Sunday, February 1, 2009

Of the devil departing

Sunday, Feb 1, 2009
4th Sunday in ordinary time
Mark 1:21-28

...In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are-the Holy One of God!"
Jesus rebuked him and said,
"Quiet! Come out of him!"
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
In this narrative, the devil mingles with the faithful in the synagogue by taking possession of one among them. It sure is scary to think that the evil one is so cleverly deceptive enough to mingle among the faithful, but at the same time it gives us comfort that the power of Jesus easily overwhelms the evil spirit. And so we are told that when two or more are gathered in Jesus name, there He is in their midst. That is why at the beginning of our prayer meetings, we always include an invocation of the powerful presence of Holy Spirit to cast out any evil that might be lurking.

Exorcism is serious business. In fact even the disciples who were given power to drive out evil spirits have failed on occasion (Mat 17:19). There was also this biblical narrative of the seven non-Christians who attempted an exorcism on a possessed man (Acts 19:13). The devil saw through their pretensions and said: "Jesus I recognize and Peter I know, but who are you?", upon which the devil proceeded to whip them so badly that their clothes were torn off and they had to run away naked. Lucky for them for it could have been a lot worse. Today, the Vatican formalizes the rites of exorcism to be administered only by ordained Catholic priests who have been specifically trained and authorized. It is a complicated ritual, but in essence it is still by the merits of Jesus Christ that an exorcism is performed by a priest who is expressly authorized by the local Ordinary. Of course we can not completely rule out an exorcism done by a grace-empowered lay Christian under extraordinary circumstances. However this is highly exceptional and under these circumstances there is a prescribed exorcism prayer. Let us beware. It is said that satan's greatest victory is convincing people he doesn't exist.

Finally, here is the official teaching on exorcism:
CCC 1673 When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.

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