The Unclean Spirit Came Out of Him

(Homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

I would like to begin with a quote from a neighboring pastor, Jesuit Fr. Richard Roach of St. Parish on Vashon Island:

This past week we had a wondrous example of our Lord teaching through the Church he founded. Pope Benedict XVI, the Bishop of Rome, issued his first encyclical (i.e., addressed to the whole Church) letter entitled, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). If you download this encyclical from the Vatican web site, it prints out in 25 pages with all its notes (text is 23 pages). This encyclical is incredibly brilliant! We haven’t seen teaching this well done in a very long time. Alleluia! Please read this encyclical! In the study group or any other forum this parish would like, I’d be honored to help parishioners uncover the richness of this brilliant writing. A friend at the cathedral in London in an email described this encyclical as a Master Class in our faith. I agree wholeheartedly! (Richard R. Roach, S.J.)

Maybe some of you will want to take the ferry to Vashon Island for this course. I also encourage you to read the encyclical. Like Fr. Roach said, you can download it from the Internet. If you don’t know how, your children – or grandchildren – will be able to do it for you.

The pope makes a distinction which can which can help us understand today’s Gospel. He uses two Greek words – Eros and agape – to distinguish two types of love. I will say more about agape at the end, but for now I want to focus on Eros. Eros is a kind of love which rises from below, it seems to impose itself, to even appear uncontrollable. The pope uses the example of the love which rises between a man and woman. Eros can also include other loves, for example, between a mother and her child. What mother can say she “choose” to love her child? It is just something that rises naturally from within her. Other passions can fall under Eros, for example the love of sports. As we have seen here in Seattle, a certain frenzy, basically innocent, can overtake people. This Eros love is good in itself. It is part of God’s creation. However, it may sometimes take over a person’s life in a way which is not so good. In that case, it results in addictive behaviors – for example to alcohol, drugs or sex – which harm ones own self and others. Even people who outwardly appear quite responsible can be driven by addictions which threaten the well being of themselves and their loved ones. People who are otherwise quite brilliant can fall into these destructive patterns.

To illustrate this, I would like to tell you a bit about the life of a great genius of modern times: the Russian novelist, Feodor Dostoevsky. He was known as the “master of the human heart” on account of his penetrating psychological insights, but he had a hard time controlling his own emotions. When in his thirties, he had already achieved some fame and earned money from his writings – but not enough to pay all of his debts. One day he entered a casino and placed a bet on a roulette wheel. He won! Something snapped inside him. It seemed like he had found the solution to his financial problems. He kept playing and lost not only his winnings, but every penny, every kopek he had in his pockets.

That pattern continued for many years, threatening to destroy his marriage, his family and writing career. One day Dostoevsky put together a small sum of money, maybe a couple hundred dollars. As always, he calculated what he would bet and what he would keep in reserves. And as always, he lost what he meant to spend and started digging into his reserves. Pretty soon he had lost everything and was pleading with his fellow gamblers to lend him money, offering his coat, shirt, watch, anything for collateral. About nine-thirty in the evening, he emerged from the casino, full of remorse. He decided to seek a priest to make a confession. In the distance he saw what looked like a Russian church. When he finally got there, it turned out to be a Jewish synagogue. He later wrote, “It was as though I had cold water poured over me. I came running home…” From that day forward, he never entered another casino.

We do not know exactly what happened to Dostoevsky that night, but somehow his addiction was broken. It certainly had something to do with his desire to confess his sins and seek Christ’s forgiveness. It was as if an unclean spirit had been cast from him. He entered into some of the most productive – and happiest – years of his life.

Pope Benedict gives an explanation which makes a lot of sense. In addition to Eros, the frenzied, uncontrollable love, there is another love called agape, which descends from above. It does not destroy Eros, but it purifies it and orders it correctly. In the case of Dostoevsky, his passion to gamble, to take risks was chanelled into setting up a publishing company and to writing some of his most original daring works, including The Brothers Karamazov – and to embracing the greatest earthly adventure: marriage and the forming of a family.

We perhaps have family members or friends who seem gripped by some uncontrollable urge which brings them down – and others with them. Maybe you yourself have some part of your life where the devil has got a toehold. We need to turn to Christ, confess our sins, and ask his intervention. Jesus desires to set free ordinary people like you and me, to cast the unclean spirits from our hearts.

When we see such things happen - and we do, even today – we can only marvel and react as did the townspeople of Capernaum: “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Jesus can also liberate you – and me.


Earlier Version

Spanish Version

From the Archives (Fourth Sunday, Year B)

2015: Jesus' Authority Week 1
2012: Liberation from Addiction
2009: Free of Anxiety
2006: The Unclean Spirit Came Out of Him
2003: Why Don't Priests Get Married?

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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