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Casting out demons and anointing with oil | Gospel of July 14

By 10 July, 2024No Comments
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Gospel according to Saint Mark 6,7-13:

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Casting out demons and anointing with oil

Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries

Rome, July 14, 2024 | XV Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6: 7-13

There is a passage in Sienkiewicz‘s novel Quo Vadis? describing how a young Roman, Vinicius, falls in love with a young Christian girl. Since he was not a Christian, she wants nothing to do with him. He follows her to the secret evening meeting of the small group of Christians and there, without anyone knowing, he listens to the celebration. He hears Peter preach and, as he listens, something happens to him. He felt that, if he wished to follow that teaching, he would have to put on a bonfire all his thoughts, habits and character, his whole nature up to that moment, burn them to ashes and then fill himself with a totally different life, and an entirely new soul.

This is an authentic conversion which, as in this famous story, is always linked to love. Indeed, true and profound conversion is not simply pain and disgust for wrongdoing. It involves becoming more aware of the effect of my actions on others and of the distance I have put between people and my own life. This is what happens to the prodigal son in the parable, when he becomes sensitive to the harm he has done to his father and to God (Lk 15: 21). Yes; we can say that, in reality, our neighbor heals me, but in the case of Christ this truth is elevated to a level never seen before, because, even if He does not free us from physical and emotional ailments, He gives us a freedom and a joy that cannot be understood by reason alone.

In all healing there is a touch, of something or someone touching us. This is beautifully captured in the union with oil. Galen, the great Greek physician born in the first century, said: Oil is the best of all instruments for healing sick bodies. In the ancient world, oil was considered a wonderful remedy, even if they could not explain all its anti-inflammatory, disinfectant or analgesic properties.

And that is why Jesus instructs his disciples to anoint with oil and cast out demons. Conversion is not just effort, but a profound relief.

Do we really believe we are dominated by unclean spirits? It is not simply that we are “bad,” but that we are truly chained in many different ways, so that we cannot approach God.

We may accept it “because the Gospel says so,” but we do not bother to look into the depths of our hearts to see that this is a reality. In today’s First Reading, this appears categorically: Amos, a shepherd and fig farmer on the edge of the desert, is forced by Yahweh to immediately leave his flock and speak to the people of Israel, because the situation was very serious. As he tells us (Amos 7: 1-2), he had a vision: God prepared a plague of locusts. When I saw them ready to devour all the grass in the land, I said, “Forgive us, I pray you, O Lord my God, for how can Jacob, being so small as he is, stand?”

Let us not lose sight of the fact that to these people it would seem strange, exaggerated, because at that time, eight centuries before Christ, the society of Israel was prosperous, free from enemy threats and with numerous sanctuaries and centers of worship, where thousands of people went on pilgrimage and participated in religious ceremonies. The relationship of the priests with King Jeroboam II was excellent, they received generous salaries and the monarch made abundant donations for the temples.

All this, as Amos denounces, was superficial, and covered corruption, exploitation of the weak, oppression of all kinds and tolerance of perverse and profitable customs such as sacred prostitution.

So much for the historical facts. But the Church invites us today to place our own lives in the light of this First Reading.

First of all, as the Gospel so often tells us, not to believe that we are righteous. Many of us are heard to say: I am a mess, I am a sinner, I make many mistakes. But very few of us are capable of confessing a concrete fault and even fewer of asking for forgiveness. Instead, we resort to self-justification, which is a desperate, automatic, instinctive attempt to protect our reputation. First, we elaborate a reasoning to try to be at peace and then we throw it at others as a defensive weapon: I knew nothing; I did it with no bad intention; I did not think it would bother you; I could not control myself; I was pushed to the limit of my patience and….

Nor did the priest Amaziah, head of the Temple, recognize his sins and those of his privileged caste, replying to Amos: Do not prophesy again in the House of God, because it is the royal sanctuary, the temple of the country.

Additionally, we do not feel the same urgency as God the Father to avoid the pain that our neighbor feels when living in slavery and not being healed by anyone. Amos also made excuses for this “exaggerated” divine call: I am not a prophet.

