Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dealing With Demons

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"

Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out send us into the herd of pigs."

He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33Those tending the pigs ran off and went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
Matthew 8:28-34
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Nothing about this story is “kosher”; everything is unclean, untouchable. The city of Gadara is in pagan territory, so it is “off limits” to Jews. It is not surprising to find pigs there; they are unclean animals, whose meat no Jew would eat, nor would they be raising swine.

Jesus and his companions are met by two men possessed by demons, coming from a graveyard – another unclean place. It is the demons that speak first: "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” The demons plead with Jesus to send them into the herd of swine who are feeding nearby. Jesus treats them with deference, almost with respect. By the end of the story, Jesus has brought order to the scene: the demons have gone into the pigs, which in turn have gone into the sea. Jews had a great fear of water. For them, the sea was the abode of Leviathan, the monster of the deep; so it was fitting that the pigs should end up there. Besides, water was fatal to demons, so it was fitting that they end up there. Meanwhile, in Mark’s account of the incident, the man freed from the demons was “clothed and in his right mind” (5:15), and he returned to his family. Jesus has established right order, restoring everything to its proper place. On the other hand, what Jesus did was not well received. It seems that the local folks were happy with the status quo. They begged Jesus to go away: he had upset the order of their world.

Does this strange story have any relevance to your life or mine? I believe that it does. Each of us has a guardian angel, according to Church teaching. It seems fitting that, if we have our own angel, we also have our own demons, who strive to establish their own order in us, striving to win the perennial battle between good and evil within our body, mind and spirit. It is interesting to read that the demons scolded Jesus for coming along at an inconvenient time. Your demons have their own schedule, because they have their own designs on your life. That makes me think: what are the elements in my life that seem “right” to me (at least in the sense of being familiar), but which are far from right.

How do we deal with demons? Saint Catherine of Siena has some suggestions, which I can share with you now.

Don’t be afraid of the plots and attacks of devils that might come to pillage and take over the city of your soul. No, don’t be afraid. Be like knights arrayed on the battlefield, armed with the sword of divine charity. This sword is the weapon that will beat the devil.

Understand that if we don’t want to lose the weapon with which we have to defend ourselves, we must keep it hidden in the house of our soul, in true knowledge of ourselves. For when we know that we are not, and are constantly producing nothingness, then we at once become humble before God and before everyone else for God’s sake.

We recognize that every grace and favor comes from God. And we see so much of God’s goodness flowing down on us that love makes us grow severely judgmental of ourselves – so much that we would not only gladly take vengeance on ourselves, but wish that everyone else would take vengeance on us as well. We judge everyone else to be better than ourselves. Thus a fragrant patience is born that sees no burden too heave or too bitter to bear for love of that loving engrafted Word of God.

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