When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to [Jesus] all who were ill
or possessed by demons. The whole town was at the door.
– Mark 1:33
We heard this Gospel a few Sundays ago, and Lent seems a good time to revisit it. I like the realism of Saint Mark: When it comes to those “ill or possessed by demons” – well everybody gather ‘round, you’re included: “The whole town was at the door.”
If you were in town in those days, would you have shown up to be healed by Jesus?
Let’s ask the question a different way: If an opportunity to be healed was offered to you now, and it took only some quite simple (but perhaps novel) sorts of exertion on your part, would you sign up? Rather than just say “yes” or “no,” you can find out: If you were at Mass last week you heard me suggest a simple way to take God’s message to you deeply to heart: prepare the Gospel for this Sunday by reading it in advance, come to Mass early to quiet yourself in order to listen, and be committed to writing down what you hear God say to you. Did you do that? Is that little book we gave out last weekend ready to hand? Did you read the Gospel earlier this week, so as to be prepared to hear it at Mass? Did you arrive early to quiet yourself?
It’s interesting to me that something in us resists Jesus’ offer of healing – although the Gospels are full of just such stories, so we should expect it. Perhaps it’s because too many bad movies have led us to think that the Gospel “demons” are Halloween-like ghouls, when that’s not what the Gospel talks about. To the Gospel writers, with their unsentimental view of human nature, everybody’s got “demons” (go back to the Gospel I mentioned at the start of this column). We, in the twenty-first century, call them motivations. Sometimes the motives in our lives are discordant – the alcoholic who sees the damage his drinking is doing (at least sometimes – but then has another drink); sometimes the motives are precious to us (as with the parent who “loves” a child into trying to live out the parent’s unlived dreams – all “for the child’s good” of course…) One of the most common demons is the one that encourages us to resist change.
It was taken for granted in the early centuries of the church that everyone was possessed – by some sort of “demon/spirit” or another that provided the key motivation for that person’s life – both compass and engine. That’s why Jesus promised another, different kind of spirit to his disciples: a Spirit Who was holy, from God and in fact God: the Holy (note) Spirit. (The final ceremonies for those to be baptized, called the Scrutinies, which take place on three Sundays of Lent right before Easter, are fundamentally prayers that God will replace whatever driving-spirit is in the candidate with His Holy Spirit.) The “Holy” Spirit was, and is, the Spirit of new life – which means, of change.
This isn’t an all-at-once, all-or-nothing process. If we honest with ourselves we can admit that the Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism still has some competition from less-worthy spirits in guiding our life choices. The disciplines of Christian living are meant to tip the balance, to give the Holy Spirit more of a say in our lives’ direction.
So how would you know whether you’d put yourself at the door when Jesus came to heal? Look at what you do when He comes each Sunday at Mass. Do you come wanting to be healed? Do you ask for it? Do you prepare for it? Do you listen for His healing word to you? Do you write it down so you can remember it and review it during the week?
Lent is a time to focus our spiritual lives. Give this simple tool a try if you haven’t already. More next week. Until then, peace.