Saturday, October 21, 2006

Deviled Ham

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

What an unusual gospel lesson (Luke 8:26-39) this morning! With its spooky setting near the tombs, the violent monster on the rampage, and of course the customary mob of frightened villagers running around, it sounds more like a Frankenstein movie than something from the scriptures. But as wild as this story may seem, let us not forget that it is indeed from the holy gospels and therefore is a sacred lesson, given to us for our enlightenment and our salvation.

God would have us know that the spirit creatures we call demons are not make-believe or superstition as many today claim, but are very real and are motivated by an incredible hatred of humanity. Their only desire is to destroy human beings whenever and however possible. Whether by inciting men to wage wars, religious persecution, legalized abortion or euthanasia, by luring people into the depths of disgraceful immoral behavior, or by deceiving them with false teachings concerning God, Christ, and salvation, the demons’ warfare against humanity is constant, relentless, and obviously very effective.

Amazingly, they accomplish all of these things while remaining entirely powerless. Whatever power they may have held at one time was forever stripped from them, together with their glory, when they were cast down from heaven. They now operate only through dark suggestion, manipulation and deception, but apparently these tools are enough as there are many people who are quite willing to believe the lies and allow themselves to be led by evil. The demons have no power against those who recognize and resist them, but they can easily lead the spiritually unwary into a degrading life that will eventually rob them of all human dignity and leave them as darkened creatures not unlike the demons themselves.

This is what we saw in the case of the Gadarenes demoniac. We aren’t told how he wound up in this deplorable condition, but likely he had for some time engaged in a sinful lifestyle suggested by the demons until at last he became enslaved to them. By the time Jesus met the man, he no longer even had a human identity, but called himself “Legion” after the many demons that possessed him.

Obviously a person doesn’t wind up like this overnight. There is a process that must take place. We teach that salvation is a process through which we become ever more and more like God and therefore ever more authentically human, since to be human means that we are made in God’s image and are designed to grow in His likeness and share in His glory. Damnation might be described as the exact same process, only in reverse. Instead of becoming more like God and therefore more human, the damned become ever less like God and ever less human. Bit by bit the image of God that defines humanity is obliterated until little remains, and the person becomes defined by the very evil he has pursued.

The first step of this negative process is a willing participation in sin. No one becomes evil or possessed of evil unless they voluntarily choose it and comply. Along the way, the conscience—which objects loudly to that which leads the soul away from God—must be willfully rejected, wounded, and eventually defeated. We might say therefore that the conscience becomes the first victim, the first aspect of true humanity to be lost on the downward path away from God.

I mention the conscience because this gives us a point of reference to measure our life’s direction. Most young children are fairly tender-hearted and have a more easily-accessible conscience. As some grow through the teen and young adult years however, they perhaps learn to set aside their consciences to engage in things that they know better than to do. Years after that, some still bear the emotional and spiritual scars of those experiences, and find themselves trying to recover some of the lost innocence and tender-heartedness of their youth in order to find their way back to God.

Perhaps some of us find ourselves still waging war against our consciences even today. Perhaps we are still engaged in some sort of activity or habitual behavior that is degrading and threatens our progress toward full humanity and the restoration of God’s image in us. If so, I urge you to stop fighting your conscience, run to the confessional, and work toward the nurturing and recovery of that tiny little voice within you that guides you so faithfully toward God.

Sometimes we may claim that we are addicted to such-and-such a behavior. What this really means is that we have given ourselves over to something wrong and have allowed it to gain mastery over us. Not only have we given it mastery, but here’s the kicker, we allow it to maintain its mastery over us even as we object to being its slave. The real master is our own will, because evil has no power of its own. If we oppose evil with our will, evil is powerless over us and will be defeated. If we attach the power of our will to evil, virtually nothing can defeat this combination and we can easily become the slaves of our own fallen and misdirected will.

This is illustrated in the most bizarre incident of this story of the Gadarenes demoniac. When the demons, terrified of Christ’s genuine power, begged to be cast into the herd of swine, what happened? The swine could not stand the presence of the demons within them, and hurled themselves into the sea to be drowned. Even pigs will not tolerate the spiritual filth that men accept so easily. Isn’t that ironic? And notice that the demons could do nothing to stop the swine. A mere pig’s will is strong enough to overcome the powerlessness of the demons.

If a pig can defeat a demon, doesn’t that make you stop and think about the power that you must possess to defeat evil? No, you don’t have to drown yourself to accomplish this. But you can use your God-given will—infinitely stronger than a pig’s will, and by far more powerful than any demon—to proclaim your freedom in Christ Jesus and begin to live as one who is truly set free from sin, death, and the devil. This freedom is a part of our inheritance as the children of God. As members of our Father’s household, the Church, we have access to many things which can help us discover that freedom and enjoy it. We only need to desire our healing, and be willing to change our direction to gain it.

The people of the nearby village were apparently unwilling to make any changes in their lives. After seeing what had taken place, they begged Christ to leave them, and so He did. They chose the darkness of sin over the light of His presence. God only knows what happened to them in the end. When we choose our sin over Christ, are we not also directing Him to leave us because we do not wish to change and cannot bear His light? Believe me, this is one request that you don’t want Jesus to grant!

Though we may often resist Christ, we have the power to use our will differently. Let no one believe that they cannot change. We need only to follow our good conscience and incline our will toward God who is good, and the only Lover of mankind. Let us keep making that choice to find the dignity and freedom that can be ours.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Comments:

At 10/22/2006 11:09 PM , Anonymous Trenna said...

Awesome homily Father. I never really looked at that account with the understanding that the pigs threw themselves off of the cliff... but that the demons "drove" them off.

 
At 10/23/2006 3:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Father bless.

Thanks for this homily. Two thought stood out to me afresh.

1. The pigs could not stand to be filled with the presence of the demons and committed suicide.
2. The process of embodying evil (theosis in reverse) begins with willing participation in sinful behaviors.

I recall when a religion professor I had in college was arrested for sexual impropriety. I was shocked and wondered if he could not stand how would I ever make it. But it is indeed those small steps in the wrong direction that lead one to embody or become a slave to evil. He did not take a giant leap and wind up there. It was the consistently made wrong decisions.

Lord have mercy and direct our steps.

Leon

 

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