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Facing Uncomfortable Facts
Friday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
When Jesus had driven out a demon, some of the crowd said: “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest but, finding none, it says, ‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”
Opening Prayer: I come to you today, Lord, to bless you for your infinite kindness. I thank you for your generous and constant outpouring of grace. I want to know you better and to know myself better because of this time of prayer. Teach me, Lord, to hear your voice, to heed your voice, and to echo your voice in all my thoughts, words, and actions throughout the day.
- Demons Are Real: In modern times, many so-called biblical scholars have often tried to reinterpret Gospel passages like the one the Church offers us today. It is so obvious from these passages that the devil and demons, the fallen angels who rebelled against God, are real and active in this world. And yet, that simple fact seems to make some modern and postmodern thinkers very uncomfortable. Therefore, they say that in ancient times people were just ignorant, so they superstitiously attributed merely psychological and physical ailments to demonic intervention. Of course, this line of reasoning wildly distorts the actual Gospel texts, which clearly distinguish between illness and demonic possession. Jesus is clear: Demons exist, and they are actively working against the truth, goodness, and beauty through which God draws us into intimate communion with himself. As the Catechism (414) puts it: “Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God.” As inconvenient or uncomfortable as this revealed doctrine may be, it is true nonetheless. And if we forget it, ignore it, or deny it, we will only increase the confusion and frustration that naturally accompany our journey through this fallen world.
- Avoiding Exaggerations: Of course, it is possible to go to the other extreme as well, attributing every human foible, dysfunction, and challenge to direct demonic activity. This too is a dangerous deviation from the truth. Jesus clearly indicates in this passage that he is the Lord of life and history, and he has put limits on the devil’s attempted dominance over human affairs. To return to the Catechism (395): “The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his Kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries–of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature–to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history.” Jesus doesn’t want us to ignore demonic activity, but he doesn’t want us to be obsessed with it either. He wants us to recognize him as Lord, and courageously battle at his side for the advance of his Kingdom in our hearts and in the hearts around us. A healthy Christian is a balanced and dependable person, just like Christ himself.
- Spiritual Blindness: Jesus was performing dramatic miracles and driving out demons, right before the very eyes of immense crowds, and yet so many of those eyes didn’t seem to see what was really happening. Some of the crowd accused him of being on Satan’s side, and others asked for more signs. What is it about our fallen human nature that resists the clear signs that God sends us? Why do we keep seeking more convincing indications of God’s love and presence than all the ones he continuously gives us—the marvelous beauties of nature, the amazingly coherent and complete teaching of the Church, the unbroken succession of saints and sacraments for two thousand years? This tendency to spiritual blindness never really leaves us. As Jesus points out in his parable, even when we welcome his grace into our lives, we remain vulnerable to backsliding, maybe even falling back to a worse state of ignorance and corruption than the one we started in. It is humbling to hear Jesus describe this. We can never rest on our laurels in the spiritual life. We must always continue to raise our hearts and minds to Christ and be ever watchful. One practice many spiritual masters through the centuries have recommended to help us stay on track is regular confession. Taking time every two weeks or every month to prayerfully examine the state of our soul and humbly approach the Lord for forgiveness and renewed strength is a wise discipline that can help keep our friendship with Christ fresh. May God grant us the humility to embrace it.
Conversing with Christ: I know that life on earth will always be a battle, Lord. My own fallen nature, the fallen world, the fallen angels—all these forces constantly pull me away from you. But you are stronger! You are the eternal King, my Lord, who promises to be with me until the end of time. I have nothing to fear if only I stay close to you. Thank you for coming to our rescue, for putting your omnipotence at our service, for never ceasing to send your grace among us so that we can fight faithfully and joyfully for your Kingdom as long as you ask us to.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make some kind of small physical sacrifice as an offering to God in union with Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross, and as a reminder to myself that earth is not heaven and I will need to resist the bent inclinations of my fallen nature throughout my Christian journey.
For Further Reflection: This post from spiritualdirection.com about how demonic activity occurs in the human realm.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.