4th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by Rachel Espinoza
One thing that many people find surprising about Pope Francis is how often he speaks about the devil. In a world that gives primacy to science and reason, many suppose that the devil is more myth than reality. And yet, how do we make sense of situations in our world marked by an evil presence that cannot simply be explained by our human capacity for evil and the fallen state of our world? Here I can think of events like the Holocaust, slavery and human trafficking, terrorism, or any number of other atrocities which haunt us long after they are over. These are certainly evils beyond the scope of mere human sinfulness.
In 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) wrote a book called On Heaven and Earth, in which he stated: “I believe that the Devil exists. Maybe his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist, and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.”
Stories like the one that we find in today’s Gospel remind us that the devil is real, and that human beings can come under the influence of the evil one. As Jesus entered the Synagogue at Capernaum, he encountered a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit. Upon his arrival, the unclean spirit cries out in recognition of who Jesus is: “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 rebukes the unclean spirit, and frees the man from its power.
In fact, the whole reason that Jesus came was to free us from the power of the evil one, to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and to bring us into his kingdom (Colossians 1:13). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (CCC 394).The good news is that Satan’s power “is nevertheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign” (CCC 395).
Someone once described our situation in this life as being like that of the Allied forces between June 6, 1944 and September 2, 1945. On June 6, the Allied forces landed in Normandy and won a decisive battle that began to shift the victory to their side. And yet, the war did not end until over a year later on September 2, 1945 when Japan surrendered.
The good news is that the devil has already been defeated. Through Christ’s cross and resurrection, we already have a decisive victory over the forces of evil in our lives and in our world. We already know who has won the final battle. And yet—we live in the interim period between Christ’s victory on the cross and the conclusion of that victory in Christ’s triumphal return at the end of time. We still face daily battles as we wrestle with temptation and evil in our lives.
As Catholics, we know that evil is real, but that God has already defeated it. The question for us is—do we let Christ’s victory over evil have the last word in our lives? The way to claim Christ’s victory over the forces of evil is to place ourselves under his authority and to surrender our hearts to him—each and every day. A very simple tool to help us in this is to simply say the name of Jesus, prayerfully, and repeatedly throughout the day. (As an aside—Did you know/have you ever wondered why our Archdiocesan Cathedral is named “Holy Name Cathedral?”) There is power in the name of Jesus!