Jesus’ power over the forces of the devil
At the beginning of His ministry, our Lord seemed to have had a number of encounters with those who were troubled by unclean spirits. Wherever He went it seemed that the unclean spirits were none-too pleased that He was there and had authority to cast them out of their victims and restore them to health.
The Gospel this past weekend is another example of Jesus’ power over the forces of the devil. What are we to make of this, and how does it impact our lives?
We might say it doesn’t have much to do with our lives because we are not possessed of an unclean spirit (thanks be to God!). We might say that this is just a story in which people mistook mental illness for demonic possession and that Jesus simply healed the sick like He had done before. We might want to try to explain the encounter away by saying this was simply made up to communicate the Jesus was from God and had authority. If any of these are our response to the story, I think we are in a bad way and risking losing out on a powerful encounter with these Lord.
The Gospels are very clear that Jesus did heal the sick, but that He also cast out evil spirits from the lives of those tormented by them. Time and time again the demons cry out at Jesus because they understand that He is the end of their tormenting of their victims. It’s not just that people mistook demons for a mental illness, they believed that evil spirits existed and could impact their lives.
The Church still believes this. Scripture and tradition testify to the fact that it is possible for us to open ourselves up to the influence of demons and evil spirits. Pope Francis preaches on the need for us to be constantly on guard against allowing these forces to enter our lives. Seemingly innocent actions, tarot cards, Ouija boards, psychics, and other occult practices can be exactly the avenues which cause us to be open to spiritual attacks. That’s why the Church strongly urges us to avoid them. We need to avoid them, and if we have been dabbling in these things to turn any from them and seek the forgiveness and healing of Jesus. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.
Even if we have not been involved in any of these practices, we can allow the things of this world to become obsessions that distract us from the things of God. Sports, gambling, pornography, etc. can overwhelm lives and make it difficult to maintain a life free from their overinfluence. We need the grace and power of Jesus to cast them out of our lives and to help us avoid going back time and time again to these things which can lead to spiritual death.
Finally, even venial sins can exert a control in our lives that prevents us from being the authentic witnesses to Christ we are called to be. While venial sin may not sever our relationship with God, it can slow our spiritual progress and hamper our ability to become holy. Turning to the Lord who forgives our sins, great and small, is the way to make sure this impact is mitigated or eliminated from our lives.
Are we possessed? Unlikely. Are we sinners in need of healing for sins great and small? Most likely. Trust me, this is not meant to be a downer, but a simple reminder again of our need for a savior who has the power to free us from the power of evil and sin and allow us to live free lives in the Spirit. His love for us is more powerful than any spirit, demon, sin, or failing. Let’s ask for His help.
Msgr. John J. McDermott