Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 4B
Throughout the Gospel, one of the main things that we see Jesus doing is casting out demons and unclean spirits, performing exorcisms. “The Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus came to take back for God all that had fallen under the false dominion of the evil one. On TV from time to time, I’ve watched a lot of accounts of haunted houses. These are often based on eyewitness interviews. It’s always been fascinating to me that a great number of the families involved, whether Catholic, non-Catholic, or not very religious at all, many of these witnesses to the paranormal end up contacting Catholic priests. The Catholic Church continues the work of Jesus to cast out unclean spirits, to act with the same authority as Jesus Himself, and this is recognized, to some extent, even by those who are outside the Catholic Church.
Beyond the scribes or Bible-believing Christian ministers, Catholic priests have been given authority, passed down through the centuries by apostolic succession. Priests have authorization from Jesus Christ Himself, the One authorized by His heavenly Father. But many of us might not realize that even more powerful than any exorcism, and more truly dramatic, is actually something that we can experience on a regular basis: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Each priest, through his bishop or through the bishop of Rome, receives authority to absolve sins, to restore supernatural life to a soul that was dead in mortal sin. And in the Gospel, this is the other activity of Christ that the crowds found so astonishing, that Jesus, the Son of Man, claimed the authority to forgive sins.
And beyond any exorcism, the forgiveness of sins destroys “the works of the devil” and the false dominion of Satan. The first Letter of Saint John states, “Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning” (3:8). When we sin—in some sense—we surrender our freedom to the disobedience, to whatever lie and falsehood that we have bought into. And through our sin, we surrender to the father of lies, the devil. But when we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness through His priests, we reclaim our freedom in Christ, the freedom of the children of God. We renounce the false freedom that the world offers us, the false freedom that promises, that if we do whatever we want, we’ll be happy and find peace. Now I’ve always found in my own life and experience, that when I do whatever I want, I usually end up pretty miserable; tired, irritable, anxious, not very pleasant to be around.
In God’s will is our peace. When we finally surrender and do what God wants, when we do what He created us to do, we find life, joy, peace, and security. When we just do whatever we want, we find death, emptiness, pain without meaning or purpose, pleasure that never lasts. When we’re really honest with ourselves and look at how our life is going, how many of us can say that we’re truly happy? And if we’re not happy, what do we identify as the real cause of our unhappiness? Are we merely victims of circumstance, of our environment, of our social and behavioral conditioning? Are we merely victims of our own heredity or genetic predispositions? Are we victims of an unjust society, of prejudice, sexism, racism?
Or can someone who belongs to Christ actually find happiness and true freedom despite all of this? Are we still not convinced that it is our sin and our rebellion against God that lies at the root of all our sadness and misery? As we draw closer to the season of Lent, we should take some time to reflect: how is God calling me to root out sin in my life, to take concrete actions to actually break those habits of sin? In which areas of my life does the devil still have his strongholds? Where do I need Jesus to come in, to set me free from the lies, from the ignorance, from the weakness of my will and my lack of self-sacrifice? Come, Holy Spirit, cast out the darkness of our hearts. Help us to know our sins and to confess them, that we might receive the forgiveness, the healing, the freedom that Jesus offers us.