The contractor who had remodeled and repaired the ramshackle Revival Church was having a hard time collecting his money. Determined to arouse the congregation to its fiscal responsibilities, he bought a devil’s suit, complete with horns, tail, and a big pitchfork. During a Sunday service, when the congregation had reached an emotional peak of ‘getting religion’, he strode in the open door and up the aisle. Pandemonium broke loose, the crowd pushed and shoved for the door. Some even crawled out the open windows. Everybody got out except one old lady. She stumbled over a bench and fell at the feet of the devil. Looking up at the waving pitchfork, she shouted: “Wait a minute, Mr. Devil. I’ve been doing the things you don’t like, like singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, baking pies and cakes for our food sales. But, Mr. Devil, really I’ve been on your side all the time.”1
Read the newspaper and we will find out whether devils are still working in the world. Crimes are happening in every city. Sins and occasions of sin are present everywhere. There are wars in different corners of the world. Wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Somalia etc. To protect American interests, the Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, Al-Qaida in Yemen and Somali pirates. Evil spirits are present in many people and countries.
At the beginning of his ministry, St. Mark tells us that Jesus comes to Capernaum; he enters the synagogue and encounters a man with an unclean spirit. The man addresses Jesus and understands who Jesus is better than anyone else in the room. He wants to know, “What are you going to do with people like me? Are you going to destroy us?” Jesus commands the demon to leave the man. “Be silent and come out of him!” The man convulses and cries out loudly and the unclean spirit leaves him. Jesus has shown us that he has power over things that people label as unclean spirit. Jesus is engaging and fighting against the purposes of evil that exist among humanity. The battle of good versus evil, right versus wrong, life versus death happens amidst the people of every class and level of all ages. Christ has come to shatter the domineering designs that shackle people to lower standards for life than God intends.
Unclean spirits are abroad and within. One particular evil spirit of our time is the spirit of independence. Religion News Service reports that a decade ago, Rene Lebouvier requested that his local Catholic church erase his name from the baptismal register. The church noted his demands on the margins of its records and the chapter was closed. But he took further action to court requested to have his name permanently deleted from church records. The court ruled in his favor -- making the 71-year-old retiree the first Frenchman to be officially "de-baptized."
The certificate declares:
I ________ having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege.”
Voices demand for self-independence is heard everywhere. It seems the more advanced a culture becomes in technology and rests on power, the greater the reliance resides in one’s self. Interpersonal commitment in marriage, business, and relationships do not resound with loyalty and perseverance. Practicality, personal advancement, and invulnerability have become virtuous and celebrated. I want independence, therefore I file for divorce. I want to assert my independent right; therefore I demand the right to abortion, to same sex marriage etc.
So many images which Jesus uses depicts a grape relying on a branch and the branch relying on the vine and the vine on the roots and the roots founded in the earth. Jesus is telling us that we should not worry about our being dependent on God. God is almighty. Our dependence on God is not a weakness, but the source of strength. Our dependence on God does not diminish but enhance our authority over evil spirits. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus, as with many other healings, gives the person back himself with the dignity of being known by God. The “authority” with which Jesus speaks and which the crowds find new and amazing, is the creative love of God who wishes us to know our dignity and not be dominated by the unclean spirit of self-rejection. It is when I know who I really am, that the words of Jesus the new Prophet, not to be afraid or worried become real and freeing.
The unclean spirit makes a startling statement about the identity of Jesus. God’s infinite goodness is meeting, for the first time, the Evil One who states that Jesus of Nazareth is the awaited-for, the Holy One of Israel. Jesus is revealed to be the One who is sent to confront the Evil One, the power of evil throughout the whole world. He has come to reveal the authority of God over all creation and He is calling and sending His Church as well to reveal God’s love and authority to confront evil spirits in the world. Christ has come to free us from the demons like prejudice and pride, greed and guile. Christ is among us, whenever we gather in church, to demonstrate a power among us. The power of Christ over the evil spirit is also in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When you go to confession to confess your sins and ask for forgiveness, you let the power of Christ to command evil spirits to leave you.
Last week I visited a young man at a secured mental institute in Houston. He requested me to hear his confession and give him Holy Communion. He said he wanted to come clean. He no longer wanted to live a bad life. He no longer wanted to live with any secret in his mind and heart. He made a thorough confession. He cried and tears running down on his face as he confessed all his secrets that kept him shackled. As I finished talking to him and ready to leave, two other young men approached me and introduced themselves as Catholics. They also wanted me to hear their confessions. It was a rewarding visit. I witnessed the power of Jesus Christ working in these three young men that day. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Let Jesus set you free!