Fr. Rick’s Homily: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 6/18/23

Ex 19:2-6a; Ps 100:1-5; Romans 5:6-11; Matthew 9:36—10:8

Driving out Demons and Unclean Spirits.

Priestly People:  In the first reading today from Exodus 19, God proclaims that Israel will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.  This seems to imply that the whole nation is formally consecrated and dedicated to a divine purpose.  The whole people are somehow elevated to a higher spiritual sphere.

The Gospel of Matthew (10) today describes Jesus giving the apostles ‘authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness’. The holy nation and the emerging missionary activity of the Church would also receive this authority and power…. right down to this very day.  That’d be us.  At our baptism we are all anointed to participate in the three-fold mission of priest, prophet and king.  In John 14 Jesus tells us that those with faith will do even greater things than HE.

What could this possibly mean in our present day? 

2000 years ago Jesus declared that the ‘kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  That’s like at arm’s length.  Where did it go?  Over 3 thousand years ago God declared to Moses that He would make the Israelites a holy nation.

Is it true? Are we a holy nation?  Do we really have the power and authority to heal cancer and drive out evil spirits and demons?  Think of your closest circle of friends and family, the ones you hang out with the next 177 hours of the week.  Do you remember the last three conversations you had with your closest loved ones about driving out evil?   With the authority of God?  It’s possible that many of you have never EVER had such a conversation with those closest to you. I wonder if that’s part of the reason that young people are NOT flocking to the Catholic Church in most places…although I believe there is a faithful remnant emerging here and there in some parts.

Part of the equation, the caveat involved in being a holy and priestly nation, is that this will happen IF we hearken to God’s voice.  IF we keep His covenant, we shall be His special possession, dearer to Him than all other people, though all the earth is His.  REALLY?  Was God just kidding?  Or were all these stories just made up by manipulators during times of great fear and upheaval?  Think about first century Palestine or Egypt and Caanan around 1200 BC.  People had to find hope somewhere.  Just make something up!

That’s what we do now.  When life gets too hard we just make up a new reality?  Something that doesn’t really have to rely on God who, let’s face it, just takes toooo long to respond.

I mean, has anyone actually ever been born up on eagle’s wings (Exodus 19:4)?  What happened?  How did it change your life?  Would your kids or grandkids or closest friends often refer to the time when mom or dad or best friend was born up on eagles’ wings? I’m sure many of us could recall such instances in our lives.  We might keep them fiercely private so our loved ones and friends won’t think we’re weird or even worse, a ‘holy roller’

Actually, miraculous healings take place all around us all the time.  I’ll bet many people in the congregation today have had some kind of medical procedure that is now fairly commonplace, but 50 years ago would be an almost unthinkable fantasy.  New knees, dental implants, bypass surgeries, bipolar medicines.  These are things that are now in most peoples’ vocabularies.  We might not give God credit, but surely God is involved in every good thing that ever happens on His earth.

What about driving out demons, though?  What does driving out evil spirits and demons look like in the modern world?  The Catholic Church does have trained exorcists although they are fairly rare among the priestly order, but are considered by the last two popes as a greater need in our age?  But what about the lesser demons?  Things that haunt and torment us to a lesser degree if we sit still and are quiet too long?  What words and personalities seem to just jump out from us when we are under stress or too quiet?

How could a holy nation, a priestly people, 3000 years after Moses and 2000 years after Pentecost, seem to have so little authority over evil in our world? Mass shootings, or any other kind of shootings, are not isolated instances in one of the safest most prosperous nations in human history.  They are a social phenomenon.  Homelessness, abortion, despair among the young and the oldest.  Blah, blah, blah, blah. But we don’t need to go there; most of you are on vacation after all.

Let’s look at something MAYBE a little easier this morning. Which words and personalities jump out of our mouths and behaviors if we spend too much time alone or in silence?  What makes us jump up and keep busy so we don’t go crazy(ER)?  It’s surely not serious sin.  Most people don’t go to confession on any kind of regular basis, so the problem surely can’t be sin among God’s holy and priestly people.  What else keeps us running?

A sense of loss?  A missed opportunity in the recent or distant past?  Regrets about periods of laziness or cynicism in our lives that robbed the world of God’s gifts in our lives?  Not having the time to mourn and grieve the loss of loved ones? Professional aspirations, health, any dream or unspoked desire not realized?

This is a big problem, I think, particularly around our experiences of loss.  We don’t go there easily as Americans.  Grieving seems like losing.  It doesn’t go down well in our competitive and even predatory culture.  Mourning is like giving up.  In reality, it is often our unresolved grief that is weighing us down, sucking up much of our emotional and spiritual energy.  Our creative energy.

I’ve recently read a book which speaks well of the whole process of grieving, especially the Psalms of Lamentation.  That book is listed in the bulletin today and is a click away on our website bulletin.

Pleading, Cursing, Praising:  Conversing with God in the Psalms, by Sr. Irene Nowell, Order of St. Benedict. Chapter 3 is particularly good in addressing the areas of grief (Lamentations) and reconciliation.  There is also an excellent list of psalms in the back of the book divided by genre to helpus pray amidst any mood and circumstance.

You might also consider these reflection questions during the week. They too are listed in today’s bulletin:

At our baptism we are all anointed to participate in the three-fold mission of priest, prophet and king.  In John 14 Jesus tells us that those with faith will do even greater things than HE.

What could this possibly mean in our present day?  How do we see ‘greater’ healings in our age?  How are they attributed to God?  Or are they?

What does driving out evil spirits and demons look like in the modern world?  What are your demons?  What are our nation’s demons?