Acts 8:14-17 (U)nclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
1 Peter 3:15 “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence…”
Jn. 14:18-21 “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Probably most of us have not been around a lot of people who are possessed by demons or something evil. I think I’ve come across that a couple times in my ministry as a priest and public minister. In one case I was called into a home one evening by some parents who were terrified about their young daughter of about 10 years. She was calm one minute and then a second later she was in a state of shivering fear. As I recall she had not been baptized, so I blessed her with holy water rather than anointing her with the Sacrament of Healing. Her reaction to the holy water was like something out of the movie, ‘The Exorcist’. Very frightening. She calmed down rather quickly, returned to the cycle of shivering and eyes filled with dread and horror. We said part of a rosary together, mostly myself, as the family, though Catholic, did not seem to have much familiarity with the rosary. After being with them for about an hour I conceded by limitations. Not having any particular expertise in the area of demonic healing, if indeed that was the case, I made some recommendations to follow up that week with some more medical and psychological intervention. And to call me as needed, preferably during the day. I never heard back from them. This situation from my experience was extraordinary, but people dealing with their ‘demons’ is not uncommon. The awareness of a need for some spiritual intervention often comes about with experiences of chronic depression or anxiety.
I also recalled another type of paralysis,- anxiety, demons,- and we don’t want to use these terms too loosely, but from a spiritual perspective they seem to run together. During my seminary training I was spending the summer at St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital in San Francisco learning to minister to people in pain and sometimes in the process of dying. One night when I was on call, I was sent to a pre-op patient who was having extreme anxiety about her upcoming surgery the next morning. They were not able to give her a sedative for some medical reason so spiritual care seemed to be an important option. The woman was about my age at the time and was a woman of faith. I held her hand and we prayed a long sequence of spontaneous prayers and she rather quickly calmed down. To my surprise and her surprise and to the medical staff’s surprise, the patient obtained a deep sense of peace after a few minutes. I say ‘surprised‘, but not totally shocked. If you hang around hospitals enough as a patient, staff, minister or family of a patient, you see all kinds of miracles happen, even if we don’t always call them miracles.
Demons and paralysis are not just individual episodes. They have a real social context as well. When everyone’s demons and and everyone’s paralysis interact with each other we bear the hellish social consequences. A couple weeks ago I was visiting a nephew and his young family in Allen, TX. A couple days ago my niece and one of her children left that shopping center about three minutes before a random shooter killed eight people and injured several more. As we know, these mass shootings, while not common in any human sense, are regular occurrences in our society. We all bear the pain and the resulting paralyses of all kinds that result from such trauma. The trauma of everyone in the near vicinity especially, but also everyone who hears that news in the media. How many people do you know who quit listening to the news because they can no longer bear hearing about the condition of the world that we are passing along to our grandchildren?
We are a traumatized and paralyzed nation in an even more demonized and traumatized world. Most of the people stacking up on our borders are bringing their own personal and collective traumas. Our returning war veterans and the allies that we have been able to extricate carry their trauma and demons. This trauma spreads into neighborhoods causing ever increasing needs for more social services that we can’t afford even if we could train enough social workers and ministers.
Our ‘common’ demons can often leave people paralyzed. We can get stuck in places where we lack a healthy or hopeful vision for our lives or the lives of our children and grandchildren.
It’s getting more difficult to recruit public school teachers, police officers, and nurses because the surge of broken people just won’t stop. The military services can’t recruit enough people to maintain ongoing multiple deployments…. There is a growing paralysis among people serving at the ground level, largely because the strong and the fleet, the people at the top, keeping clawing their way further and further above the chaos.
Wow, I hope you didn’t come here today for a comforting message on Mother’s Day…..
Well, we actually do have a VERY comforting message. God did not leave us as orphans!! We don’t need to rely on human power and wisdom. We have an Advocate. The Holy Spirit! The personal presence of God among us and within us.
This is the ultimate reason for HOPE that St. Peter talks about in the second reading today. The HOPE we should be ready to share with others. There is a catch, however.
Jesus tells us today in John’s gospel, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always… Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Remember that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the LOVE between the Father and the Son. When we are truly open to the Spirit, the Advocate that God sent to us, we are then living in the personal embrace of God. We will live and act with the very Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding and Power of God. We will not be paralyzed and we will not be under the power of our demons. It’s our choice.
Please consider the following reflection questions this week to help us live in the vision given to us from God.
Acts 8:5-8 When have you felt most paralyzed in your life? Fear or sadness? Who helped to ‘cure’ you? How do you now share that experience with others? How might a spiritual awakening have been part of the process?
1 Ptr. 3:15-16 Who in your circle of relationships most needs to hear a convincing message of hope? How have you tempted to be an advocate of hope to them? How did your sense of genuine empathy and gentleness (or lack thereof) contribute to the person’s condition?
Jn. 14:18-21 When have you felt most abandoned or ‘orphaned’ by God? How did you experience an increased closeness with God after improving your obedience to a certain commandment? What or who now helps to keep you faithful?