Saltem Diebus Dominicis: 3rd Sunday of Lent – The Enemy

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

With this Sunday we enter, already, into the second part of Lent.  The 20th century liturgical writer Pius Parsch (+1954) puts it in The Church’s Year of Grace, that during the first two weeks of Lent we prepare against attacks by the Prince of this world, the Devil and fallen angels, with the weapon of mortifications.  On this Sunday we move from defense against the Enemy to attack on the Enemy.

In the Gospel reading from Luke 11, Our Lord casts out a demon and refutes accusations of collusion with the Enemy.  Christ then explains how not to allow the demons to return to trouble us.  On that note, in his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul inveighs against sins through which demons can attach themselves to us in order to oppress us and also attach to the places where those sins occurred.  In the third part of the Gospel, is a brief exchange with a woman who raises her voice in the crowd.

Let’s start with that last part.  At the end of the Gospel pericope (a “cutting out” from Scripture – I want you to be able to use the fancy terms), a woman raises her voice over the crowd:

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28)

The tacking on of this Marian addition to the two pieces about demonic possession seems out of place.  However, we are Roman Catholics.  During Lent, we who appreciate the Vetus Ordo of the Roman Rite pay attention to the Roman Station churches which occur each day through the Easter Octave.  This Sunday we are in spirit today at the ancient St. Lawrence outside-the-walls, where the great deacon was buried.  This is, in a sense, our physical context even though we are geographically distant from this hallowed place.  The original basilica built by the Emperor Constantine was too small.  Therefore, a large hall was tacked on to it by Pelagius II (+590) and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We have that strong Marian allusion tacked on to the previous two parts of the Gospel reading about exorcism and relapse probably because of the structure of the Roman Station church.  If that isn’t obvious to us today, it would have been completely clear to our ancient forebears in the Faith.

The part of the Gospel reading about the woman praising Christ’s Mother and His repost could be taken to be a slight of Mary.  “Your mother is great!” and you respond, “Those people over there are great!”  It doesn’t immediately strike one as respectful of His Mother. This snippet occurs often in the Vetus Ordo because it is in Votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin that are traditionally celebrated on Saturdays, Santa Maria in Sabato.  As a result, we should briefly unpack it.  I think that Christ’s intention in redirecting praise to believers intends to prompt people to think beyond the mere physical relationship of blood, indeed the physicality at all.  After His resurrection, Christ said to Mary Magdalen, in the Greek, “cease holding on to me” (John 20:17).  On the same day of the resurrection, the disciples on the road to Emmaus don’t recognize Christ until he breaks bread (Luke 24:35).  Then He disappears, teaching them that they will now have Him present with them in this new way, the Eucharist, not in His previously earthly physical form.  The redirection of the praise of His earthly Mother, points to our new bonds of kinship in and through Him, untrammeled by ethnicity or consanguinity.  This will be especially important after the giving of the Great Commission to go, not just to the Jews, but to all the nations.

I’ll return to the parts of the Gospel about the exorcism and Christ’s description of the unclean spirits, a passage not to be found, if I am correct, in the Lectionary of the Novus Ordo.  Again, we keep in mind that we are at St. Lawrence outside-the-wall, where pre-Lent began with Septuagesima.  Those aspiring to be baptized underwent scrutinies and exorcisms at St. Lawrence, a place that reminds Christians of the price to be paid for fidelity.  One thing that this Gospel reading underscores – and perhaps this is why it is not in the Novus Ordo – is that the realm of the supernatural is real and that there is a supernatural, spiritual battle going on around us and over us.  The Enemy is endowed with angelic abilities beyond our grasp.  The Enemy is relentless.  Our preparations for our part in this battle must not be haphazard.

Christ uses a short parable about a strong man guarding his house.  Parables, as you know, have a twist in them, something slightly off-kilter that gets our attention.  The strong householder is fully armed and ready but someone stronger comes along.  One has the impulse to pity the householder.  In fact, the householder is the Enemy and the stronger one who arrives is Christ.  The Enemy is the Prince of this world (John 14:30).  Christ comes and “steals” what, whom, the Enemy possessed.

Finally, the second part of the Gospel about the demon who, having been driven out, wanders aimlessly before returning.

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.

This is a puzzling image.  If the house is in “good order”, then how is it a place for the demons?  Yet, they come anyway and the situation is worse than before.  Cyril of Alexandria (+444) suggests that this is a kind of corruptio optimi pessima situation: the worst kind of corruption is corruption of the best thing.  Christ is talking to 1st century Jews.  When the Jews were in Egypt, they adopted pagan ways of idol worship which had to be eradicated.  Once they were freed from pagan ways, they relapsed and they were, in a sense, worse off than they were before.  Each and every time the people lapsed and broke covenant with God, God imposed more and more laws on them.  They were, in the sense of oppression under the Law, worse off.   This can be the case with the lapsed sinner.  In lapsing, the fall can be even worse than before.  We find ourselves in a worse situation, especially if we think we are pretty spiffy.  Pride goeth before the fall.  What can result from such a lapse is a kind of despair that leads to the loss of charity, of course, but also of hope, even though faith might remain.

This leads me to a takeaway.  Christ spoke of the house being “swept and put in order”.  But here are the demons anyway.  So, was the house really in good order?  Was it “swept”?

I am sure you never have, but sometimes when I have swept or vacuumed, I fudge a little and don’t move those darn chairs that are in the way.  It would take just a little bit more effort and few more seconds but, no, I sort of go around them.  Have I really “swept”?  Yes, but no.

So, to be blunt, how were your last examination of conscience and confession?  Did you move the chairs?

Does a haphazard approach to lethal sin sound like a good idea?  It implies a lack of commitment and disorder.

As Lent continues, move the chairs.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...