Sunday, January 28, 2018

Jesus’ War—and Ours

(Fourth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on January 28, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 1: 21-28.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday 2018]

The quickest way to get defeated in a war is to think that you’re not in one, when in fact you are.

I think St. Mark would like that opening line of my homily this morning.  He’d like it because “war” is one of the themes of the gospel he wrote 2,000 years ago (which is the gospel that we will hear on most Sundays from now until the end of the liturgical year in November).

And this war that Mark writes about is no ordinary war over things that don’t last (like earthly power and land and material possessions).  The war that Mark writes about in his gospel is a cosmic war: a cosmic war that affects the eternal destiny of every person who has lived, is living, and will live until the end of time.

This war is, of course, between Jesus and Satan.  And, although it had already been going on since Jesus’ birth (and, in a certain sense even before that), the war definitely intensified at the very beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  We see that in today’s gospel story from Mark, chapter 1.  Here we are, only 21 verses into the book, and Jesus already has a major confrontation with the devil and his minions.  Notice the combative language that the demons use when addressing our Lord.  They say to him, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?”

That’s what armies do in war, is it not?  They kill their enemies and they destroy things.

Now the good news is that Jesus has won the war!  Cosmically speaking, the war against Satan was won by our Lord through his passion, death and resurrection.  That’s the victory we celebrate at this and every Mass.

But the war continues against US!  Yes, Jesus has conquered the devil and made eternal life possible for us and for every human person.

But we’re not there yet!  We haven’t arrived.  For us, the fight—the fight of faith—is not over.

Here it’s important to note the fact that the devil is a very poor loser.

His attitude is, “I couldn’t get Jesus, but I can still get those pathetic human creatures that he loves so much.”

And he will try to do that, you can be sure, each and every day for the rest of our time here on planet earth.

In chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation we read these words: “Then the dragon [i.e. Satan] became angry with the woman [Mary] and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

That’s us!

This is the war which is going on in your life and mine, whether we are conscious of it or not.  And many, unfortunately, are not.  Which is scary because, as I said at the very beginning of my homily, the quickest way to get defeated in a war is to think that you’re not in one, when in fact you are.

On that note, I came across a great article online the other day by Catholic author Jon Horvatt II.  The article was about four of the strategies that Satan uses in the modern world to draw people away from Christ and to himself.

And eventually, of course, into hell.

I’ll share them with you this morning very briefly, because they can help us to understand our enemy and how he tries to defeat us.

The first strategy the devil uses against people is to try to convince them that he doesn’t exist.  As Jon Horvatt puts it, “[Satan] has sought by all means to cause mankind to disbelieve in him.  He encourages a culture which spreads the idea that he does not exist or is not a threat.  Once his existence is called into question, it is only a small step to convince mankind that moral evil in any form does not exist.  Hence, disbelief in Satan destroys the need to fight against evil and our vices.”

The second strategy of the devil builds on the first, and it’s to undermine people’s faith in God.  Horvatt writes, “To disbelieve in Satan is to be logically committed to a disbelief in God. By this strategy, the devil deprives us of our greatest and most powerful support in the fight against evil. He deprives us of the means for victory since God will always triumph over the devil.”

Sadly, according to many of the polls that have been taken recently, this strategy of the evil one is currently meeting with great success, since more and more people are identifying themselves as “nones” (that’s n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s).  Nones are those who claim no religious affiliation whatsoever.  Some of them may not believe in God at all.  Others in this group might believe in a god of some kind, but it’s more than likely a god that they’ve created in their own image and likeness—which is always a very flawed god (and certainly not the real one!).

Satan’s third strategy to steal souls and bring them to hell is to disguise evil to make it look good.  Unfortunately this is another strategy that seems to be working these days—especially in our country.  Think of all the moral evils that people in our society approve of and promote as “good”: abortion, physician-assisted suicide, so-called gay marriage, gender ideology and all that goes with it (something that Pope Francis is always talking about)—even living together before marriage.  All these things were once considered bad and sinful by almost everybody.

But not anymore!

Whose work is that?

Well it’s not God’s, that’s for sure!  He’s not responsible for these changes in morality.

This brings me to the final strategy that Satan uses in his war against us: He tries to get us to change the order of our priorities.

Now that may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but it can be.  For example, why isn’t this church filled to capacity this morning?  Why aren’t there as many people here today as on Christmas and Easter?

It’s because of priorities!

Unfortunately, for “Christmas and Easter Catholics” worshipping Jesus and receiving his Body and Blood on a weekly basis is not at the top of their priority list.  It’s probably not on their list of priorities at all.

Once again, that’s not the work of the Lord.

The quickest way to get defeated in a war is to think that you’re not in one, when in fact you are.

Well, now we know!  Now we know that we are, indeed, in a war; we know who our enemy is; and we know some of his tactics and strategies.

But, most importantly, we know the One who can give us a share in the victory he’s already achieved over our enemy, if we remain close to him and constantly seek his help.  As St. John tells us in his first letter, “Greater is he who is in us [Jesus] than he who is in the world [Satan].”

Let me end now with a little quote from C.S. Lewis.  I just happened to come across this the other day in a book that I’m reading on the Blessed Mother.  It was perfect timing, since I needed something to close the homily.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christianity is a ‘fighting religion’ – not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.”

May Almighty God help us with his grace—every day—to use these weapons and win the war!