What Can Screwtape Teach Us About Discipleship?



“By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God” (Dei Verbum, 5).

Our Screwtape Tendency

You may be wondering how the Screwtape Letters can possibly help us in becoming better disciples. If we take the time to carefully dissect what Screwtape’s intent is with the “Patient”, we see the very thing Screwtape is afraid of; the patient developing a relationship with the enemy (God) and actually enjoying it.

When a person denies their faith outright it’s usually due to many things. One in particular is feeling constrained to practice their faith because the person feels incarcerated. They convince themselves that a faith life is not really a necessity in life. This is the very premise by which Wormwood tries to convince the patient in Book One of the Screwtape Letters.

The view is that any man can be satisfied with the ways of the world without being constrained to a belief system. In many ways this position reflects the art of relativism where everything is basically anything to anybody regardless of whether or not it has moral meaning or action.

When contemplating our own faith life in relation to Jesus Christ, many fail to see how unbalanced we are when it comes to placing Christ first in our lives. One of the first areas of our faith-life we tend to lose balance in is our communication with God.

Our intellect and will become affected, so to speak, with a sense of communicating with ourselves versus someone greater than us. In turn, this mode of communication tends to set the stage for a disregard of our basic belief system (the Creed). Hence if we disregard any truth of the faith then our attention is turned towards ourselves rather than Christ.

Christian Proposition

The Catechism reminds us that to obey means to “hear or listen to,” “to submit freely to the word that has been heard” (CCC 144). One of the most prudent things we can practice during Lent is distancing ourselves from those distractions that take us away from our communication with God. Our genuine desire to practice our faith reflects a “personal adherence to God” (CCC 150).

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim1:12).

The Apostles Creed offers us a multitude of propositions from the “first profession” to belief in God (Heb 11:8) to acknowledging that we are created in His image and likeness. This is where relevance takes hold when we see the connection between God the Father and ourselves.

Meditation on the Creed creates an opportunity to embrace someone other than ourselves. It rightly positions our devotion to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Acts of Discipleship

Jesus reminds us that if we continue in His Word we are truly his disciples (Jn 8:31). One of the many acts of discipleship is to seek the truth in everything especially in ourselves. Christ mentions the importance of coming to know the truth (vs. 32-32).  This important point sets the stage with Christ proclaiming to the Apostles that he is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).

As I mentioned earlier, Screwtape would like to see us view faith as a constraint in our daily lives. This feeds into his notion of distancing us from the enemy (God). Our discipleship rests in an openness to seek the will of God. Being a disciple need not be that hard if we truly see ourselves as living witnesses of the Gospel.

Here are some practical points to consider on being an effective disciple:

  • Establish a practical time to pray with our Lord (morning, midday, evening, night).
  • Seek the intercessory prayers of your patron saint to guide you in your daily walk with Christ.
  • Immerse yourself in Sacred Scripture on a daily basis. Select a specific book of the bible that has always intrigued you and meditate on each chapter.
  • Immerse yourself in reading an article from the Catechism each day.
  • Incorporate one spiritual and corporal work of mercy in your daily routine.
  • Listen to others intently before speaking about yourself.
  • Share your walk with Christ to others when the appropriate opportunity arises.

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30)



About Author

Department Director of Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and author of Screwtape Teaches the Faith (2011) Saint Benedict Press.