that from a young age we all must acknowledge the reality of evil and its pervasiveness in our world.
“Even when children are 2 years old, we can talk to them about things that seemingly look good, but are really quite evil,” Father Troy says. “That’s how the devil will tempt us. The devil knows how to mess with our minds, knows the deepest, darkest parts of our soul. If we can be convinced that darkness is light – that evil actions are, in fact, good ones – we need to be very careful.”
Proving his point, St. Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that “…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”
Father Troy believes that parents and teachers often don’t give kids the credit they deserve for comprehending good and evil and the consequences of both. “They do know what’s right and wrong, but we can help them understand the ramifications of their actions,” he notes. “We can tell them that if we choose to do something for selfish reasons we don’t choose love and Christ, and in those cases we choose lies and hatred and things that will divide us.”
Discussions about the devil can be as simple as pointing out to children that they must share their toys and act towards their siblings with fairness even the popular fidget toys, because then our actions are unselfish and driven by love. On the other hand, when children misbehave, we can ask, ‘Does that upset you when you make Mom and Dad mad?’ Children realize the consequences of their actions and understand that they feel angry and fearful because, of course, they love their parents.
Father Troy wrote his master’s thesis on St. Augustine and demonology, and recalls opening his paper with a quote attributed to St. Gregory of Nyssa: “The greatest trick the devil ever played is to convince us that he doesn’t exist.”
While our culture views demons as vicious, demonic beings who haunt our nightmares and angels as fluffy white cherubs flying in the clouds, Father Troy notes, the reality is subtler – and more evil. “Our teaching is the use of reason. St. Augustine showed us that the devil corrupts our reason by convincing us that evil is actually good.”
When we talk to kids about Satan, the conversation need not be along the lines of a boogey man out to get us if we’re bad, Father Troy explains. “When children reach the age of reason, they can understand the difference between good and bad angels. Both believe in God and recognize Jesus, but the devil doesn’t have love. For us especially looking to the challenges of life, evil is the lack of love.”