Joy and Hope
February 21, 2009
Jesus gives life to all we say and do
Editor’s note: The following homily was given by Bishop Jaime Soto at the Mass for World Day of the Sick on Feb. 14 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
In Hispanic ministry, exorcisms, cleansing and the casting out of evil spirits is rather common place. Where ministry among most American Catholics would tend to see diabolic activity as rare, bizarre and perhaps a little wacky, many Latinos speak as if it were common as a cold. Priests in Hispanic ministry deal with it in confessions, casual conversation after Mass, and while being cornered in the grocery store.
When the latest version of an exorcist came to theatres, I was approached by one dubious Anglo who asked me in a rhetorical manner, “Have you ever done an exorcism?” His jaw dropped when I said, “All the time.”
Do not get me wrong or pull out your garlic anytime soon. Most of what I deal with has more to do with episodes of diabetic shock or the religious diagnosis of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or simple unexplained anxieties. Latinos are often frustrated with their priests because we seem so incredulous when presented with these instances and perhaps some of us are. Yet, if a priest wants to be effective in Hispanic ministry, he has to enter into that world and speak its language.
Trying to address the issues of evil and its influences can be trying in the Hispanic community. Many are accustomed to me saying, “Ustedes tienen más temor al Diablo que confianza en Dios.” (“You have more fear in the devil than trust in God.”)
Along with a recommendation that they see a doctor or stay on their medication, I also encourage them to approach the sacraments of the Eucharist and confession because the Lord Jesus does cast out evil and breathe his spirit of grace and mercy through the sacramental signs and gestures. Too often though, Latinos are influenced by the media images and assume that I will come into their home like Wesley Snipes in the movie, “Blade.”
I mention all this because I believe there is this healthy pre-modern instinct about evil in the world that makes Hispanic ministry not more exotic, but more real. Our world is charmed by angels and saints as well as haunted by demons and devils. The spirit of good and the spirit of evil swirl and whirl around us. but which of these will we breathe into our hearts?
Flannery O’Connor, the great Catholic writer from the South, tells dark, evil stories with characters that can haunt us and disturb us. Her intention was to heighten our awareness of the evil in our midst so that we could more easily understand the need for the graceful mercy of redemption. In a similar vein, Octavio Paz, the Mexican author, said comparing Americans to Mexicans that Americans believe that the world can be perfected and Mexicans believe that the world can be redeemed. Garrison Keiller lamented in one of his lyrical monologues that people in America do not sin anymore. We make excuses.
The reality of evil and sin is not a popular topic. Yet, in order to acknowledge and invoke God’s wonderful grace, we must also admit the influences of sin that can bind us and blind us. Evil itself is a mystery that can confound us and confuse us. We may see its influences in unexplained forces or in situations of sickness or disability. We recognize its pattern in addictions of all kinds, obsessions with power or paralyzing fears. In all of this, the power of evil poisons the human heart and saddens the sin-sick soul.
Whether we think like my old parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santa Ana or we tend to think more like Dr. Phil, there is a power to our Catholic tradition that breathes the authoritative spirit of the Lord Jesus who casts out evil with the force of goodness, truth and love.
In today’s first reading we hear the account of God’s conversation with our first parents, Adam and Eve, and the devil (Gen. 3.9-24). He explains to them the consequences of sin and the evil that is brought into the world because of sin. God’s words from the Genesis account weigh heavy on us because we are aware of how burdensome human existence can be. We are also aware of how much we share in that first great sin.
As harsh as the just judgment of God was for Adam, Eve and their descendents, we also know that God did not abandon them nor does he abandon us. Even as he casts them out from paradise, the Creator tenderly clothes his creation. In the Gospel today, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, looks with great compassion on the people who follow him, saying “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.”
The Lord Jesus in the Gospel today feeds the multitude (Mk. 8.1-10). The common tendency is to see the extraordinary work of the Lord Jesus. Let me suggest to you that our attention should be on the ordinariness of what Jesus does so that we can better understand how extraordinary is the call he has given us.
Jesus is a devout Jew. Along with the other members of his community, he is practiced in the ways of hospitality and care. Through this devout and pious observance, Jesus demonstrates the power of the Word, a power that gives life and hope. Jesus is able to cast out the evil spirit because he brings the Holy Spirit into the rituals and routines of his time.
He imbued the religious and hospitable gestures and habits of his time with the divine Spirit. His words and actions are so filled with the Spirit’s power that he casts out evil by bringing the strength of hope and the light of love. Do you see how human is the divine work of the Lord? The divinity of Jesus chooses the ordinary rituals of hospitality and prayer to do marvelous deeds.
No one here may ever walk on water but we can all still do what Jesus did. We can care for those who are sick and frail. We can comfort the lonely and forgotten. We can gather for prayer with our brothers and sisters. Together with them, we can praise the God of mercy and grace. We can proclaim his glorious name and in his name we too can cast out evil and sin with the power of the Word of hope and love. We should not underestimate the power of what we say and do as the followers of Jesus. It is the power of Jesus at work in us. He gives life to all we say and do.