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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. A few years ago, an episode of RTE’s Would You Believe explored the mystery of evil. While some argued that evil is something that can be explained by psychology or psychiatry, Fr Pat Collins, a Vincentian priest, insisted on the existence of evil in the world – that evil is real, that it exists and shows itself in terrible events and crimes. A few weeks later, Fr Collins wrote an open letter to the Irish Bishops asking them to ensure that there are trained exorcists in every diocese because (quote) ‘I have noticed a growing apostasy…and increasing evidence of the malicious activity of the Evil One’. Is he right in this? And if he is, then what do we need to do?

In the Gospel today, Jesus encounters a man possessed by an unclean spirit. This is one of several encounters in the Gospels between Jesus and the powers of darkness. On many occasions, Jesus names Satan as his adversary and describes his mission as defeating the powers of evil in the world. Throughout his life and at his death, we can see evidence of a battle between good and evil that continued until the last moment when Jesus dies. This is powerfully seen in the Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ when Satan screams with anger when his defeat is confirmed on Calvary. But that is not all. Jesus promised his followers that we too would share in this great battle against powers of darkness that are capable of destroying us. On the day we were baptised, the Church prayed: ‘Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, the spirit of evil, to deliver us from the kingdom of  darkness, and bring us into the splendour of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child’.

Despite these prayers, the power of the Evil One still wrecks havoc in the lives of many. We think here of lives destroyed by addiction, families torn apart by conflicts and the millions killed by hatred and war. Yet for most of us, temptation to evil is a far more subtle and daily reality. What can end in total destruction of lives begins with little things that we succumb to that set us on the slippery slope.

Here I offer two examples of how Satan works that we need to be aware of in our battle with Christ against him. Satan can convince us that what is wrong is right and what is right is wrong. It is a classic trick of the devil to confuse people so that we can no longer distinguish one from the other. We can convince ourselves that something is OK when it just isn’t or we can feel bad about doing something we know to be right. The other trick is to confuse us about what is true and false. Satan lures us to believe that what is true is actually false and what is false is actually true. That is why Jesus calls him ‘the father of lies’ (John 8:44). If we succumb to this deceit, we can end up avoiding the truth we don’t want to face up to or choose to live our lives based on a lie that will collapse sooner or later. Here is where the ‘unclean spirit’ of Satan is at work and corrupts right and wrong, truth and falsehood.

In a homily delivered on 4th October 2014, Pope Francis said: ‘Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st Century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here…even in the 21st century. And we mustn’t be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan’.

In the daily battle with the Holy Spirit against the Evil One, let us pray for ourselves and one another, that we might be cleansed of all unclean spirits that threaten us. For as St Paul explains: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12).

Let us pray with fresh hearts the line from the Our Father: ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.’


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