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Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrew 11:32-40; Mark 5:1-20

“Unclean” was a major issue in a society that had strict rules of acceptability and appropriateness of food and human contact.  Being possessed by unclean spirits would obviously be a significant impediment to normal human contact.  And the poor man who came to Jesus for help was possessed by many such spirits.

My impression of “being possessed” always has been a physical invasion of someone’s body by evil spirits, such as in the movie “The Exorcist.”  This reading certainly has that physical side to the possession situation, with the nearby herd of swine being the unlucky ending place for the cast out spirits.  (I found it interesting that there was a herd of swine nearby.  The use of swine as the place where the spirits physically end up could on one level be seen as reinforcement for dietary laws.  The lemming-like destruction left for me the practical answer of compensation to the owner of the herd.)  I suspect most of us feel fairly safe from being physically possessed by unclean spirits.

But when I reflected on this passage this time, it struck me that I can be possessed by spirits in more subtle ways than the physical possession suffered by the man from the tombs.  I am possessed when the spirit of selfishness overtakes my inclination to be generous.  I am possessed when the spirit of bias beats down my sense of fairness.  I am possessed when any of the spirits of evil overcome my desire to be good. 

And I am possessed by many such spirits at the same time, all waiting for the opportunity to assert themselves if they aren’t cast out.  Can I cast them out myself?  Isn’t the message that Jesus brings is that only He can help us deal with these unclean spirits?  Like the man in Mark, though, I first need to ask Jesus for His help.  I need to recognize that I cannot do this alone – my desire to be rid of these unclean spirits is my part, and Jesus provides the power to do the rest.

And so my prayer today is to ask for the grace to ask for help in casting out my demons.

By Tom Purcell

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