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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018

[St. John Vianney Church, Kailua; St. Ann Church, Kaneohe (Installation of Pastor)] 

In a house of ill repute?  Yes.  In a bar?  More than likely.  These are we might expect to find people taken over by demons that lead them astray.  But in a synagogue, where people gather to hear the Word of God?  Apparently that is precisely where Jesus encountered this man with the unclean spirit.  And in a Catholic Mass?  That might not be the first place that jumps to mind, but we all know that from time to time we can all have unclean spirits within us.

There is the unclean spirit of pornography that promises thrills but in reality drags us down because it dehumanizes ourselves and other human beings.  We have the unclean spirit of gossip that makes people think that we are in the know, but that can ruin the reputations of others.  We might encounter the unclean spirit of greed, which is never grateful for what is received but always wants more and more.  There is the unclean spirit that leads us into destructive patterns of communication even with our loved ones, so that relationships are eroded rather than nurtured.  All of these unclean spirits, I am sure, we can find right here in this sacred assembly.

But the good news is that we are here to be in the presence of Jesus, so that his Word and his authority can cast out these unclean spirits from us.  The unclean spirit in the Gospel recognized that this was the Holy One of God and feared that his game was over.  And it was finished, as Jesus freed the man from the power of that evil spirit.  Jesus wants to speak to each of us with the same authority so that whatever unclean spirit may be affecting each one of us can come out of us, and we can rejoice in the freedom that Jesus can give us.  We celebrate this sacrifice of thanksgiving, the Eucharist, because we know the healing and liberating power of Jesus.

But what about all those who are also affected by unclean spirits but who do not come to this place of worship to be healed?  Are they doomed to live forever in the slavery that the evil spirit leads them into?  No, because the Lord calls all of us to be prophets and gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to go out from here to find our brothers and sisters who still live in the grip of sin and, with authority, call the unclean spirits out of them.  Immediately after we are baptized, we are anointed with Chrism as priests, prophets, and rulers, not in our own names but in the name of Jesus.  And so if Jesus’ healing and liberating ministry is to touch all those who are in need of it, wherever they may be, he can do so by making us the prophets who, like Moses, lead people from slavery to freedom.

In our homes we are called to be prophets to our spouses and to our children and grandchildren, because we are all subject to the unclean spirits that long to break marriages and families apart.  If we try to do things our way, we may make things worse, because prophets who are not sent by the Lord bring death, not life.  Yet if we are attentive to the Word of God we hear in this assembly and remain in communion with Jesus, we can speak with authority in break the destructive patterns of ignorance and selfishness that can affect our own families.  In our schools or places of work, which are often influenced by unclean spirits of the advancement of the individual without reference to anyone else, we can cast out that spirit as prophets in the name of Jesus by living ethically and witnessing to the power of honesty and hard work that tries to make everyone successful.  In our body politic we often confront an unclean spirit that puts special interests – often my own interests – above the common good, denying reality when we want to do so.  There we who have been freed by the Lord can be prophets who free others from these unclean spirits.

It is not our power and authority by which we do these things, but by the authentic authority of Jesus, which even demons recognize and obey.  And just as we may find unclean spirits in the holiest of places, whenever we find them elsewhere, we are all commissioned by the One who frees us to set our sisters and brothers free with the saving power of Jesus that works through us whom he has called.