Weekly HomilyArchives

Monday, January 23, 2012

“A man with an unclean spirit 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.’ Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit came out of him.” (Mark 1:24-26)

Sin 

January 29, 2012
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 1:21-28  Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

These “unclean spirits” of which Jesus speaks in the gospel passage we hear today: I believe it’s sin he’s referring to, particularly grave and public sin. What we Catholics have long called mortal sin. A sin that might sentence one to a long prison term or worse.

Indeed, “unclean spirits” are endemic to the human condition; we all do battle with them throughout our lives. No one escapes the temptations; no one is exempt from the battle. For the most part, though, we keep these struggles private, revealing them only within the tight bonds of friendship, in the office of a mental health professional or in the confessional. It’s not these “unclean spirits” – dare I call them generic – that Jesus rebukes in today’s gospel passage. No, he’s addressing the really bad stuff – the sins that take hostages, the sins that make for media hype. This isn’t to say that Jesus is unconcerned with what we Catholics call venial sin. Not at all!

St. Mark writes, “A man with an unclean spirit 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.’ Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit came out of him.” (Mark 1:24-26) Notorious he might have been for the point of the story, but this man is really every woman and man. Everyone is a sinner. But only one is the healer – Jesus. And this is his story, not ours.

What does it take for one possessed by “unclean spirits” to be healed? First, one must admit that something evil has taken up residence in the heart and mind. Second, one must desire to be rid of the evil. Finally, one must entrust one’s life to the Divine Healer. Sounds so simple! Not so! That second step is the clincher. Do I really – I mean REALLY – want to be rid of the evil? That worn aphorism hasn’t achieved longevity for its irrelevance: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

But there’s not only personal sin; there’s also communal sin, the sin of a whole nation or culture. What about the “unclean spirits” that have found the back door to the soul of a large group of people? Every age, it seems, has been characterized by its particular brand of “unclean spirit.” Ours is surely no exception.

Contemporary political rhetoric is full of accusations that just such a thing has happened to America. While some can be dismissed as mean-spirited attempts at vote-getting, other pronouncements cannot be so easily shrugged off. Consider the recent assertion by Catholic political satirist Stephen Colbert: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition. And then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

In less accusatory fashion, consider an anonymously-authored Facebook blurb entitled “The Death of Common Sense.” Following are excerpts:

“Common Sense, aka C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was; his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape.

“Known affectionately to close friends as Horse Sense and Sound Thinking, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering. Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits held no power over C.S.

“A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet. C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

“C.S.'s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the ‘If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It’ virus. In the following decades his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live.

“As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last.

“C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.” (Original source unknown)

“A man with an unclean spirit 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.’ Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit came out of him.” (Mark 1:24-26)

This man is every one of us, and his “unclean spirit” is as much ours as his. It’s that deep darkness that pulls us away from God and neighbor. It’s that deep darkness that recognizes evil but is ambivalent about separating from it. Indeed, the “unclean spirit” is the dynamic tension that holds us earthbound even as our hearts struggle upward and outward.

But today’s gospel is less about the sinner, more about the healer – less about you and me, more about Jesus. May it be just so as we engage the political process during the coming months.



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