4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; January 31, 2021
Readings: Dt 18:15-20; Ps 95:1-2,6-9; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28
What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?
The answer to the demon’s question is “yes”. St. John tells us, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn 3:8)
The Gospels really do not make much sense if the devil is not real. The reality of the devil is manifested in the Gospel by the accounts of Jesus casting out devils. These have nothing to do with a confusion between mental illness and diabolic possession. Today diabolic possession is real and seems to be increasing in the measure that faith is decreasing. Today exorcists work in tandem with mental health professionals who can bear witness that possession is not just another form of mental illness.
Even though in our times diabolic possession is on the rise it remains rare. The disturbing disordered manifestations of diabolic possession are something of a dramatic representation of the more ordinary disorder of a sinful life. The normal activity of the devil proceeds by way by temptation to sin, prepared by false and deceptive ideas and ways of thinking.
The basic way to oppose this activity of the devil is by faith in Jesus Christ, living in the grace of God, living a life of prayer, fulfilling the duties of our state of life, regularly confessing our sins, frequent and devout reception of the Body of Christ in holy communion, and consecration to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to whom it has been given to crush the head of the serpent. Let us also remember to live beneath the patronage of St. Joseph, Terror of Demons.
Still the devil is real and while we must keep this reality in proportion in relation to Christ’s victory, basic knowledge of the diabolic reality is also important.
The devil is real because he was created by God. Consequently, the devil cannot do anything unless God permits it and God permits it in order to put our faith to the test. (cf. 1 Pe 5:6-11) The devil cannot override our freedom, though unfortunately we are capable of freely surrendering ourselves to his power.
Curiously we use both the singular and the plural: we speak of the devil and of many devils. Perhaps that is because their hierarchical nature is so strong that, even in their mutual hatred, they are united in their subordination to their chief, Satan. (cf. Mt 12:25-26)
But how is it that there can be such hate-filled creatures of God?
At the beginning of time God created the realm of spiritual beings, angels, brilliant intelligences, filled with light and splendor, to whom it was given to see (as it were) the blueprints of God’s creation. Human beings have to practice ‘reverse-engineering’ so to speak, working from the reality of God’s creation to the underlying plan and to the knowledge of the Creator himself; angelic beings were given the plan so that they both witness and collaborate in its realization.
The divine plan contains two fundamental elements: ‘nature’ and ‘supernature’ or the order of grace. The angels, by their very nature, have knowledge of the plan of created nature, but they only knew the plan of supernature by special revelation from God. No angel, by nature, could know the mystery of the Holy Trinity, nor could any angel know of God’s plan to introduce angels and men into the life and vision of the Holy Trinity through the gift of grace.
Once we grasp this, we can gain some glimpse of the trial of the angels that took place at the beginning of time. There are echoes of this trial found in sacred Scripture and as sacred Tradition has unfolded during the course of the centuries clearer indications have come to light.
It must have been something like this: God created the angels in a state of grace but revealed to them the gift of grace together with its purpose by giving them a prophetic revelation of his Son, made man, born of a woman, commanding them to worship him. In the letter to the Hebrews, we read: When he brings his first-born into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’. (Heb 1:6)
This, I believe gives us the key to the angels’ trial. The mystery of the Holy Trinity and the goal of grace in the promised vision of God was revealed to them through a vision of the man Jesus Christ. They did not otherwise know of the Son of God. The angels would have received the knowledge that the Son of God would become man, but they were not given to know that this was to take place in order to redeem Adam’s sin. They needed, like us, to accept on faith that this man who was to come was indeed the Son of God, coequal and coeternal to the Father. They were commanded to worship this man because he was God.
For us, much of the trial of faith comes from our ability to doubt that the revelation comes from God; that was not possible for the angels. They knew the reality of God; they knew their dependence on God; they knew the truthfulness of God; they knew that God was revealing this and commanding this. Theirs was more a trial of the will than of the mind.
We could imagine it something like this. One bright angel, very high up in the hierarchy, known as “Lucifer”, the bringer of light, cried out in protest: “This is an insult to our noble dignity! How dare God, who gave us a noble nature far above this vile worm ‘man’, command us to bow down to the dust in worship, even if he is the Son of God. Born of a woman! What sort of cruel joke is this? I refuse it! I will not serve!” (cf. Jer 2:20)
At that moment, Lucifer lost the grace of God and became Satan, the adversary. Many lower angels followed him in hierarchical order. (cf. Rev 12:3-4) Because of the clarity of angelic knowledge, the choice of Satan and his followers was definitive. They are incapable of repentance and salvation.
Meanwhile, shock waves ran through the angelic hierarchies in face of the horrific blasphemy. Yet the battle cry for God came from one lowly archangel, “Mi-Cha-El!”, which means, “Who is like God!” With the battle cry of St. Michael order was restored and Satan and his followers, the devils, were cast out. (cf. Rev 12:7-9) The holy angels were confirmed in grace and entered into the vision of the most Holy Trinity.
Since then, the devils, who are unable to do anything directly against God himself, have, with undying malice, pursued man, the cause of their downfall. The holy angels, who behold always the face of the heavenly Father, (cf. Mt 18:10) for their part accepted the role of ministering spirits, sent forth to serve, for the sake of those men who were to obtain salvation. (cf. Heb 1:14)
The angelic nature is purely spiritual, that is while they can act upon bodies and can take on a bodily appearance, they have no body of their own.
