Over the past several years, comic book movies have been the big thing. In fact, most of us probably grew up at least aware of comic books, from the 1960’s on. Comic books portray heroes as supermen. They are these powerful figures that are able to fight against the forces of evil. But they always have some experience or something out of the ordinary that makes them different, that allows them to fight against evil: a radioactive spider bite, a tragic past, an extraordinary inheritance of wealth and access to all sorts of gadgets, being from a distant planet but being undetectable as different while wearing glasses, a super-soldier serum, or being the subject of terrible government experiments. All these things make it possible for them to fulfill their task and destroy evil.
In many ways, we sort of look for extraordinary figures to do these things in our lives. Not necessarily with capes, but outstanding people to get things done for us. In some ways, we’re a lot like the ancient Israelites. They had figures like Moses, Aaron, Elijah, King David, and they were always looking for the next one: the next Moses, the next Elijah. But today in the first reading from Deuteronomy, God promises to raise up a new prophet. He’s obviously referring to Jesus here, but in some ways, he’s referring to us too. We, like the Israelites, are always looking to someone else, but in reality, each of us are called to be prophets. We’re charged with the task of being God’s messenger, his prophet.
Just like any superhero, one of the first things that a prophet will have to do is encounter opposition. If we’re really doing our jobs as prophets, we’re going to encounter evil out there in the world, and that’s exactly what Jesus encountered as he was teaching in the synagogue. Now, there are two extremes that we can sometimes tend to in this matter. The first is one that is largely held by our culture, and one that continues to grow in popularity even within the Church. It is that these demons and unclean spirits that Jesus encountered are really just a mythical way of talking about the problem of evil, and about the bad choices that people have made. “Demons are things for movies and for medieval art, but all of us know that they don’t actually exist!” The other extreme that we fall into is seeing the devil around every corner. “Officer, I know it said on my speedometer that I was going 25 over the speed limit, but it’s not my fault, the devil made me do it!” Well, the reality is, that the Church has always consistently taught that there are evil beings, angels created by God who by their choice fell away from him. Our culture is fascinated by this, and almost in a bad way. There was a movie out recently, an exorcism movie that had as its tagline, “The Vatican doesn’t want you to see this!” Well no, I doubt the Vatican would want us to see that, but not because of some conspiracy, but because it takes the whole matter of evil and the devil too casually, encouraging people to seek that out for some sort of thrill. Evil is real. The devil is real. The greatest victory of the evil one is to convince us that he doesn’t exist. We need to be aware of this, and if it scares us a little, then that’s good!
But I think it’s important that we remember not to remove responsibility from ourselves as well. We always have to be aware that forces of evil are out there and are actively working against all of us as members of the Church of Christ. But many times, the first opposition that we will have to face as prophets is that opposition within ourselves. We know that we cannot give the holiness that we ourselves don’t strive to, and we have to do our best to practice what we preach. And so sometimes battling the forces of darkness means fighting our inner demons: selfishness, ingratitude, fear, lust, envy. All of these are the little battles we face every day. They divide us against ourselves. Think about the man in the gospels: what is it that makes him strange? He’s an individual, but he’s speaking in the plural: “What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” This is the power of the diabolic, a divisive power that causes us to be ripped apart within ourselves. Diabolein, the Greek word from which we get the English word “diabolical” literally means “to cast apart” or “to throw apart.” You see, sin divides us from each other, but it also divides us within ourselves. You and I know this experience well. Our wills are divided. We know what we should do, we know what our conscience tells us in our deepest convictions and beliefs, but we want to do something else.
So what is it that can help us? What is it that brings this man back to himself, back together again? What can restore our divided hearts and fight against the evil within ourselves? Well, the superheroes always have some special power that they use, and as Christians, we are no different, but ours isn’t an ability, it’s a person: the person of Jesus Christ. The voice of Jesus is what brings that man in the gospel back to himself, and so it is with us. We have as our power the authoritative voice of Christ given to us through the Church: through the readings of Scripture, through our celebration of the liturgy, through the teachings of the Church. The authoritative voice that Jesus spoke to that unclean spirit echoes through the Church down through the ages. If we allow that word to penetrate our hearts, we, like that man in the gospel, are knitted back together, and made whole. When we make Christ the center of our hearts, the center of our lives, that’s when we feel harmony around that center. It’s when we do our best to pay attention at Mass, when we seek to be whole through a good Confession, when we offer prayers before meals, when we strive to improve the knowledge of our faith through books or articles, when we pray for our Holy Father, when we pray for our loved ones. It’s when we do these things and more, to make Christ the center of our lives, that we are made whole. There are a lot of other voices out there, seeking our attention, telling us to place other things like cars or our homes or fame or financial success at the center of our lives. Don’t listen to those voices. Let us strive to always listen to the voice speaking with authority, the voice of Christ, and then go forth, battling evil and spreading that voice to others.