From the Catholic Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, January 28, 2019. Gospel – Mark 1:21-28. Theme: Who’s Your Prophet? Deep down within us, we all have a sense that we are more than what we see in a mirror. Something inside tells us that we are more than just mammals going through the cycle of life; that there is something within us that is drawn beyond the world of what we can see and touch. Human history and sociology confirm this innate sense we have, because every single culture had some form of worship of a divine power or beings, and some ceremony of funeral rites that accompany a person on the beginning of their journey to the next life, the life beyond planet Earth. To be a human then, is to be aware that reality consists of both the material and the spiritual, or as we say in the Creed every Sunday, to believe in the visible and the invisible.
What is also true about us humans is that we have deep important questions that the material world cannot answer; questions that belong to the spiritual realm: What is this purpose of life? Does it matter that I exist? What will become of my life in the future? Where should I go or what should I do to have happier successful life? And we all seek someone or something that promises to give us the answer to these questions. In other words, we want a teacher, a prophet, who has the power and knowledge to answer these questions.
I wish today’s liturgy had included the first part of the Old Testament story in our first reading. You see, in the first part of the story, we discover that the Israelites had entered into pagan territory in their journey towards the Promised Land and were living among people who sought the answers to these questions from witches and wizards, from palm readers and fortune tellers. God taught them, through Moses, that turning to anyone but Himself for knowledge and guidance was going to bring ruin upon themselves. That this was a form of idolatry, of turning away from their relationship with Him and opening themselves up to evil spiritual influences. God was telling them to be patient and faithful and promised to send a prophet greater than the prophets of darkness. Greater even than the holy prophets like Moses.
And so, in today’s the Gospel we see this promise fulfilled. Jesus speaks and acts with an authority of his own. Unlike the other religious teachers of his times, he does not quote backups and references for his teachings. He has no need to do so, for He is God-in-the-flesh speaking. He even demonstrates an authority and power over the spiritual world, as we see in the possessed man, where demons quake and scream at Jesus’ command.
You know, all this sounds very much to me as if it could be taking place today, in 2018, in our own culture. People seeking spiritual answers to life’s important questions from anyone or anything that offers a solution, no matter where it comes from. People turning to Eastern-mystical gurus, celebrity prosperity and spirituality speakers, New Age practices and traditional forms of the occult such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, horoscopes, crystals and palm readers. Sadly, we can find even Christians among those who turn to the dark-side of reality in desperation for answers and solutions to problems.
Now there is both a good news/bad news aspect to this interest in the spiritual world. On the positive aside it shows that people acknowledge life is more than what we can see and we ourselves are more than a collection of atoms and cells, more than highly evolved rational mammals. We are spiritual and our souls seek out their proper domain. But on the negative side, turning to anyone in the spiritual realm besides God opens us up to spiritual attack and disaster. The devil and his demons are our sworn enemies – yes, they are very real – and their biggest ploy is to convince that they are just fable and fairy tales of medieval imagination and superstition. It is no wonder that in our times the Church’s exorcists have recently begged the Vatican and their local bishops for more exorcists because they cannot keep up with the demand.
The ministry of teaching the truth and of casting out demons is as real and necessary today as it was in the Gospel of Mark that we just pondered. The fashions and languages of the people change but the basic questions and needs remain the same. The Catholic Church has maintained and exercised this ministry for 2,000 years, teaching the truth with authority from Jesus himself, God-in-the-flesh, and casting out demons by Christ’s power through the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation as well as by exorcisms and blessings. The reason this can be done is because, as the Scripture tells us, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And he himself has promised to manifest this divine authority and power through his baptized people.