2/7/21 Homily: Casting Out Demons
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Sunday's Mass readings can be found: [HERE]
Three times in our gospel passage today, demons, and the casting out of demons are mentioned. That’s what this homily is about. But before we dive into it, I have to mention a couple of disclaimers.
First, it’s not my intention to injure anyone with my words. The message may be challenging, when one considers all the implications; but only to the extent that the gospel of Christ is challenging. Christ’s gospel is countercultural in every age. But I don’t want that difficulty to alienate anyone. I share this with you with nothing but love. I want for all of us to be together in the halls of heaven one day and forever. I really mean that.
Secondly, I’ll invoke some theological concepts that may strike some as unfamiliar or technical. I won’t dwell on any of them more than necessary, in sensitivity to our time. But I will mention them to the degree that they’re relevant to this homily; which consists of three sequential parts: demons, demons against humanity, and humanity casting out demons.
We’ll start with demons. Where do they come from? When God created everything, he created everything to be good; including the angels. There is no absolute duality or balance between good and evil. There is only goodness, and the absence of goodness, just as darkness is the absence of light, and coldness the absence of heat.
Like you and me, angels were also given the capacity to choose. They could choose to live according to their good nature, or to rebel against it. But because angels are pure spirit, and time is a function of matter, their decision towards good or evil happened in an instant, rather than over the course of a lifetime, as is the case with you and me. Where our decisions unfold over time; in an instant, in the beginning, every angel made its eternal, absolute, and irrevocable choice for or against God without ignorance or regret.
There were many angels that chose to rebel. And those fallen angels are those whom we call demons. Most famous among them is Satan, which means adversary. He was once known as the Lightbringer or Lucifer, and is believed to have ranked among the highest of the choirs of angels—the seraphim. In the scroll of Isaiah, the prophet laments:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God, I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit” (Isaiah 14:12-15).
Lucifer’s sin was his quest to be God-like, apart from God; to rival God. That rebellion was thwarted by one who ironically ranked among the lowest of angels. That angel had a certain name, the meaning of which was a defiance to Lucifer’s ambition. Where Lucifer sought to be God-like, this angel’s name was a question: “Who is like God?” In Hebrew, Mi-kha-El; Michael. The book of Revelation speaks of their conflict.
Then war broke out in heaven, Michael and his angels against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer a place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9).
That’s the first part: demons. Second part: demons against humanity.
Now, when Satan and his angels failed in their rebellion against God, they turned their fury against the image of God: the human race. At this point, we ought to ask ourselves the question: what was it about God that Satan envied so much? Here, I do need to mention something somewhat technical, without deep-diving into the metaphysics.
In short, many theological minds agree that, because angels are pure spirit, without any matter to differentiate one from another, every angel is its own species—they’re genderless. Nothing in their nature allows for reproduction. Angels do not come from angels. But humans do come from humans. God creates. Mankind pro-creates. That was God’s plan in the beginning.
From Genesis, we read: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:27-28a).
That duality of the human race in the plan of God—that complementarity between man and woman—which contains the potential for new life, is forever out of reach of any angel, but is an extraordinary gift and blessing given to the human race.
And so, the fury of the fallen angels, from the beginning, has been a relentless and concerted war against the human family and procreation. That assault against God’s image continues to this day on so many battlefronts: abortion, contraception, infanticide, no-fault divorce, the usurpation of parenthood by the state, the indoctrination of children against the family, gender or identity politics, the list goes on; each item, one after the other, another tactic of the evil one. Again, I say this with charity. I'm keenly aware that all of us, without exception, myself included, have been wounded in this war.
That’s the second part: demons against humanity. Third part, but very briefly: the casting out of demons.
Again, three times in our gospel passage demons are mentioned. In many passages that detail the works of the disciples, the casting out of demons often tops the lists. The casting out of demons isn’t a primitive portrayal of overcoming some natural phenomenon. Demons are real. Angels are real. When we profess in the Creed our faith in God’s creation of things invisible, angels are part of that invisible realm.
The casting out of demons continues to be a relevant ministry. When we each were baptized, a prayer of exorcism was prayed over us before our rebirth in the Spirit. Every diocese has its own exorcist for more troublesome cases, though the identity of each exorcist is normally not made public. But that charism isn’t limited to clergy.
We’re all called to cast out demons, according to our station in life. We're all called to take up spiritual arms in defense of God's order of things. And we cast out demons whenever we do our part to strengthen the culture of life, marriage, and the family. Through the grace of the Mass, may we each embrace that ministry to the degree we can.
The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Luca Giordano, c.1666, oil on canvas [extracted from Wikipedia]