The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:26-39)
When the priest prays the sacrament of baptism, he begins the service with prayers of exorcism over the catechumens who will be received into the holy Church. And as he prays that the Lord will bless the water, he asks the Lord to remove any evil, demonic spirits from the midst of the water and to bless the water and make it a water of regeneration and life. All throughout the prayers and services of the Church there is an explicit understanding of a spiritual battle taking place. The Lord and His angels are in a cosmic war against Satan and his demonic fallen angels. Satan is already defeated but he desires to take as many souls with him as possible before the end. The battlefield for this epic and cosmic battle is the human heart. The Church by the grace of God, equips each of her sons and daughters with spiritual armor and strength for this epic battle. One’s ability to stand and do battle with the demons is based on the amount of training we have put in through our exposure to the divine life of the Church. The services, the hymns, the reading of Scripture and the lives of the saints, our personal prayer rule at home, all of these work together as training for our spiritual battle and as a reward for putting our life in the hands of the Lord and His Church, we are rewarded with spiritual gifts, armor and grace in order to continue to fight the good fight.
In today’s gospel we hear about a man who is possessed by demons, evil spirits. This is not just the stuff of scary movies, but the stuff of reality according to the Christians. Demons are powerful and their goal is to occupy our hearts or to turn our hearts away from being occupied by God. They can work by influencing us, and if this terrible state of being turned away from the living God continues long enough, we may even become susceptible to demonic possession. In the case of the man in today’s gospel, we see that he had lost all of his normal rational faculties. He was truly mad, like a raging beast. So much so that he had been chained up on the outskirts of town and treated like a wild beast. We are reminded through the example of this poor soul that when a man is without God he is truly like an outcast, a slave, a savage and a monster. This is to true to differing degrees.
Yet we are also reminded that the most fierce and foul of beasts and men cannot even stand in the presence of the living God. When Jesus Christ went to visit the man, His presence was a declaration of war and a reminder of the utter and pathetic weakness of the demons and their darkness when they are exposed to the brightness of the True Light. They melt and cower in fear and trembling in the presence of the God-Man who created heaven and earth and all that is within them.
The demons within the troubled man cried out “What hast Thou to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech Thee, do not torment me.” They were filled with fear. They immediately recognized their maker and they trembled before Him. They were powerless against the Lord of glory.
Since they are powerless we might wonder why it is that Christians can still be influenced by and even possesses by demons? In brief, the answer is that we may live a life that helps energize the demons around us. How does this happen? Well, for some it is outright rebellion against the teaching of the Lord and the saints. But for many it is more subtle and gradual. It is a growing lukewarmness to the things of God. In our life, one of the most dangerous threats is our growing number of distractions. These are the silent enemies when they are not properly moderated and balanced in our life. We just have so many possible distractions. Distraction is for our purposes, the opposite of the watchfulness that so many of the fathers of the Church speak of with great zeal.
To be distracted away from prayer, from the thought of God, from the thought of virtue and goodness and beauty, this type of distraction means that our souls are not being fed and nourished and fortified and armored for the battle even as it is raging around us. Every day that we are slack in the battle, the enemies recovers and attempts to conquer more and more of our hearts and minds. He is happy to sit back and rest as we happily cooperate with all of his goals and aspirations for us. It will happen so gradually that we are almost lulled to sleep, like the story of the trojan horse.
We are distracted and busy with many things that cannot give us life. But one thing is needful. A heart and mind that are dedicated to loving Jesus Christ and living the life prescribed by His body, the Church. This is the way to turn the spiritual battle in our favor. We simply open a door for the Lord and He enters and as we have seen in today’s story, there is no place where Christ is present that isn’t forever altered and changed and sanctified. Wherever the light is present, the darkness is vanquished. So if we want to be with the Lord, in a place of light and holiness, we are called to open the windows and the doors of our senses and allow the Lord a chance to enter and to fill us with His goodness.
Let us conclude with a couple of words from St. Theophan the Recluse, who writes, “Refuse to listen to the devil when he whispers to you: give me now, and you will give tomorrow to God. No, no! Spend all the hours of your life in a way pleasing to God; keep in your mind the thought that after the present hour you will not be given another and that you will have to render a strict account for every minute of this present hour.”
He continues saying,
“In order that you may move your will more easily to this one desire, in everything—to please (God and to work for His glory alone—remind yourself’ often, that He has granted you many favours in the past and has shown you His love. He has created you out of nothing in His own likeness and image, and has made all other creatures your servants; He has delivered you from your slavery to the devil, sending down not one of the angels but His Only-begotten Son to redeem you, not at the price of corruptible gold and silver, but by His priceless blood and His most painful and degrading death. Having done all this He protects you, every hour and every moment, from your enemies; He fights your battles by His divine grace; in His immaculate Mysteries He prepares the Body and Blood of His beloved Son for your food and protection. All this is a sign of God’s great favour and love for you”
Glory be to God, AMEN.