They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching--with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. - Mark 1: 21-28
In the gospels of the past two weeks of Ordinary Times, Jesus has been starting his public life. Our reflections have been on opening our hearts to Jesus and following him. What to make of this gospel? Jesus amazes the small town crowd with his wisdom. They are confused by the brilliance coming from this carpenter. But the evil spirit dwelling among them is not confused. It recognizes Jesus immediately. In terror it proclaims Jesus: the Holy One of God. How ironic that of all the people listening, it was the unclean spirit who saw Jesus for what he was. Jesus responds by driving the evil spirit out of the man. And the crowd is stunned. Who is this guy? He can literally scare the devil out of people. Christ’s public life is off to a fast start…with many miracles to follow.
The concept of demonic possession and exorcism has always been difficult for me to relate to. The struggle with garden-variety inner demons is very much closer to home. Start with the demon of addiction – the one we invite in to ease the pain, to pass the time, to fill a void. It comes in every form from prescription drugs to single malt Scotch, from gambling and pornography to jelly donuts and ice cream. But whatever the form, we can become slaves to these demons, whether as a genteel, high-functioning addict or a derelict junkie and everything in between. As virulent as they are, addictions are not the most difficult demons to confront. They are so debilitating they make themselves obvious. They invite intervention.
Demon pride is much more insidious, pervasive and tenacious. And we’ve all got a potentially deadly dose. It comes in a multitude of strains. There’s the “smartest guy in the room”, AKA “the know it all.” There’s the “resume mouth” demon, driven to impress. There’s the “ snob” and it’s evil twin “envy”, both constantly appraising and comparing. The demons are legion. But the underlying pathology is always the same: Pride is the soil that nurtures all other sin. It is Lucifer’s specialty. St. Vincent said: “Humility is nothing but truth, pride is nothing but lying.” A humble life is a happy life. A proud life is a tortured life. Pride and grace cannot occupy the same space. One or the other has got to go.
Humility is not an end in itself. It is a manifestation of a soul at peace, filled with the love of Christ. Let’s ask Jesus to purge our demons: Fill us with your love, Lord. Fill us to overflowing. Leave no room for demons. Only you Lord. Only you.