4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There was a movie, titled The Exorcist, back in the 1970s that caused quite a stir. (Perhaps some of you have watched it.) The movie is about a 12-year-old girl who is demon-possessed – displaying strange and aggressive behaviors, constantly swearing, and showing abnormal strength – which are early symptoms of demonic possession. The movie details this girl’s mother’s desperate attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests. I do not intend to give more details about the movie… Suffice to say that it is a scary movie.
Today’s gospel reading deals with exorcism. It tells the story of a man possessed by an unclean spirit. This is the term used – unclean spirit – in the gospel; but it is synonymous to demon. Jesus has compassion for this man with an unclean spirit, and he regards him as a person in need of help, of healing, of liberation from the dominion of evil. And he cures and heals the man.
Is there an unclean spirit troubling you? Not all unclean spirits are supernatural powers that inhabit people’s minds and hearts and cause them to foam at the mouth. There are other kinds of unclean spirits that work in quieter but equally troubling ways. The unclean spirit that may be inhabiting our minds and hearts is fear; it has the power to cripple us. It may be anger, bitterness, or the desire for revenge; it has the power to bring out the worst in us. It may be envy, jealousy, or discontent; it has the power to make our lives miserable. It may be greed, lust, or covetousness; it has the power to tyrannize us.
The unclean spirit that may be troubling us or the demon that may be possessing us is that which makes us less human. Or that which breaks down our relationships, ruins our family, destroys our community. Or that which separates us from each other by building up walls of fears and insecurities, of prejudice and discrimination, of hatred and resentment. If we are inhabited by any of these unclean spirits or demons, then, we may be in need of some form of exorcism.
What unclean spirit is controlling? What demon is possessing you? Someone said, “To name your demons for what they are and how they bring suffering, is half the battle.” (Kathleen Norris)
Indeed, each of us, to some extent, has an unclean spirit in us. By that we mean that we have something in us that keeps us from being the kind of person God wants us to be. Perhaps we need to be ‘exorcised’ of the “unclean spirit” that makes us to selfishly think that we can find “the good life” on our own and in our own way. That we can find it outside of God’s plan for us. Perhaps we need to be ‘exorcised’ of the “unclean spirit” that controls our inordinate desires and hidden attitudes of buying, spending, investing, and then working for more so that we can buy, spend, and invest even more. We can be so caught up in this vicious cycle that we are driven more by our wants than by our needs. Perhaps we need to be ‘exorcised’ of the “unclean spirit” that influences us to abuse and misuse our power to get ahead of others and take advantage of our position. Would the Lord of life approve of our use of power to climb the ladder of political success, social success, or business success to the detriment of the poor, the deprived, the oppressed, the helpless, the marginalized? Perhaps our family, our home, needs to be ‘exorcised’ of the “unclean spirits” of quarrel and animosity, of envy and jealousy, of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, of coldness and apathy, of familiarity that leads to contempt, of bitterness and unforgiveness.
Today’s gospel is an invitation to approach Jesus to let him drive out every unclean spirit from us, and let him replace it with the Holy Spirit. Only the Lord Jesus can cast out an unclean spirit. The Lord can do that by filling us so full of God’s love that there is no room for any other spirit to torture us. Open your heart to God and let God create a new heart and a right spirit within you.
Let us end with a prayer: Lord Jesus, deliver us from every unclean spirit that keeps us from praying the way we should pray, from trusting the way we should trust, from being generous the way we should be generous, from loving the way we should love, from serving the way we should serve. Spare us, pardon us, bring us to true repentance, and may your forgiving, healing love take away the sins that have invaded our lives. Amen.