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2/1/2018 9:00:00 AM
Of devils and demons
'Jesus clearly confronted evil, and sinners with their sins, but He never destroyed or even harmed a human being. He is a healer and a restorer of life: a Savior and liberator, not a tyrant. Evil is real and so is its personification, Satan, and his legion as well.'

The Scriptures in recent days have been narrating a number of instances in which Jesus confronts the presence of devils and demons. Some of them are quite dramatic, such as those involving the Gerasene demoniac and the blatantly physical nature of a multiple possession -- by "Legion" -- that throws the victim into violent convulsions and, once expelled, drives a herd of pigs over a cliff.

Wherever Jesus goes, He exposes evil, and often encounters resistance. In much the same way as the sudden flip of a light switch in a dark cellar will reveal vermin and drive them scurrying into their hiding places, Jesus is a cleansing, purifying presence in our lives, if we let Him enter.

It is a tenet of our faith that Satan and lesser devils exist. If you do not believe this, give it time. You do not have to look for proof; it will come to you, especially if you set about to do good.

In fact, in speaking of the devil, one of the things Pope Francis has been reminding us is not to talk to him. Satan is smarter than us -- as Lucifer, before he fell, he was the brightest perhaps the most beautiful of all the angels -- and he loves attention. Like a black hole, he devours light and life, feeding on God's creatures, which he despises. Do not talk to him or any of his cohorts.

When I read the Gospel accounts of the times when Jesus encounters and expels demons, I am often impressed with how matter-of-fact many of the instances are: Of course this is a part of His everyday life; His mission, after all, is to free people from anything that possesses them.

The confrontation is usually brief and decisive. Then, the person, relieved from the source of possession, is quickly restored to peace and health, and resumes community life.

All forms of possession destroy relationships and community. Not all of them are dramatically demonic. Yet, anyone who has experienced the enslavement of substance abuse or of compulsive fears and anxieties brought on by psychological or physiological trauma (they are always connected), as in the case of PTSD, knows what it feels like to be out of control and dependent on forces depriving one of peace and freedom.

We can be haunted by nightmares and "daymares:" obsessions and preoccupations about persons, places and things in our lives -- some of which may be pure fantasies or, if they existed, are now long gone or far away -- that still seem to cause emotional paralysis at work and play.

An ominous experience in our time is how some excessively-prescribed pharmaceuticals have themselves become the very addictions they were intended to exorcise. "Out of the frying pan, into the fire," so to speak.

Not all instances of possession, obsession and addiction should be attributed to supernatural forces. Most are probably not. Even in cases of suspected demonic possession, there is a rigorous process by which natural causes are systematically and painstakingly ruled out, much like in medicine, where every diagnosis must be made patiently, carefully and deliberatively.

There is no question, however, that Satan and his minions are users par excellence. They feed off the living, even cannibalistically. Dracula, in his eternal thirst for fresh blood, may come to mind. In a similar way, the devil lurks in the darkness, drawing us out of the light, distracting us from life, often attracting us with some fleeting, superficial delight before he entraps us.

In general, idols tend to do this -- or, rather, the evil one, who is a coward, uses those idols as decoys to seduce and ensnare us.

Certain drugs -- benzodiazepines (like Xanax and Valium), opiates and crystal meth -- have a way of causing addictions even with first use, as they tend to induce ever-increasing dosage dependency. They are not, in themselves, evil or demonic, yet physicians who prescribe them cannot escape moral responsibility for fully informing and monitoring their patients.

When does the manufacture, promotion and distribution of such drugs play into the hands of Satan, the father of lies, who deals death with the promise of delight and ecstasy? Remember the Garden of Eden.

Those who engage in drug trafficking in any way are certainly playing at Satan's game inasmuch as their drug marketing is all about exploiting human weaknesses and, ultimately, destroying lives for economic profit.

Other forms of human trafficking of vulnerable lives -- born, unborn or challenged by age or health status -- have virtually become industries in modern times. That's no less destructive, whether operating under or outside of the color of law. To associate with such organizations, gangs or commercial interests, is to be in league with the forces of evil.

No reflection on the nature of evil and demonic powers should fail to point out the dangers of the mass hysteria that has surfaced in the course of history when, all too quickly, a community seeks to identify and extirpate evil influences magically. Incidents of trials and burnings, of witches and even books, flourish when we fail to separate the sin from the sinner.

Jesus clearly confronted evil, and sinners with their sins, but He never destroyed or even harmed a human being. He is a healer and a restorer of life: a Savior and liberator, not a tyrant.

Evil is real and so is its personification, Satan, and his legion as well. Like any supernatural reality, however, it is not confined to form, space and time.

Images of the devil with horns, slit eyes and a tail are either terrifying or comical, depending on context and perspective. They can really be misleading, however, if they tempt us to make light of what they represent.

Some contemporary musicians and artists use lyrics and symbols, toying with satanic imagery. Whether they realize it or not, they may also be using and victimizing themselves and their admirers, endangering souls by trivializing the evil one, who takes himself very seriously and is not kind to those who entertain him.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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