Monday February 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (James 3:13-18) Gospel (St. Mark 9:14-29)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about this boy who is possessed by the demon. Many people, when they think about things demonic, immediately and only think about demonic possession. But, as we hear in the first reading, there are lots of other ways that demons operate. For instance, Saint James tells us that if someone has a wisdom which is selfish, arrogant, and boastful it is earthly and it is demonic. It is something that is not of God, but it is not merely something which is natural either; it is something that is preternatural or something that is from the demons.
This is a point that we have lost rather badly in our society. Even in our own Church these days, most people, first of all, give lip service to the fact that maybe the devil exists but he really does not have any power; or if he does, well, we do not want to deal with him anyway. There are some people who would say that anything demonic is merely a medieval myth, that they thought various forms of mental illness were really something that were demonic manifestations. But now that we have psychologists and psychiatrists, we know better than that; therefore, the devil does not exist because we have become enlightened now and we are not caught up in the medieval myths anymore. The fact of the matter is that they are as real as you and me. We all have guardian angels that we cannot see. Of course, many people want to deny that reality as well. The demons are fallen angels and they are real. And they can afflict us in a variety of ways.
But I think what is important is what Our Lord points out at the end of the Gospel today: This kind can only be gotten rid of by prayer. And there is another point where He says by prayer and fasting. When we look at the various things that we struggle with in our lives, we understand that certainly there is our own free will involved in some of our sinfulness; but there are other things that we continually do over and over again which are a mystery even to our own selves. “Why did this happen? Why do I keep doing these same things? Why do I do selfish things? Why do I do arrogant things? Why do I keep doing the same stupid things that I keep saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore’? I keep falling into the same pattern.” It is not necessarily a willful thing, but it just keeps happening and it is not good. It is because there is something spiritual there. Not that anybody here is possessed – I do not suspect anyone is – but, again, one does not need to be possessed in order to be troubled by demonic things.
So we need to pray and we need to do penance in order to overcome these things. Some things we can push out pretty easily. Other things are going to take an awful lot of work depending on what happened to allow these things in and what kind of demon it is, because there are different kinds of spirits that are present within us. And so we must be very careful because we realize that for someone to be possessed is exceedingly rare, exceedingly rare. It happens, but it is very rare. Do not assume that if someone has any kind of demonic problem they must be possessed, because generally they are not. But do not assume either that just because someone is not possessed that they do not have any kind of demonic problems. I can guarantee you that unless you are perfect you have a demonic problem, not that you are possessed, not that you are willfully entertaining anything demonic. The fact of the matter is the demons live within the wounds within us, and until those wounds heal they have a home. That is why we need to pray. That is why we need to do penance. We need to get at the very heart of what it is that allowed these things in, and we need to work against it. It is possible, as Our Lord made very clear, for those with faith.
As we look at our own struggles, some of which we may have been trying for years and years and years to overcome, we simply need to go to Our Lord and recognize that the ultimate origin of these things probably is not our own free will – we have simply cooperated with it to whatever degree – but there is probably something else that is spiritual there causing us trouble. We need to go to Our Lord and beg Him for the grace to be able to get rid of this thing, and say with the father of the boy in the Gospel, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Understand that with faith we can be rid of these things. Depending on what it is that they are, it requires different things. But the fact of the matter is that with the help of God all things are possible. So we do not go to prayer and say, “Oh, Lord, if you can do this…” because all things are possible for Him. What is necessary is that first we have faith in the proper sense. We have to recognize the reality of our situation for what it is and we need to approach it in the right way: with prayer, with penance, and with complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ, Who can do all things in those who believe.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.