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Fr Denis Browne

The people were so astonished that they started asking one another what it all meant, saying, 'Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mark 1:27).

Jesus taught with authority according to the Gospel, even the unclean spirits obeyed him.

I have often asked myself what are or who are these unclean spirits that Jesus constantly meets and heals and banishes?

I have come to the personal conclusion, as a priest reflecting on this for a long time, that these unclean spirits is the void that is left in our lives when we lose our faith or have no faith at all. This void is deep in our psychic. It can be seen in the lack of hope, lack of love, lack of direction, lack of meaning in our lives; the lack of faith or trust in something greater than ourselves. The lack of God!

And like any hole or void, it can be filled up so easily with the dirt and grime of life; such as the love of things over the love of others, or such as lack of faith and trust in God or the lack of trust in others or even the lack of trust in ourselves.

So when Jesus came to Capernaum, he taught with Authority, so much so that the unclean spirits rushed away from his loving and holy presence. It was obvious to his listeners in the synagogue that day, that He knew God, rather than just knowing about God.

Here was a new teaching or a new way of teaching. A teaching that is needed more and more in the world of our today.

“Macumba” is a Brazilian version of Voodoo, brought to the Americas by the black slaves which fills the people with fears and so called evil spirits.

An elderly couple very involved in my former Brazilian Parish arrived at my church with their children and grandchildren on tow. The young couple and family had incurred the wrath of their neighbour, a Macumba Witch. It seems that their pig had broken into the witch’s garden and eaten her vegetables. She put a curse on them, tearing the head off a live chicken and sprinkled the blood of the chicken over the gate of their house in a curse ritual. The family jumped out of the window of their house, avoiding the gate and dead chicken and sought refuge in their parents’ house and refused to go home. Hence their nervous visit to my church looking for help.

So we loaded up the family in the parish jeep and a big bottle of Holy Water and off we went to their house. On arrival we were met with a dead chicken at the gate with the remains of a burnt out candle where its head used to be and the garden gate covered in the poor chicken’s blood. The locals were all afraid to remove it. This was a day or two after the incident.

But a good kick from myself, like you would see in Croke Park, sent the dead chicken flying across the road landing beside two dogs sleeping under a Mango tree, and the last time the chicken was seen was in the mouth of one of the dogs being chased down the road by the other dog.

I then invited the couple and children back in the house and blessed it. While blessing the home I noticed what I notice in a lot of our homes – the lack of a religious images or a cross. Often people here at home ask me to bless their house often out of fears or because of creepy sounds or noises and the first thing I notice upon entering the house is the lack of a religious image or object.

That young family in Brazil had no faith and no religious observance unlike their elderly parents who had a deep faith and very active Christian life, hence the young family’s openness to believe in the evil of Macumba.

When we allow God to disappear from our lives and the lives of our children the void is often filled with fears or superstitions and sadly the darkness of the world.

Superstition causes fears and fills the void where God should be. Superstition blames something outside of oneself for our own calamities. Macumba and its comrades are like that. It blames the bad spirits around us rather than look at own personal responsibilities.

Jesus came with a new teaching and with authority:

1. He came to free us from Fear.

2. On the cross he freed us from Sin!

3. In the Resurrection he freed us from Death

4. At Pentecost he gave us His Help or His Spirit to give us power over the Unclean Spirits.

All this depends on a personal relationship with God!

As a famous cleric once said: “If you want to know about God ask a Theologian!

If you want to know God ask your Granny.”

When we have faith we also are aware of the help and strength of God in our lives: namely The Holy Spirit! Our faith is as much about living life now as it is about reaching the Kingdom of Heaven.

So we should remember that we too have power over these so called unclean spirits!

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