Homily – Fourth Sunday of Lent

This Lent we have been sharing the homilies from various priests within our Diocese. This week we hear from Fr John Adams.

There are some beautiful words for each one of us in our second reading this week from St Paul writing to the people at Ephesus. “You were in darkness once – now you are light in the Lord…..Wake up from your sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Lets imagine for a moment that our first quick response to these words might be, well I don’t feel I’m in the darkness, neither do I feel dead or asleep. But what about the possibility that many of us, indeed perhaps all of us, are in fact stuck in second gear, that yes we live good enough lives, but that we are not even close to living with the freedom and joy that the Lord longs to give us.

In my view, and I include myself in this, all of us suffer from a form of blindness it’s a blindness that has us accepting a mediocre version of our faith. And this blindness perpetuated in us by none other than the forces of darkness – or the devil to be precise. Yes, the devil, who hates noting more than to see people who are alive and free in their faith. It’s the Devil who makes us too easily satisfied. It seems to me then, during this time of Lent we ought to take the opportunity to speak plainly on this very topic – that of the Devil and influence on us of the forces of darkness.

Firstly, we should be clear, the victory has been won over the devil. The Devil is a liar and a cheat – and he has been defeated.  We should not be unduly worried therefore about the evil one – he cannot break in on us, he cannot read our thoughts. St Augustine called the devil and chained up dog.  Yes a chained up dog can frighten us, it can make us change our course, but it is tethered all the same. Our only fear ought to be that we do not wander to close through deception or ignorance. Jesus has won that victory for us. However, the devils greatest victory comes when we deny or ignore his existence. The devil does exist – that’s part of our faith.

Lets do a quick review of what the Church teaches here. Firstly, the devil is a creature. He was created by God as an angel, and was originally good. But, like human creatures, the angels are blessed with free will, and like us, they can, and do, choose to turn away from the love of God. Remember this freedom is necessary. To be compelled to love involves a degraded form of love – to choose to love, this is love in its fullness, and this is the love of God. So, God created Lucifer a good angel, but he turned away. You can read about this in Isaiah Chapter 14.

We also know that Jesus grappled with the devil several times in the scriptures, and each time was victorious. In the fourth chapter of Luke, Satan in the desert tempted Jesus three times.  Satan’s great pride must have convinced him that he could even make God, in human form, fall.  Satan  offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if he would fall down and worship him.  This was overbearing pride and presumption to the max, because the kingdoms of the world didn’t belong to the Devil in the first place they belonged to God.  Even though Jesus was tired and hungry, he stood up to Satan’s verbal assaults. When the Devil quoted scripture out of context, Jesus stood firm and corrected him.

Since Satan finally figured out that he cannot get at Jesus, he goes instead for His children here on earth – us.  However, lucky for us that Jesus established a Church here on earth that regularly dispenses sanctifying grace to us, which allows us too to be safe from Satan. His plan was to infect Adam and Eve, and all mankind, with his sin of pride – “You shall be as gods”, the serpent says in Genesis 3:5.  Adam and Eve took the bait and sin and death thus entered the world when they consumed the apple. The great medicine and antidote for us is our consumption of the Eucharist.

I mentioned earlier that the Devil cannot break in on us, and that he cannot read our minds, however he can observe us, and listen to us, and so plot our demise based on our behavior. The devil works in an underhand way, often trying to convince us that the things, which we know deep down to be true, are in fact wrong. The devil tries to convince us that the things we know deep down in our consciences   are not so important, or that every one else acts in a sinful way, so that if we make a moral stand we will miss out on something. To dampen and divert our human goodness – this is the work of the evil one.

So, we need to be careful that we do not inadvertently allow the Devil to infiltrate our lives. I had an interesting experience once. I had taken a group of young adults to the Philippines for a mission experience. We ended up working in for a time in various prisons. I remember one prison we visited an hour or two north of Manila. We had gone up there with a doctor and some medicine to rid the prison of rampant scabies. However when we got there, the chief warden rushed up to me and said; “Father, father you have to help us, all the prisoners and the wardens are very frightened. All of us are experiencing a strong sense of evil in this prison and everyone is scared.”  So, I got all the prisoners and staff together, some three hundred of them, and I told them not to worry overly about the devil, that fear was one of his weapons, that he could not break in on them, unless, I said ,they had inadvertently invited Him into their lives by dabbling in the occult, tarot cards, Ouija boards, fortune tellers etc

That turned out to be the worst thing I could have said, suddenly everyone was in an uproar because the occult was almost as rampant as the scabies in that prison. So, with our little team from New Zealand and some other volunteers, we got together, some holy water, and we put our Lord in the monstrance, and we visited every cell and room in that prison, we prayed, we sang, we sprinkled Holy Water, and I blessed every staff member and prisoner individually with our Lord in the monstrance. The next day that prison had been completely transformed, inmates and staff started to relax, it became a peaceful place. In the language of our 2nd reading today, “You were in darkness once, but now you are light in the world.

How then do we keep ourselves safe from the wickedness and snares of the Devil? There is no better antidote to the devil than the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Note also that the enemy of the Devil is the light. Acting and refusing to live a double life will scare the devil away, because ultimately he is a coward. Regular honest confession is a strong weapon.

Another powerful spiritual ally is our mother Mary. The devil would have us think that he is the opposite of God, but no he isn’t, because God is all in all, the devil is much less than God, he is a created being. Mary, also a created being and can be considered as the opposite of the devil and the devil fears Mary above all created things because of her humility and because of her free and complete consent to do the will of God in her life. Asking for her help is a most powerful shield.

And lets not forget the Sacramentals, holy water, blessed salt, rosary beads, medals, crucifixes, these are signs of our faithfulness and so are good tools to ‘shoo’ the evil one away.

 I finish tonight/ this morning with a question; when was the blind man healed in our gospel today? When Jesus put the paste in his eyes, well yes, that’s when the physical healing took place, but didn’t the greater healing happen when the man encountered Jesus the second time, It was then that his spiritual blindness was taken away, and the prince of deception was put to flight. The man said, “Lord, I believe.” and worshipped Jesus.

Lets claim the victory of Jesus ourselves this lent and make those words, and that action, our own today as we worship and say: “Lord, I believe.”