I preached this homily at Saint Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on January 28, 2018, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Before I talk about the narrative itself, I want to touch on two things that are highlighted in Mark’s text that you just heard.
What is the sabbath?
First, let’s talk about when it happened: the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is not Sunday, believe it or not. We sometimes misunderstand this. The Sabbath is (and will always be) the seventh day: Saturday.
Sunday is not the Sabbath. It’s something bigger. The Sabbath is the day God rested when he completed creation the first time. Sunday is the 8th Day, the first day of the new creation. It is new and greater than the Sabbath. That is why we observe it. The Sabbath was a preparation for the eternal rest that man can look forward to in Christ.
Evil, Satan, Demons, Exorcisms
It has been said that “the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!”
We see over and over again in Scripture, and it is an integral part of the Christian tradition that evil is not just some vague force – it is personal. My friend’s, whether we like it or not, we are at war. The traditional language of the Church refers to us on earth as the Church Militant. We are at war to bring to the world the power of Christ and the salvation of God to battle the power of darkness in the world.
As we fight that battle we have to remember that the forces we fight are stronger than we are as humans. That’s why the Church is always so adamant that we not toy with them. That’s why we are called to reject and avoid even things that may seem innocuous: Ouija Boards, Horoscopes, etc.
At the same time, we always must remember that the power of Jesus is INFINITELY greater than that of evil. That is the power that protects us if we constantly use the tools he gave us in the Church and her Sacraments. For the worst battles, the Church has exorcisms, which are very real, but sensationalized a bit when we go to the movies.
Nearly every one of us has actually received an exorcism at least once in our lives. It is a part of the rite of baptism. This is even more apparent in the older rite.
The priest thrice breathes softly in the face of the child (each one singly), and follows up the gesture with these words:
Depart from him (her), unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
and a few minutes later
I cast you out, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, + and of the Son, + and of the Holy + Spirit. Depart and stay far away from this servant (these servants) of God, N. (N. and N.). For it is the Lord Himself who commands you, accursed and doomed spirit, He who walked on the sea and reached out His hand to Peter as he was sinking. So then, foul fiend, recall the curse that decided your fate once for all. Indeed, pay homage to the living and true God, pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Keep far from this servant (these servants) of God, N. (N. and N.), for Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, has freely called him (her) (them) to His holy grace and blessed way and to the waters of baptism.
Now the priest traces the sign of the cross upon the brow of the child, saying as he does so:
Never dare, accursed fiend, to desecrate this seal of the holy + cross which we imprint upon his (her) brow; through Christ our Lord.
For each of us individually, though,
The former chief Exorcist of the Diocese of Rome, Fr. Gabriele Amorth in his three books repeatedly that the most powerful exorcism available to us is a good confession. The sacramental graces poured into us when our sins are forgiven leave little room for evil.
The Church also provides rites for us to bless our homes, offices, and other spaces to drive away any of the forces that would fight us there. Fr. Nick and I have both done blessings of houses on several occasions. You don’t need a specific reason or fear – just a desire to live in a blessed space. If you want to get your home (or even office – if you own the office – we can’t bless someone else’s office without their permission) blessed, all you have to do is call the office so we can arrange a time.
Finally, in talking about the powers around us, I do need to note that this does not mean that all mental illness is caused by the forces of evil. I’ve heard many gpod-intentioned Christians and even Catholics claim that spiritual healing is all that is ever necessary. This is just not the case. Psychological illness exists and should be treated by professionals. Medications are sometimes good and necessary in these cases. In all cases, though, we can bring together good psychology and good spiritual practices to help to cure the whole person.
The Synagogue at Capernaum
Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit, a demon, and the spirit knows who he is, the Holy one of God. James confirms that “Even the demons believe … and tremble” (Jas 2:19). This spirit’s declaration is not one of belief and worship, but he tries to use Jesus’ name and title to gain power over him – So Jesus tells him to be silent. The Arabic versions have Jesus say, “shut your mouth.” Jesus literally tells the demon to shut up!
Here we have what is called by scholars the Messianic Secret in Mark. Jesus doesn’t want people to know exactly who he is until it can be shown what that actually means. Many of the Jews who came to believe saw Jesus as little more than a miracle worker – he did neat tricks. But Jesus Christ was so much more than that. What it meant to be the Messiah, the Holy one of God, the Son of God is not really understood by anybody until his death on the cross. Then, the meaning of the Messianic Secret is truly revealed, and it is first stated by the Roman centurion – a gentile:
When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Who is Jesus to us?
So the question before each of us today is what that means? What does it mean to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the Holy one of God, the Son of God? What does it mean to call him “Lord”?
Is Jesus just a humanist who taught people to be nice to each other for a change?
Is Jesus just one of the rabbis in 1st century Judea who was among the sackful of “Messiahs” produced by the Jews?
Is Jesus a good luck charm that helps us out when we need a quick hand?
Is Jesus my Lord and Savior, my God who frees me from my sins and promises me eternal life with him?
If the last answer is correct, then it has to mean something in the way we live our lives. If that is the case, then we must live every moment of our lives as Jesus commanded us. Only then can we hope to live with him. If we respond any other way, we are trying to fool him (and failing) and only successfully fooling ourselves.
But, if we allow that belief in Jesus to change the way we live our lives, then, and only then, we can look forward to eternity with him. So, as each of us leave this church today, that’s the decision we must make.
Who is this man? And what does it mean for me?