Prayers against darkness

In this Sunday’s Gospel we have a dramatic encounter between a demonized man and Jesus. Even in our modern culture there is still widespread belief in angels and demons. As British philosopher C. S. Lewis noted, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

Some twenty years ago a poll conducted by Time magazine stated that, “sixty-nine percent of American adults confirmed their belief in angels . . .and thirty-two percent claimed to have felt an angelic presence at some time in their lives.”

The popularity of the television show Supernatural, currently America’s the longest-running live-action fantasy TV series, proves that this interest has not decreased over time. Yet the angelic beings of this Supernatural fantasy world have almost no correspondence to the Christian understanding of angels and demons.

The Catechism states, “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.” (CCC 328).

Angels appear throughout Sacred Scriptures from beginning to end. We find angels more than 300 times in the Old Testament, and 176 times in the New Testament in almost every book.

One way that angels are the same as humans is the fact that they have a free will. After being created they were given the ability to either follow God or to rebel and choose not to serve him. After making this choice their will was fixed by their own decision.

We believe that Satan gave in to the sins of envy and pride and freely chose to separate himself from God (Wisdom 2:24). Satan’s deception took a third of the other angels with him (Revelation 12:4). These fallen angels are demons who prowl about seeking the ruin of souls (1 Peter 5:8).

Jesus’ earthly ministry is a cosmic battle between the kingdom of God and the false kingdom of Satan (Luke 11:18). Jesus’ ministry of exorcism is evidence of the power of the Kingdom of God. Jesus notes, “if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). As the Catechism notes, “Throughout his public life, he demonstrated his divine sovereignty by works of power over nature, illnesses, demons, death, and sin” (CCC 447).

In this Gospel reading Jesus encounters a man with the unclean spirit of a demon. The demon cries 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!”

This evil spirit has supernatural knowledge of Jesus’ fullest identity. He is not merely Jesus of Nazareth but the Holy One of God. Since demons are liars and untrustworthy, the reader might be tempted to ignore this affirmation, but Mark has already twice alerted his readers to Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (1:1) and God’s beloved son (1:11).

It is likely that the demon was either trying to reveal Jesus identity before his time, or perhaps to try to exert power over him by naming him. In any event Jesus performs an exorcism, rebuking him and saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!”

The spiritual power of this exorcism and the direct authority of Jesus’ teaching lead the people to be amazed. “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

The modern church continues to practice exorcisms. There are two kinds or forms or exorcism. The first is called simple or minor forms of exorcism. The second is a major exorcism.

The USCCB notes that minor exorcisms are found in two places. First, they are found in the rites for those preparing for Baptism, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and the Rite of Baptism for Children.

A second type of minor exorcism is found in the appendix of Exorcisms and Related Supplications which includes a series of prayers which may be used by the faithful. Published by the USCCB as a separate booklet Prayers Against the Powers of Darkness, “these prayers are intended for the general use of the clergy and of the lay faithful in combatting the temptations of sin or spiritual attacks by the devil.” The faithful may pray these prayers when recommended by their pastor.

The USCCB notes a second kind of exorcism is the solemn or “major exorcism.” This rite “can only be performed by a bishop or a by priest, with the special and express permission of the local ordinary (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1172). This form is directed “at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation [of a person] from demonic possession” (CCC 1673).

As we think about the reality of this unseen world, the Lord does not want us to be afraid (John 14:27). We each have recourse to our own guardian angel. The saints also tell us that the best defense is to live a lively spiritual life with our Lord. St. Josémaria Escrivá notes;

“That supernatural mode of conduct is a truly military tactic. You carry on the war — the daily struggles of your interior — far from the main walls of your fortress. And the enemy meets you there: in your small mortifications, your customary prayer, your methodical work, your plan of life: and with difficulty will he come close to the easily-scaled battlements of your castle. And if he does come, he comes exhausted.” (The Way 307)

Deacon Scott McKellar is associate director of the Office of Discipleship and Faith Formation.

 

Daily Scripture Readings

For complete daily Scripture texts, click here: http://www.usccb.org

Monday, January 29
2 Samuel 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13
Psalms 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Mark 5:1-20

Tuesday, January 30
2 Samuel 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30–19:3
Psalms 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Mark 5:21-43

Wednesday, January 31
2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17
Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7
Mark 6:1-6

Thursday, February 1
1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12
1 Chronicles 29:10, 11ab, 11d-12a, 12bcd
Mark 6:7-13

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Friday, February 2
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalms 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22-32

Saturday, February 3
1 Kings 3:4-13
Psalms 119:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Mark 6:30-34

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 4
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalms 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

Monday, February 5
1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13
Psalms 132:6-7, 8-10
Mark 6:53-56

Tuesday, February 6
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
Psalms 84:3, 4, 5 and 10, 11
Mark 7:1-13

Wednesday, February 7
1 Kings 10:1-10
Psalms 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40
Mark 7:14-23

Thursday, February 8
1 Kings 11:4-13
Psalms 106:3-4, 35-36, 37 & 40
Mark 7:24-30

Friday, February 9
1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19
Psalms 81:10-11ab, 12-13, 14-15
Mark 7:31-37

Saturday, February 10
1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34
Psalms 106:6-7ab, 19-20, 21-22
Mark 8:1-10

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Corinthians 10:31—11:1
Mark 1:40-45

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Friday
August 17, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph