The Truth About Demons
Thursday February 12, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Kings 11:4-13) Gospel (St. Mark 7:24-30)
In the first reading today, we hear again about Solomon and the folly that he had fallen into in his old age. Solomon had done, on several levels, what had been completely forbidden by God for Israel. It was forbidden by God to multiply wives – he had six hundred. It was forbidden by God to multiply gold – it is the only other place in Scripture [besides the Book of Revelation] where you will find the words “six hundred and sixty-six” because it is the number of talents of gold that he had piled up. And it was forbidden by God for the Israelites to have horses, because the only place in the ancient world where horses were raised was Egypt; and, in order to have horses, they would have to have some kind of pact with Egypt, which, of course, was their enemy. He did all of these things. And not only with Egypt did he make a pact, but he figured out (as modern politicians have done as well) that if you marry the daughter of foreign kings you can make a pretty good pact with them because they now have a vested interest. So he had all these wives from foreign lands.
Because he was already disobedient to God (what we would understand and, perhaps, they did not fully understand then), he was in the state of mortal sin – deeply in the state of mortal sin. And it is not possible for anyone who is in the state of mortal sin to think clearly. Therefore, he started giving into the whims and desires of his foreign wives, and he started building altars and high places to these foreign gods. Now what we have to realize is that there is only one God. If there is anything else, or anyone else, that is claiming to be a god, if there is anyone else to whom any form of worship is being given, it is not truly a god or a goddess but it is a demon, pure and simple. We even heard that in the psalm: “They sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons.” What Molech required was human sacrifice, and he had built a place across the hill from Jerusalem where Molech was going to be honored, as well as Astarte and all of the others that we heard about. So what happened is he himself not only built these places in honor of these demons, but he himself took part in the sacrifice and in the worship of these demons.
Now we do not like to think in our day about demons. We like to suggest that somehow this is a medieval myth that was made up and that we do not need to deal with this anymore because now we have modern psychology so we know that no such things as demons exist. Well, I would recommend, once again, looking at the Gospels. First, in today’s Gospel, we see Jesus casting out a demon from this little girl. We heard many times about Jesus casting out demons from a variety of people. In our modern rationalistic society, people try to say, “Well, there really weren’t demons. They had mental illness problems and they just didn’t know what mental illness was back then. Or perhaps they had somebody suffering from epilepsy and that is why they were thrown to the ground. They just thought it was something demonic,” – except that there is in the Gospels someone whom we are told explicitly had epilepsy, and it does not say that Jesus cast a demon out of him; it says that Jesus healed him. So it is very clear in the inspired Word of God that the Son of God came into this world and He cast out demons, and He gave to His apostles the authority to cast out demons.
These vile creatures are as real as you and me. The devil and all of his minions are real beings. The problem is that if we want to play with them, they are going to be more than happy to play. But always remember the rule, as one priest put it: The devil always double-crosses his dupes. If you want to play with the devil, he will give you what you want and then he will double-cross you. The devil has only one desire and that is that you go to hell for eternity. That is the only thing he wants. God has only one desire, ultimately, and that is that you go to heaven for eternity. In order to be able to do that, we need to be obedient to God. And so we need to be very careful.
Somebody like Solomon would start out with just mortal sin. Pretty soon, he was heaping sin upon sin. After a while, he was falling into the worship of false gods; not immediately, he just started building altars and shrines to these false gods on behalf of his foreign wives. Then, after a while, he joined them in offering incense and sacrifice. That is the way mortal sin operates. The devil is shrewd. He is not so impatient that he wants to get it all in one shot. If he can get you to fall into sin, then he knows he can get you to fall into something a little more and a little more and a little more. That is what he does. It is what happened to Solomon. It is what can happen to any of us.
So we need to be exceedingly careful, first of all, to be humble like this woman in the Gospel was, and secondly, to be obedient. We are told explicitly in the first reading that Solomon was disobedient to the commandments of God, and it was for this reason that he got himself in trouble. There is also a very important statement in the first reading by God Himself. He says to Solomon: “Since this is the way you want things to be….” You see how God operates. He gave you a free will and He is not going to interfere in your exercise of that free will, even if you choose to use it against Him. He will look at us as we commit sin, and in our foolishness in giving into the devil’s little ploys we will say, “Well, if God didn’t want me to sin, He can stop me!” He is not going to do that because you have a free will and He is not going to interfere with it. So He will look at each one of us and say, “Well, since this is the way you want it to be, go right ahead. But this is what is going to happen to you…” And all of us know what the punishment is going to be. We cannot claim ignorance because we know what is going to happen if we choose mortal sin. So we need to be extremely clear about these matters.
There is only one God; anything else is from the devil. The devil is real, and if we want to play with the devil we are going to get burned. You do not play with fire and walk away unscathed. So we need to make a clear choice. We cannot do what Solomon did and say, “As long as I worship the one true God then I can play around with all these other ones.” No, we cannot. We need to get rid of sin, we need to get rid of everything that is not of God, and we need to worship the one true God and Him alone.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.