Racial Justice Sunday (30 & 31/1/21)

posted 1 Feb 2021, 01:59 by Parish Office
Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Racial Justice Sunday (30 & 31/1/21) 
Demons and exorcism: we need to avoid two extremes here. The first is complete disbelief, thinking that it’s just all down to psychological disturbances, and the second is attributing everything bad to the activity of the devil. 
So firstly, what is the origin of the devil and his fellow demons? We can piece various parts of scripture together to get something of a picture, and it goes a bit like this: before the creation of the world, God created the angels. But before they were to enjoy the bliss of heaven, like us, they had to undergo a trial. Some chose to obey God, whilst Lucifer and those who followed him chose to rebel against God. They refused to serve God, and so the archangel Michael and all the angels that had chosen to serve God cast Lucifer and his fallen angels to hell. The devil has had his wish (and is now known as Satan), but he lives in a rather miserable kingdom. A place of domestic violence might be a bit of an understatement. But now, in their envy of human beings, they want to stop us getting to heaven and send us to join them in hell as well. 
The good news is that God is in control. I think it was St Augustine who said that if God didn’t limit the devil’s power, the devil would have killed us all by now. But as human beings, we do have free choice, and through sin, especially serious sin, and also of course getting involved with Ouija boards, seances, the occult etc., we can open the door to the devil and open up spaces for him to work in our lives. We all suffer from temptation, but there are also other degrees of influence the demons can exert, leading up to full-blown possession, which is quite rare. There is always a way back. It’s through repentance and return to Christ. In the Gospel today, He shows Himself as having power over the demons. I may have said before that there have been two occasions in my life when I have witnessed something similar to the exorcisms in the Gospels, and both involved people being blessed by the Blessed Sacrament. On the second occasion, someone started shouting and shrieking in a way that, when you hear it, you can tell it’s not a normal kind of shouting. You can imagine in Capernaum when this happened that the people in the synagogue were rather afraid, and then relieved and amazed when Christ liberated the person from the unclean spirit. Today, those who are appointed by the bishop as exorcists in the Church have the same authority. Little priests like me can only do minor exorcisms – a major exorcism, if you like, taps into the prayer power of the entire Church to zap the demon or demons. 
The evil spirits are evil, and they have perverted their nature. Rather than being angels of light who worship God, they live in servitude to Satan. They are evil, and like criminals, they work in all sorts of devious ways to obstruct the reign of Christ through His Church. In the Gospel today, the unclean spirit is actually threatening Christ. One of the underlying themes of St Mark’s Gospel is what is sometimes known as the “messianic secret”. This basically means that Christ knows that once people know who He is, it will be regarded as blasphemy and, as we know, the punishment for blasphemy in the Jewish Law is death. So it is only gradually that Christ reveals who He is. The demon in the Gospel is trying to threaten Christ’s ministry: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God”. There’s also another dimension to this too. In some of the exorcisms that Jesus performs, He asks them for their name, because that gives power over them. To this day, in an exorcism, the exorcist wears the demon down and tortures it with the prayers of exorcism until it reveals its name, and then it can be cast out. In the case of a human exorcist, the exorcist would normally go to confession first before beginning an exorcism, as a form of defence in the spiritual warfare that an exorcism involves. With Christ, of course, He has no sin, and He is God – He is the Supreme Exorcist. The demons don’t stand a chance. 
So spiritual warfare involves serving the Lord with an undivided heart. The same thing is emphasised in the first and second readings today. In the first reading, Moses directs the people to follow all that the Lord has commanded, including all the valid prophets; those that speak in the name of other so-called “gods” are to be ignored. An important moral for us would be to avoid listening to New Age philosophies, occultic knowledge or any similar things, as well as also dodgy forms of psychology – follow the Church instead. In the second reading, St Paul explains the benefits of celibacy in serving the Lord with an undivided heart. Obviously not everyone can be celibate, otherwise the human race would die out; the important point for us all though is to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Spiritual warfare concerns all of us. We are all exposed to temptation, even though it’s not usually quite as dramatic as what happened at Capernaum. 
So yes, the devil is real, but so also is God, and God is much more powerful. Follow God then, and the devil will have no power over you.