The devils, for their part, have a special hatred for the human body. Just as they are offended by the union of the divine person of the Son of God with a bodily creature, man, they are offended by the union of spirit and matter in human nature. They hate in a special way human birth, motherhood, and women, capable of giving birth. They hate sex as something ordered to procreation, but they delight in leading men to sexual perversion, which puts procreation after passing pleasure and even separates sex from procreation altogether. Their hatred for motherhood is so great that while it galls them when, in spite of themselves, they are compelled to recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God, they hate it even more when they are obliged to give honor to his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
That is why when Adam and Eve first appeared in the garden of Eden, Satan went after Eve and tried, successfully, to get at Adam through her.
We must pay close attention to the words the serpent spoke to Eve: You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of the fruit of the tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Gen 3:4)
Satan accused God of lying, for God had said that eating of the fruit of the tree, they would surely die. He further attributed an underhanded motive to God’s prohibition of eating of the tree, suggesting that by means of that prohibition God was keeping some great good from Adam and Eve, a good that he was afraid of them having, lest they come to rival him. Satan, the adversary of God, portrays God to Eve as the adversary of the human good, a good that, according to the Satanic lie, consists most of all in the absolute liberty to choose good or evil according as one pleases. Satan presents himself as the benefactor and teacher of man, showing him the path of liberty from the tyrant God.
The poison of Satan’s lie has entered deeply into the current of human life, making it hard for man to trust God, especially in the wake of all the evil and injustice that men have inflicted on each other. The temptation has become great and at times almost irresistible to blame God for the evil done by men.
Nevertheless, at the time of Satan’s first victory over Adam and Eve, God reminded Satan of his coming defeat.
God announced: Because you have done this, you are cursed. The one true curse uttered by God is the curse he placed on Satan; the devils are incapable of repentance and forever excluded from the blessing of God. Upon your belly shall you go. That is to say, “You rebelled against me, standing on the noble dignity of your nature, but now driven by your malicious hatred for man, you will abase yourself before man, flattering him and presenting yourself to him as a lowly servant.” Dust you shall eat all the days of your life. This means: “You did not want to bow down to the dust to worship me, so instead of feasting upon the vision of my face, you will have to live off the very dust you despise, human beings whom you have led into sin and made slaves of their mortal nature, destined to the dust of death. (Gen 3:14)
Then comes the great death blow: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen 3:15)
Satan did not yet understand the full meaning of these words. He would not understand until the man Jesus, with the human nature that was the lowly ‘heel’ of the Son of God, died on the Cross, while his Mother, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the Woman, stood at his side, sharing his sorrow, his offering, his sacrifice. Only then did Satan discover that he had been defeated and that he never had nor never would have any part in the Woman, who was his mortal enemy. In the moment of his seeming victory, the devil discovered that he had been defeated. He had indeed lost his dominion over the sinful human race.
Well, now it doesn’t seem that way. Now it looks like everywhere the devil is victorious while it seems that God is nowhere to be found. What has happened?
Jesus warned us that when a devil is cast out it goes and finds seven devils worse than itself, then returning finding the house cleaned and swept, reenters, takes possession, and the last state of the man is worse than the first. (cf. Mt 12:43-45) That is the condition of man in the 21st century.
The devil has gained entrance into the new paradise, the Church, following the same route of temptation whereby he vanquished Eve.
St. Paul already spoke about this reality in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. He wrote:
I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one preached, or if you receive another spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different Gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough … such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Cor 11:2-4,13-15)
During the course of history every heresy, corrupting the minds of the faithful and leading them step by step away from sincere and pure devotion to Christ and step by step back into slavery to sin, has come into the Church by way of these false apostles, deceitful workmen, most often priests and bishops. This happens because of the lack of vigilance on the part of the higher clergy, a lack of vigilance that often arises from their own weakness and life of sin. During the past sixty years or so this lack of vigilance has become endemic; it has come by way of a specific – and I would say misguided – choice at the highest levels of the Church, to focus on promoting truth, while failing to condemn error.
I have spoken about the heresy of modernism. It used to be that clergy and teachers in the Church were required to take an oath against modernism. That requirement was rescinded in 1967. Now the heresy is rampant. For the modernist heresy it always it boils down to the same thing – the Church must change to catch up to the times, rather than calling the times to repentance. Like the serpent in the garden the message is that God’s law is keeping you down; instead, you must decide for yourself what is right for you. Modernism substitutes debatable policies and procedures for sure and certain faith and morals.
Jesus told us that we would be able to recognize the false prophets by their fruits. (cf. Mt 7:20)
In the 1960s those evil fruits might not have been as obvious, now we have the rotten, poisonous fruit in abundance, inside and outside of the Church; indeed, I would dare say the corruption and disorder within the Church is the origin of the corruption and disorder outside; if the salt has lost its savor, what shall the rest become?
The devil no longer hides, but that is good. Jesus Christ who is the true Lord and ruler of all, first brings the works of evil into the open before defeating them. Just as he vanquished the devil from his Cross, when the devil thought that he had triumphed, so even now he brings victory at the moment of apparent defeat.
He told his Apostles and he tells us today: Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy. (Jn 16:20)
The Book of Revelation speaks of a time when all the nations of the earth, deceived by Satan, will assail the camp of the saints and the beloved city. For the sake of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that city is truly beloved by God. It would seem that the faithful stand no chance against such a mighty foe, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them. (Rev 20:7-10) Then comes the judgment and then the new heavens and the new earth.