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1/28/18 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Already in the first chapter of St Mark's Gospel we are witnessing a dramatic encounter between Christ and the devil. The devil makes his appearance through one of his slaves, a demon who has taken possession of a child of God. When Jesus, the Savior of sinners and conqueror of evil, approaches this possessed man, the demon cries out in panic and desperation. Jesus silences the demonic and frees the possessed man.

The devil is not a fashionable topic for those of us who live in the post-modern world. Yet, the story of Christ's life and ministry simply cannot be told without referring to the devil. The Apostle John, in his First Letter (4:8), actually sums up Jesus' mission with the following words: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." The Gospel writers carefully distinguish between cases of mere physical sickness and cases of a demonic character (both of which Jesus cures). Jesus frequently refers to the devil in his parables and other teachings, and the devil himself tempts Jesus in the desert and returns again later to engineer Judas' betrayal (cf. John 13:2).

This Gospel theme teaches us an undeniable, if uncomfortable lesson: the devil is real, and he is interested in sabotaging the work of grace.  The devil is a fallen angel, an angel who was created good by God but then rebelled against God and took many of his fellow angels with him in that rebellion. And now they try to convince us, human beings, to rebel against God too. This basic spiritual truth is a huge comfort. It helps us make sense of all the unpleasant influences at work in and around us - we are not crazy; we are not failures; we are simply engaged in a spiritual battle.

A stranger stood before the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, admiring its uplifting architecture and its beautiful statuary.  A Parisian approached with this odd question: "Do you notice anything amusing up there?" "Why no," answered the tourist, "it is inspiring." "Look closely at those figures," directed the newcomer, pointing to a group that represented a soul being weighed in the scales of justice. "Notice the angel standing on one side and Satan on the other. The devil gives the appearance of wanting fair play and honest justice, doesn't he?" "Yes," admitted the traveler, "but I don't see anything funny about that." "Take a closer look," suggested the Parisian. "Look under the scales." Sure enough, under the scale on the side of Satan was a little demon pulling the scale down.

That's how the devil works. If we decide to give up a certain vice or evil habit, or if we decide to follow Christ more closely, Satan seems to step aside and admit his defeat. But it's only a façade. In reality, he begins to work secretly from another angle. This is why it is so important for us to always stay on our guard, spiritually speaking. Temptations can come to us at any time, even right after a spiritual victory, since the battle is always going on.

As St Peter puts it in his First New Testament Letter (1 Peter 5:8): "Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour."

There is a spiritual battle going on beneath and above the surface of human history, and of our personal history. We cannot avoid being involved in this battle as long as we are here on earth - the devil is just too interested in making our lives miserable, now and forever, by separating us from God. But Jesus was able to expel the demon from this possessed man easily and definitively. And he is also able to give us strength to overcome the temptations that plague us.

Three things especially can help this strength flow more freely in our lives.

First, stay close to Christ. It was because this man was close to Christ that Jesus was able to expel the demon. The same goes for us if we stay close to Christ, especially through regular prayer and the Eucharist.

Second, stay close to the truth. The devil's main weapon is deception. He manipulates our selfish tendencies by spreading lies and half-truths. This is one reason he fights to keep us out of the confessional. Confession is the gift of truth: we face the truth about ourselves by confessing our sins, failures, and weaknesses, and God, through the priest, reminds us of his truth: mercy, forgiveness, unconditional grace. The devil loves the darkness; confession unleashes the light.

Third, stay close to others in need. The devil is the lord of selfishness, and Christ is the Lord of love. When we resist our selfishness by serving others, whatever their need may be, we weaken the devil's influence in our lives. Every Christian is a spiritual warrior

Today, as Jesus renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let's renew our commitment to him.

Let's promise him that this week we will do something specific to help us stay close to Christ, close to the truth, and close to others in need.



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