Gospel according to Saint Mark 1,21-28:
In the city of Capernaum, on a Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach. The people were astonished at the way He taught, for He spoke as one having authority and not like the teachers of the Law. It happened that a man with an evil spirit was in their synagogue and he shouted, «What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: You are the Holy One of God». Then Jesus faced him and said with authority, «Be silent and come out of this man!». The evil spirit shook the man violently and, with a loud shriek, came out of him. All the people were astonished and they wondered, «What is this? With what authority He preaches! He even orders evil spirits and they obey him!». And Jesus’ fame spread throughout all the country of Galilee.
The devil’s labyrinth and the way of Christ
Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, January 28, 2024 | IV Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deut 18: 15-20; 1Cor 7: 32-35; Mk 1: 21-28
Certainly, the simple people of Capernaum were not admired by the eloquence or the erudition of Christ when he spoke in the synagogue; this could not be of interest to the fishermen and uneducated people of that village by the lake. What the Gospel wants to tell us today is something different.
It is often said that our words must be in harmony with our actions. Of course it must be so, otherwise it is a corruption that can be called hypocrisy, disloyalty or deceit. But in the case of Jesus, there is something more than coherence and something more than what today we call non-verbal language. When I talk about a movie I have seen and really liked, I don’t just give a summary, I share my emotions, the scenes that have moved me, the memories that the story has brought me, even the changes it has produced in my life. The authentic word becomes one with life.
Although this is not a “spiritual” example, I remember when I was a teenager, after seeing the movie The Sound of Music, I liked the soundtrack so much that I learned almost all the songs with the harmonica… and to this day I wake up sometimes with the sound in my head of one of those melodies, composed by Richard Rogers.
What Christ said spoke of his life and his life spoke of God. When we say that Jesus is the Word made flesh, it is not an empty phrase, but literally true. As a strong proof of this, Providence allowed that after his homily, he succeeded in healing the man tormented by an evil spirit.
This is significant. The episode not only teaches us that Christ has power over evil spirits, but also that the devil cannot remain silent, he makes himself present when something important is about to happen in our spiritual life. He tried to distract the attention of those who were listening by means of the convulsions of the poor possessed man, therefore, Christ simply forces him to be silent, since the devil’s intention is to attract our attention, provoking distraction, it is the most subtle weapon of the Evil One.
With apologies to the experts and to those who argue about the devil, or simply do not even consider the existence of this figure, which they judge to be a literary creation, it seems to me that the more appropriate question is not Does the devil exist? but rather Have you perceived the personality of the one who is trying to steal your freedom?
When Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) presented his discoveries, many people – both ignorant and cultivated – refused to admit the existence of microbes, Microbiology being now the discipline that allows us to understand and fight many diseases. The devil’s activity allows us to understand perfectly how we let ourselves be led down unsuspected and really anti-human paths.
If we realize that the devil’s action is characterized by continually seeking separation between us and between man and God, we will be able to avoid falling into his traps.
Previously we recalled that the devil acts in a particularly intense way when something important is about to happen in our spiritual life. This is what happened in the case of Judas Iscariot, who, as Pope Francis recalled (8 APR 2020), may have been a normal boy, who had ideals, and for this reason accepted the call to follow Jesus. But, as he loved money (Jn 12:6), he began to commit small frauds that led him little by little to nothing less than selling the Master for 30 coins. We can think that he even decided to help someone on his own, without consulting, sure of his generosity, but also with the desire to merit affection and gratitude What would have become of him if he had persevered? We will never know, but it is clear that the devil triumphed by using his typical way of acting: leading us along an apparently harmless, even pleasant path, until we realize that it is a labyrinth from which we no longer know how to get out. So it happened to Judas; when he understood the extent of his betrayal it was already too late.
So he did with Adam and Eve, using the same strategy, making use of an apparently innocent and simple invitation, a fruit. Even with Christ himself, he wanted to follow this tactic when he was tempted in the desert. In this case, he used all his intelligence to propose to Jesus the easiest, the most comfortable way: to turn stones into bread in order to be able to continue his mission with strength; to give a sign of power, so as to convince and convert all those who saw him; finally, to immediately conquer the world, with the Evil One’s own help and by submitting to him.
With the possessed man that Christ cures today in the synagogue, the devil had already succeeded in depriving him of his freedom, surely by utilizing a mental illness of that person, but using him to sow unrest in those who saw him.
