Commentary on the Gospel of
In the Gospel readings for today, Jesus confronts the issue that some of His detractors were raising – by whose authority, with whose power, did He expel demons? A true demon is a supernatural power – a demonic force against which human powers pale without the support of a counter-force supernatural power. And so, the people were questioning whether Jesus was acting with good will and authority from God, or ill will and channeling another powerful demon.
I wondered about this reading for a while, and it struck me that for many of us a demon is a metaphor for the temptations and obsessions we find in our lives. I am old enough to recall the phrase “demon rum” to explain alcoholism; the old, uninformed explanation was not that alcohol dependency is a disease, but that the “demon” possessed the person through the use of alcohol, thus destroying their normal life and leaving them as a shell of a well-adjusted human. Demon rum ruined someone’s marriage, family life, and place in society as a valuable contributor to communal good. A variety of other forces have the potential to possess someone, to be an obsession or a demon – the drive for career success, the desire for power, maintaining good looks or health, both legal and illegal drugs, sex, social media, video games, television, exercise, eating, among others.
It seems to me the common thread throughout these obsessions and demons is that God has provided us with a good thing that we somehow corrupt through our unnatural attachment. Career success is a good thing, but in perspective. So too with good health, alcohol, sex, pharmaceuticals, and so on. All are neutral, and are good if they lead us closer to God, and bad (thus the demonization) if they don’t. We can put them to good use and enjoy them within moderation. Or we can overuse them, and thus become possessed by, dependent on, or addicted to them. Even people can present themselves as disordered if they pull us away from God.
To Ignatius, these disordered or unhealthy attachments should be resisted because they interfere with an authentic relationship with God. Having a drink in moderation for most of us would not interfere in our relationship with God and God’s creation (our family and friends and communities) but overindulging, even if not to the point of dependency, can prevent us from engaging our true selves with our fellow travelers on our journeys through this life.
Part of the reflective process in the Spiritual Exercises is building the awareness to objectively look at our actions regarding these goods that God has given us, to discern if we are using them in the manner God intended (to bring us to a closer relationship with God, and to deepen our love for God and our neighbor). The more we are aware, the more we can ask for God’s help in resisting using these gifts inconsistently with God’s purpose for us in providing the gifts.
This gift of awareness enables us to drive out these demons, because the awareness is itself a gift that we receive every time we pause to discern in that moment what we are doing and why. The gift is based on our (simple to state but so hard to admit) dependency on God to not only provide these gifts but also to assist us in becoming wise in using them for God’s purposes. A regular practice in Ignatian spirituality is to, periodically through the day, pause to examine what you are doing, and why, and how God is present in that moment. The Examen is generally thought of as an evening exercise, but can be prayer at any time during the day, especially during times of stressful temptation.
And so, my prayer today is for the grace to be in the moment, to be aware of the gift being presented by God, and to discern if I am using it as God intended.