When Nasty Things Seem Very Attractive
(Deut.18:15-20; 1Cor.7:32-35; Mk.1:21-28)
In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus begins His public life by preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
While He’s preaching, a man possessed by a demon calls out, ‘What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come here to destroy us?’ Jesus then reveals His power and authority by commanding the demon to leave that poor man. The demon obeys and that distressed man gets his life back.
It’s significant that before starting His public ministry, Jesus is baptised and then spends 40 days in the desert, praying, fasting and fighting off the devil. He knows that Satan will be tempting and taunting Him and His followers, so He prepares Himself.
Indeed, the Gospels tell us that Jesus goes on to cast out demons at least 12 times (e.g. Mt.9:32-33; Lk.8:2; Mk1:39), and He gives His disciples ‘power over unclean spirits’ (Mk.3:15; Lk.10:1,17-20).
Today, the devil is still wreaking havoc. We can see this in all the conflict, violence and confusion currently spreading around the world, in the disintegration of marriage and the family, and in the constant attacks on the Church. [i]
We can also see it in the number of people being lured into occult beliefs and practices, like crystal gazing, tarot reading, ghost hunting, seances, witchcraft and magic.
Many people think these activities are simply harmless fun, but dabbling in the occult is dangerous, because it exposes people to dark, malign forces, for which they are not prepared. Pope Francis calls them ‘bad spirits.’ [ii]
The word ‘occult’ means hidden or secret, and the basic purpose of these paranormal practices is to explore the spiritual realm without God. But when you bypass God, you risk falling into the ‘dominion of darkness’ (Col.1:13), which is hell itself.
The Apostles knew this. That’s why St Peter says, ‘Discipline yourselves; stay alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour’ (1Pet.5:8-9). And St. Paul warns that those involved in sorcery ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Gal.5:19-21).
The Church has always condemned occult practices, because Satan is not a mythical creature. He is real, and he is very good at making nasty things seem very attractive. But what is essentially evil can never produce good; it can only end in a dark, tormented despair. Why? It’s because Satan’s goal is to undermine God’s plan by destroying our souls. [iii]
In 1973, William Peter Blatty wrote ‘The Exorcist’, which has been described as the ‘scariest movie ever made.’ It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl, Regan, who is possessed by the devil. Her mother desperately searches for help and Catholic priests ultimately come to her rescue.
Regan’s possession began when she started playing on a Ouija board, and she found herself talking to a mysterious spirit who turned out to be a demon.
When asked about this book, Blatty said that his research and experiences while writing it convinced him that demonic possession is real. He once spent 10 days absorbed by a Ouija game, and became convinced that he was communicating with some kind of spirit. After that, strange poltergeist-type things started to happen, like his phone receiver jumping off its hook and his typewriter producing gibberish.
Blatty said that while 97-98% of reported cases of possession can be explained by fraud or mental disturbance, there remains 2-3% that can’t. ‘Concerning these,’ he said, ‘I have made a prudent judgment that a bodyless, intelligent, non-human entity has somehow managed to take possession of a human being.’ Blatty became a devout practising Catholic. [iv]
Demonic power is always about luring, scattering and destroying, while God always seeks to unite, heal and strengthen.
So, how do we protect ourselves? By staying very close to Jesus and avoiding any temptations that will only lead to trouble.
Let’s close with a story. There’s an ancient legend which says that the devil, Master of Disguise, tried to get into heaven by pretending to be the Risen Christ. He took with him his demons disguised as angels of light, and had them cry out the traditional first part of the welcome psalm (Ps.24): ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates of heaven, and lift up your doors, and the King of Glory shall enter!’
The real angels looked down on what they thought was their King returning in triumph from the dead. So, they in turn shouted back with joy the refrain: ‘Who is this King of Glory?’ The devil then made a fatal mistake. He opened his arms and spread his palms and declared, ‘I am!’
The angels immediately slammed the gate of heaven and refused to let the imposter in. They saw right away that there were no nail marks in his palms.
The imposter had no wounds of love, and had not paid the price. [v]
[v] William J Bausch, A World of Stories, Twenty Third Publications, New London CT, 2010:275.