At first glance, the Second Reading seems alien to what the Gospel reading presents to us today. However, it is an intelligent appeal by St. Paul that we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by realities that can be as beautiful as the living together of a woman and a man who love each other. While marriage is a good and necessary thing, St. Paul speaks of the possibility that even this natural and spiritual institution can become an instrument of division, of alienation from the affairs of the Lord.
Everything can be manipulated by the devil, even the grace we receive, if we are not willing to use it. As one author said, the best of our life is like a good steak; if we eat it, it is something very comforting, but if we keep it in a drawer, it rots and becomes something unclean.
There is always in art the evocation of the use of the most beautiful thing for selfish, even cruel, ends.
The Greek Poet Homer (8th century BC), in his famous epic work called Odyssey, recounts the voyage of Ulysses, king of Ithaca, who at the end of the Trojan War returns home and is warned by a goddess that he would have to sail near the islet of the Sirens, who cast a spell on any man who approaches them. She reminded him that anyone who hears her voice will be affected by madness and die by drowning in the waters surrounding the island. But Ulysses had himself tied to the mast and ordered his men to row quickly and not to heed his orders to approach the island, so that he was the first to hear the voice of the Sirens and not to obey their invitation to approach, thus managing not to die in those waters.
Similarly, in the First Reading, the Yahweh sternly advises us not to listen to those who speak in the name of other gods, not to be swayed by other voices, which again suggests that this tendency to put our hearts and emotions into the things (morally good or bad) of the world and of the flesh, is something permanent. Immediately, the devil takes advantage of this attitude to reinforce it, empower it and thus make the kingdom of heaven a different dimension from where we live. The world is full of people who are not perfidious or depraved, but slaves of idols as ideas, customs or activities.
We do not refer now to “perverse doctrines”, but to free a human being from that slavery requires to be another Christ. Religious, parents and Catholic educators often say they are disappointed. They complain because their Gospel-inspired exhortations seem to fall on deaf ears or have little impact. If our word does not change hearts and minds, if it does not bring about a new world, then it is not the word of God, but of men. It is easy to make a mistake: one preaches about oneself and one’s own convictions, believing to proclaim the Gospel. Good exhortations, warnings dictated by common sense, the wisdom of this world, often prove useful, but they never worked miracles. The scribes and preachers who spoke before Christ did not redeem the demoniac and perhaps did not even notice his presence and his pain.
On the contrary, the Word of God made the mute to speak, the lame to stand, the hungry to eat, the captives to be released and the afflicted to rejoice in his heart. He turned the sinner into a disciple, the dishonest tax collector into an apostle, the chief tax collector into a son of Abraham, and a brigand into the first of those invited to the heavenly banquet.
The Parable of the Tares, sown by the devil among the best seed, is an important teaching of Christ himself on how the king of lies acts. He does not eliminate the wheat, but pretends to take its place. It does not destroy us, but it enslaves us, usually in an attractive and subjugating way, without being aggressive, just like the sirens mentioned by Homer. The mediocrity of our life represents a silent victory of the devil. He is present and it seems that nothing bad happens in our lives, as it happened to the demoniac who was silent and serene in a corner of the synagogue… until Christ made his voice heard.
The diabolical forces are impulses of hatred, of selfish withdrawal, of committing injustice and violence, of greed for the world, of the will to dominate….
They are demons that take control and want to be left alone. They command, they speak, they demand action and, when they do not cause major damage, they want to be left alone by their hosts. They do not care about the inhuman condition of those who have been dominated by them. That is why it is for naive people not to believe in the reality of the devil; he acts almost always in silence and the episodes of passions exalted and taken advantage of by him are frequent in us… but even more to manage to keep us dozing at the entrance of his labyrinth of mediocrity.
That day, even before Jesus said anything in the synagogue of Capernaum, the unclean spirit felt expelled and forced to come out into the open. It was the holiness of Jesus that was unbearable for the unclean spirit. The Christian who lives in grace and is a temple of the Holy Spirit carries in himself something of this holiness of Christ, and it is precisely this holiness that operates, in the environments in which he lives, a silent and effective exorcism, which frees us and allows the desire of Moses expressed in the First Reading to be fulfilled in us: that each one of us become a prophet, that is, certain of the will of God and eager to transmit it.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Luis CASASUS President