The gospel reading for mass today is about Jesus driving a demon out of a man who was possessed. Many modern people do not believe that the devil is real. Those that do believe that the devil is real, think that the main way he manifests himself is by tempting us to do things wrong. The gospel today however, depicts when a demon actually possesses a person. This story in the scriptures about Jesus casting out a demon that is very similar to our modern day exorcisms. Today’s gospel about demonic possession is also one of the scriptural references for the Rite of Exorcism. Mark 5: 1-20
We do not know a whole lot about the man possessed by a demon today, but there are a couple of things that indicate actual possession by a demon. Super human strength is one of the hallmarks of possession. People who are possessed are able to do things physically, that is above the abilities of normal human beings. Another thing that indicates possession is that demons immediately recognize anything to do with Jesus, and that Christ has authority over them. They are powerless in front of Jesus Christ. Even today, just the name of Jesus Christ can help to drive evil spirits away.
There are those in the church, including many priests and well educated lay Catholics, that do not believe in the real presence of the devil. We believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we believe in the real presence of angels, and that the blessed Virgin Mary really did appear at Fatima and Lourdes, but why have we for the most part ignored the devil? Is he no less real?
A lot of the clergy and laity too, believe that the devil is real and present in our lives mainly through temptation. This is, and always will be, true. Original sin was brought into the world through temptation, but that only opened the door to many other tactics of the devil as well.
Satan starts with the simple, ordinary ways of tempting people to commit sins, and is there any wonder why? So many people readily fall for it. It’s soooo easy to stop and look at that picture of a naked woman that unexpectedly pops up on a Google search. It’s a little thing, but do you ever take the time to report the offensive image, or do you spend more than a second looking at it? That’s actually just a second away from a real porn site.
Possession starts as a harmless temptation. Temptation is like a venial sin and possession is like a mortal sin, in that one leads to the other. We open the doorway to the occult ourselves, by allowing ourselves to be drawn into temptations, or to become overly curious about evil.
Teenage girls think it’s cute to dabble in “white magic” and cast “love spells” on a boy they have a crush on. Little do they know there isn’t such a thing as good witchcraft. It’s a lot of fun to play with the occult though. Ouija boards are just a fun, scary game and who wouldn’t want to have their cards read to see what lies in their future? The hexagons and candles and more serious spells silently creep in along with the fun. Demonic possession usually occurs when a person opens the door to an evil spirit by dabbling in these things. Ask any Catholic priest who is an exorcist.
Sometimes a demon does not actually possess a person, they just harass them and make their lives miserable. And, demonic possession is often excused as a mental illness, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes harassment by a demon is so stressful, that a person can actually become mentally ill from the constant harassment. Both conditions can also be present at once, mental illness and harassment from a demon.
If you maintain a good prayer life and frequent the sacraments, Satan will usually flee from you. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes the devil can not entice a devout Catholic to sin, through any of the usual temptations, because they are “on to his ways” and work hard at overcoming sin in their lives, so he resorts to more subtle tactics. He looks for very small ways to side track you or get your attention, like distractions which cause you to be too busy to attend to your prayer life, for an example. Prayer, in addition to the sacraments, is the lifeblood of our spiritual life and affecting one of these even a little, can weaken your awareness of the graces received from the others.
The best defense against the devil is to live a holy life, frequent the sacraments often, pray regularly and surround ourselves with Christian people. There is a saying that “birds of a feather flock together”. That was true with the Legion of demons that is recorded in the gospel of Mark (Mk 5: 1-20) but it is also true with Christians as well. We support one another in living good, holy lives and avoiding what is evil.
So today, we should be aware of the need to resist even small temptations or indulge in curiosity about things that are not of God. Evil is not harmless, as is evident in today’s readings for mass.