Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Jesus exorcises a man possessed by demons, sending the unclean spirits into a herd of swine. For your growth in holiness, it makes no real difference how you choose to think about that Legion of unclean spirits. You can think of them in 1st century terms: they are fallen angels sent to rule the earth and tempt men and women away from righteousness. Or 21th century terms: they are manifestations of our animal impulses toward violence, passion, and the survival instinct, lingering in the unconscious to keep us uncivilized. It doesn't really matter how we think about the unclean spirits b/c whether we see them as fallen angels or animal impulses, their influence on our growth in holiness is always the same. Like the man possessed by Legion, these unclean spirits, if allowed free reign in our hearts and minds, keep us living among the tombs, dwelling among the corpses, and rotting right along side them. God did not create us to die and rot. He created us and holds us in being so that we might live an eternal life with him. His only Son comes to wash us clean of our unclean spirits so that all righteousness with Him is fulfilled. What unclean spirits—fallen angels or animal impulses—chain you among the dead?
For reasons both sociological and ideological, it has been theologically unfashionable for the last 50 yrs or so to talk much about unclean spirits, demons, angels, and most especially, sin. But it's more than a little difficult to preach the Good News of God's freely given mercy to sinners if we can't talk about sin. And to talk about sin we need to be able to talk about temptation, disobedience, and what it means to participate in the New Covenant with Christ. One reason that sin has fallen out of fashion is that too often in the past we failed to make the proper distinction btw The Sin and The Sinner, leading some to judge and condemn the sinner along with the sin. Making the distinction btw Sin and Sinner is not an excuse to be “holier than thou” w/o appearing to be—it's a real distinction made to mark a real difference. Sinners are always persons first and last. Sin attaches to the person through the deliberate choice to be disobedient. A person can become deformed spiritually through sin but only a person—created in the image and likeness of God—can sin in the first place. IOW, before a sin can stain the person, there must be a human person to stain. And the human person is sacred regardless of his/her spiritual condition.
This brings us back to my original question: What unclean spirits—fallen angels or animal impulses—chain us among the dead? We could list them: pride, anger, vengeance, lust, greed—all the classics. We could add a few more contemporary demons: porn, drugs, artificial contraception, entitlement, co-habitation. The names of the unclean spirits that make up Legion may change over time but their purpose never does. They are charged with the nefarious task of tempting God's children to degrade, demean, and destroy the one divine gift that makes us perfectible in Christ: the imago Dei, the image and likeness of God that we all share with Him. Every sin we commit is a deliberate strike against the imago Dei of the human person. And since each one of us is a member of the Body of Christ, each sin is a strike against the imago Christi of the Church. Legion's mission never changes. Neither does the Good News. All of our obligations under the Old Covenant have been fulfilled in Christ, so we are no longer chained to sin, bound among the tombs. We are free. Freed to pursue holiness using all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, freed to live abundantly, cleanly, in love, and without fear.______________
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