“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12-13). Jesus experienced the temptations of Satan, the one who tempted Adam and Eve, the father of lies, the accuser, the slanderer. Satan is one who seeks division and we dismiss the reality of his presence at great risk. On the other hand, we give him more power than he deserves. Jesus is tempted, but unlike Adam and Eve, he does not give in. Jesus remains grounded in the will of his Father and so Satan has no power over him.
We need to remember that the weakest Christian is more powerful than Satan himself because we can call on the name of Jesus. This is not some magic incantation, but when we call on the name of Jesus, he is present with us, the fullness of his humanity and his divinity. God has given Jesus the name above every other name so that as his word is spoken, every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth (cf. Philippians 2:9-10). Just as a floodlight shines in the darkness, the darkness gives way to the light. This is even more true with Jesus. Where he is, no evil can remain.
I had a dream some eight to ten years ago now, I am not sure of the exact time, but it is still just as vivid. I was sitting on a couch on the first floor of a house. The scene shifted so that I was seeing myself sitting on the couch from above and then my view was redirected to the attic. I witnessed a misshapen, dark figure rummaging through old boxes and newspapers. He embodied pure evil. I was then back in my body and knew this creature was moving out of the attic and coming down the stairs to the room I was sitting in. My heart was pounding and I felt petrified as I heard his steps drawing closer. I was frozen in fear. In a few more moments, he came into view. What I saw was not the figure in the attic, but just a man, but I knew it was him. As he continued closer my fear increased then a hymn came to mind. He stopped the moment I began to sing, my fear began to dissipate and I woke up.
Evil tends to present itself at first as an apparent good, as attractive, as normal. Otherwise, we would reject it outright. Satan and his demons are active through whispers and nudges, they look for our weaknesses and through the same tactics as peer pressure, seek to inject their poison and manipulate our actions. I am not talking about possession here, I am just talking about their divisive influence. The most dangerous evil is the one masked in faith. Someone who can speak the verses of a Bible and quote chapter and verse does not a Christian make. The devil can do the same thing (See the parallel accounts today’s Gospel of Mark – Mt. 4:1-11 and Lk 4:1-13).
Each day we need to examine our conscience and assess honestly who we are serving. As with the Parable of the Talents, we cannot sit on our hands and do nothing like the wicked servant. That is the most effective tool Satan has, that he can influence us to do nothing in the face of the dehumanization of the person in all of its forms. We rationalize different reasons why we might support what we know is unacceptable in ourselves as well as others, then we begin the slide into gossip, prejudicial, and/or divisive talk, that lead to actions, such as the centurions who placed a robe and crown of thorns on the bloody, scourged body of Jesus and mocked him, an innocent man.
May the icon of Jesus mocked be a light that reveals to us all those, even in the smallest of ways, who have been belittled, demeaned and/or degraded in our thoughts, and through our words, and/or actions, and those we have supported for doing the same, because what we do to the least among us, we do it to Jesus (cf. Mt 25:35-45). Let us seek God’s forgiveness for the part we have played in spreading the darkness of the father of lies by our actions and/or inactions.
When we are divided, talking at or over each other, we will not solve the smallest issue, let alone the big issues facing us. There are no quick fixes and it will take a unified effort to be able to listen to each other and work together to find solutions to the many problems we have. One shift we need to make is to reclaim, in the words of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who was the archbishop of Chicago from 1982-1996, a consistent ethic of life. Jesus calls us to recognize the dignity of the person. From the moment of conception until natural death and at each stage in between, we are called to empower each person we encounter, and seek to bring about reconciliation and unity in our realm of influence. Protecting the dignity of the person needs to be our starting point in addressing any policy issue.
Do we fall short? Yes, all of us do every day. We need to resist beating ourselves up because that is another trap, another lie. We need to review our thoughts, actions, and words with humility. We can thank God where we have said yes to his will and followed through on acting where he has led us, where we have loved, as well as ask for forgiveness for where we have come up short. May we begin each day seeking to give our life, more and more to our loving God and so leaving less and less room for the allurements of Satan. When tempted, call on the name of Jesus, or sing in his name! As St Augustine wrote, the one who sings prays twice.
Photo: Jesus covered with purple robe and crown of thorns, side chapel in the Mission San Luis del Rey de Francis, Oceanside, CA
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, February 21, 2021.