Today is a day to recognize the extent of my sins and also the urgency of transmitting the Gospel.

—ooOoo—

The Second Reading is a precious text of praise, of blessing God. Praise and blessing are words that are sometimes difficult for us to understand: they sound old-fashioned, out of touch with modern culture and vocabulary. But they hold something that is the key, the beginning of our relationship with the Divine Persons. Praise and blessing are not formal attitudes or gestures, but the expression of gratitude proper to those who recognize the best they have received. This is how the Lord’s Prayer and many of the traditional prayers of the Jewish people begin.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; let my whole being praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits (Psalm 103).

You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have taken off my mourning clothes and clothed me with gladness, so that I may sing to You and glorify You, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will always give thanks to You! (Psalm 30:11-12)

This Second Reading begins with praise to the Lord, who is no longer called the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” but “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is an acknowledgment of one who has experienced the greatest of all possible graces, the presence and consoling companionship of the Divine Persons.

Gratitude can be pleasing to the recipient, but first of all it produces a true liberation, an impulse to focus attention on the goods I possess, instead of anguishing over the talents I wish I had, the actions I would like to perform or the rest that would undoubtedly be a relief. This emotional and spiritual release is capable of setting in motion the capacities I possess; the virtues I have not yet fully tapped. An Indian folk story reflects this:

The monsoon rainy season was approaching and a very old man was digging holes in his garden. He was working with eagerness and enthusiasm.

What are you doing? asked his neighbor, I am planting mangoes, replied the old man. Do you expect to get to eat mangoes from those trees? said his neighbor.

No, I don’t plan to live that long, he replied, but others will. It occurred to me the other day that all my life I have enjoyed eating mangoes planted by other people, and this is my way of showing my gratitude to them. In my long life I have received many things from others. It is only fair that I contribute to others benefiting from me.

In the case of a disciple of Christ, it happens to us as it did to the prophet Amos, that we are driven to live a continuous mercy, through the little or much that we have received. Let us remember what happened to St. Peter:

Looking face to face with the paralytic begging at the temple gate called “Beautiful,” Peter said, “Look at us”. He looked at them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter continued, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Messiah, walk!”(Acts 3: 1-10).

—ooOoo—

Already in the First Reading we see the contrast between a truly free man, Amos, and another who is enslaved, Amaziah, who depended on the will and ambitions of King Jeroboam II. Beyond this relationship with power, in today’s Gospel text Christ tells us, with highly significant instructions for the time, what the apostle’s freedom is to be: Not carrying a bag, for example, meant not having room for the next day’s meal, exactly as we say in the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily [not weekly] bread. Of course, Christ is not inviting us to starve, but to give up useless food when I feel attached to it, most especially my judgments and my desires.

In fact, this is the summit of apostolic prayer, for, after being thankful, if I am willing to discover and put aside my opinions, my habits and my whims, I will be free to manifest with deeds and words the presence of Christ among us.

The twelve disciples were sent out. Christ did not select the most intellectually gifted or those of the most appropriate character. In reality, a believer who is not impelled to transmit the Gospel is because he is not convinced that he possesses a treasure. This is observed in many believers, religious men and women, ordained men and women, and people who actively participate in worship activities. Their main concern is to avoid falling into sin, not to lose faith, to achieve individual purity, in the style of some respectable religious traditions, which propose a balance and purification achieved through personal effort. Jesus teaches us how perfection, holiness, fullness of life (three synonyms) is a task that can only be achieved in common… and with a grace that is continually offered to us.

Experience also tells us that no matter how well an apostolic event is organized, no matter how well a lesson or a text is prepared, no matter how much I am congratulated for my efforts, people will only see that my poor life has some prophecy in it if I do everything in communion.

That explains why the Master sends his disciples two by two, even if sometimes there are misunderstandings, even if opinions and styles are different, even if we are not the perfect team, our neighbor will say: They come from Christ… because they love one another (cf. Jn 13: 35). Not because their lessons are forceful or their way of working inexhaustible.

_______________________________

In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Luis CASASUS

President