For the past few days I was especially eager to take our daily trip into the post office (there’s actually not a single town in our county that has home mail delivery) to check the box. I was awaiting my copy of the Gargoyle Code by Father Dwight Longenecker and I was beginning to feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning as my book made its way across the continental United States.
You see, Father Longenecker’s blog, Standing on My Head, is one of my all time favorite blogs and his latest book happens to be written in the style of the Screwtape Letters (which happens to be one of my favorite books). It was a winning combination and I could hardly wait to start reading.
I was not disappointed. The Gargoyle Code arrived just at the start of naptime (my parents had picked up our mail on their way home) and as soon as Sadie’s little eyes fluttered shut I began to read.
Like the Screwtape Letters, the Gargoyle Code, takes the form of correspondence between demons who spend nearly every moment trying to ensure their that their charges make their way to the banquet halls below. The two main tempters that the reader encounters are Slubgrip and Dogwart. Slubgrip, the master tempter, instructs Dogwart while attempting to keep control of his own patient, an older Catholic man who is seriously ill. Dogwart, the student, is working on a young Catholic man who is struggling as he tries to figure out what to do with his life.
The correspondences begin on Shrove Tuesday and continue day by day up until Easter Sunday. The demons recognize that Lent is a powerful time in which the “Enemy’s” grace abounds and use any possible means to keep their patients from being transformed by that grace.
The temptations that are used and the sins that are encouraged by the demons in the Gargoyle Code are plucked from our modern world. They are thrilled that many priests in the last decades convinced their parishioners that missing Mass on Sundays wasn’t a Mortal sin, only to wonder later why people just weren’t filling the pews like they used to.
Convincing humans that they didn’t go to confession, but can merely say a prayer immediately after a sin is committed, is another coup for the demons. In a world where many Catholics have forgotten the graces found in these two Sacraments, the description of these temptations seems especially accurate.
Dogwart tries his hand at using sins of the flesh to bring down his young patient, while Slubgrip has found it best to distract his patient from the Mass by pointing out “liturgical abuses” and “heterodox” ideas.
Of course the demonic nature of the tempters causes them a number of problems, as loyalty and truthfulness are hardly prized as virtues in Hell and every demon is out to gain promotions at the expense of others.
This book offers ample opportunity for reflection (and if I can steal it back from Paul I will most definitely read it again, more slowly, during Lent… I finished it this morning, less than twenty-four hours after receiving it and found that it had disappeared into Paul’s book bag less than ten minutes after I put it down! It was pretty clear from the time the book arrived that he was ready to replace his Liberation Theology school book with the Gargoyle Code!).
We can recognize our own weaknesses in the weaknesses exploited by the demons in the story if we put ourselves in the position of the tempted as we read. I found that I had the most in common with Slubgrip’s patient… after all I did write that rant about holding hands during the Our Father a while back, and I have found myself complaining about the monstrous appearance of the Cathedral in the city where Paul goes to school.
This book definitely gave me a lot to think about as approach Lent and prepare for Easter. I need to focus on the Sacraments and let go of the silly little things that I allow to annoy and distract from things that are much, much more important.
If you’re looking for an amazing Lenten read that you won’t be able to put down I strongly recommend starting with the Gargoyle Code. Like me you may read even want to read it through once quickly (because you just won’t be able to put it down!) and then reread it day by day during Lent.