Fr. Rick’s Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2024

Dt 18:15-20; Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

Jesus rebukes the forces of evil and chaos…in the world and within us…

“I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

It’s interesting that the man with the unclean spirit or demon knows who Jesus is.  So many of Jesus’ earliest followers, indeed the Apostles, as well as the Chief Priests and Scribes don’t really understand who Jesus is.  But the demon knows.  The unclean spirit knows.

The demons are living in a state of chaos and confusion.  There is a disorder in them that is personified in all kinds of erratic behavior.  It’s a state that alienates them from ‘normal’ civilized, dare we say ‘clean’ folks.

The gospel says that Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit.  An expression of sharp disapproval or criticism.  Not necessarily a judgement but a sharp disapproval.  The expression rebuke is also used in psalm 104 when the creator God ‘rebukes’ the water in the formless dark void of the world to bring about the land surfaces and a place for new life.  Some translations say that Moses rebuked the waters of the Red Sea (106) to allow a safe passage for the Israelites as they pass through the tumultuous waves and the tyranny of Egypt.  Other translations say that Moses ‘roared’ at the Red Sea.

God rebukes the chaos and disorder in the world to liberate us.  This is obviously a major theme in the Bible.  Old and New Testament.

Demons are real and they ought to be dealt with in the most effective way possible.  The best place to start is with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving the healing power of absolution.  When we do not tend to our sins, our souls are weakened, and we lose our ability to resist sin or even to recognize the existence of sin and temptation.  It is then when we are most vulnerable to demons of all kinds.  They can inhabit our minds to a degree to where they need to be ‘rebuked.’ Confession addresses the very roots of our sins. 

We know from other gospels that when a demon is expelled it is essential that we fill that void with a new healthy Spirit or the demons will return several fold.  The clean room created by a good confession and absolution should be followed by a new commitment to prayer.  In fact, a new prayer space.  We need to invite the Lord to take up residence within our lives.  A deliberate time and place for talking and LISTENING to God on a deeper level.  We should also be listening to our own thoughts and feelings on a deeper level.

Say, 15 minutes, minimum.  This may take some time to even work up to 15 minutes, but it is do-able.  See and listen with the eyes and ears of our hearts.  The interior life.  Prayer from the heart.  Much of life occurs on a very subtle or even suppressed level.

This new open space is not just a direct pathway to peace and tranquility.  Quite likely this is where we will also encounter a different level of demons.  A thought or feeling that persistently rattles around inside of us that keeps us anxious and unfocused.  These demons or ‘voices’, these false prophets, are tangled up in all the different degrees of chaos we carry within us.  Fear, anger, sadness, shame, resentments, general confusion.  Left unattended, they can be a feeding ground for the more aggressive unclean spirits we heard about in today’s gospel.

Everything can get pretty jumbled together, but things can get sorted out. We can find order in the chaos.

Prominent in our society and age have been the false prophets surrounding issues of sexuality, to which St. Paul alludes today in the second reading from 1 Corinthians.  But that’s a different 5-day discussion.

I would like to spend a couple moments today to consider the area of grieving.  I’ve been working on putting together some retreats and days of reflection in this area.  Such retreats are especially apropos living in desert country which has biblically been a place of grieving and purification and renewal.  Our unattended grief can weigh us down and rob us of the buoyancy we need for creativity and problem solving.  Beneath all our fear and hostility around the globe and even in the polarization of our politics is deep disappointment.  This is not the country we grew up in and it’s not at all what we expected.  Deep, deep disappointment.

Making room for the Lord, creating open space and silence, will often catch us off guard as we start to encounter some of the unattended grief and sadness in our lives.  Sometimes it’s grief from decades ago, maybe generations ago.  It can be complex and especially difficult to acknowledge in our very competitive culture.  Grieving can feel like losing and that can spell vulnerability and even more pain if we don’t have the awareness and support we need.

I would like to share a couple paragraphs from the author’s preface of a book I’m rereading.  It’s called The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. pp. xviii and xix

Read section from book:

Bringing grief and death out of the shadow is our spiritual responsibility, our sacred duty.  By so doing, we may be able to feel our desire for life once again and remember who we are, where we belong and what is sacred.

Grief is always, in some way, accompanying us.  There are times when the presence of sorrow is acute: a partner dies, a home turns to ash in a fire, a marriage dissolves and we find ourselves alone.  These seasons in our lives are intense and require a prolonged time to honor what the soul needs, to fully digest the grief.  To be human is to know loss in its many forms.  This should not be seen as a depressing truth.  Acknowledging this reality enables us to find our way into the grace that lies in sorrow.  We are most alive at the threshold between loss and revelation; every loss ultimately opens the way for a new encounter.

In turn, by restoring grief to our soul work, we are freed from our one-dimensional obsession with emotional progress.  This “psychological moralism” places enormous pressure on us to always be improving, feeling good, and rising above our problems.  Happiness has become the new mecca, and anything short of that often leaves us feeling that we have done something wrong or failed to live up to the acknowledged standard.  This forces sorrow, pain, fear, weakness, and vulnerability into the underworld, where they fester and mutate into contorted expressions of themselves, often coated in a mantle of shame.  People in my practice routinely apologize for their tears or for feeling sad.

Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament would be an especially good follow-up this week if you can swing it.  Give yourself 15 minutes or 30 or 45 to sit quietly and let the deeper experience of your life sink in.  Find a prayer friend and share a new secret you didn’t even know you were harboring.  Maybe bring a lingering sadness to the Eucharistic prayer we are about to enter. This is really essential to our interior lives and our spiritual armor.

As you may have already noticed, we don’t live in a very soul-friendly world.  “But only say the word and my soul will be healed’.