Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Homily: "Healing those oppressed by the devil"

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.
I hope that you all had a blessed Christmas and New Year’s.  It has been a quiet last few weeks around here while GW has been on winter break.  I took a vacation to Florida last week as the extreme cold moved into DC. Don’t hate me too much…even though it was close to 80 degrees, we had only a few hours of sun all week (but still squeezed in 3 rounds of golf).  The week before Christmas, I made a 5 day silent retreat up north (where it was cold).  This was my fifth retreat with “hermits” (priests and nuns who live in solitude).  It is an amazing experience! We meet up for Mass each morning, then take our food back to our huts (hermitages), and spend the day in silence.  One can pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (I had the Eucharist in my hut!), take walks through the rustic, serene setting, or get some “holy rest” (which I did much of). 

There’s a sign on the grounds that quotes the Old Testament: “God speaks to us in silence”.  This has been my experience there.   In the past, it’s been mainly God speaking through His Word.  It’s been unbelievable the insights about Scripture, my ministry, and my life that have come from the Lord in the silence.  And, it happened again this year.  But, the predominant experience was the presence of God.   Just to be in His presence, and to feel His presence was overwhelming.  It’s like the cold that we (ahem, you) just experienced. You could feel it as soon as you went outside.  You could feel it in your bones…it was literally bone-chilling.  Or, during the summer, we feel the oppressive heat and humidity as soon as we venture out.  Of course, with God’s presence, it’s not a bad thing to feel like extreme cold or heat.  In fact, as the Psalm says, “the Lord will bless his people with peace”.  It was an overwhelming experience all week in prayer, rest, and exercise of the peaceful and healing presence of God.  We feel peace and healing in our souls.

I experience the presence of God each day during my “mini-retreat” of a Holy Hour in the Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. But, it’s much more palpable when getting out of noise of life and entering into a silent setting.  I highly recommend that each of you make a retreat this year.  It doesn’t have to be five days like for us priests.  But, try to make a weekend or day retreat in silence.  God will speak to you in silence and make His presence known to you….as strongly as the cold made its presence known to you last week.   

Speaking of oppressive, tonight’s second reading says that Jesus healed all those “oppressed by the devil”.  This is a real spiritual condition for many people.  There are three types of demonic activity in the world: 1) temptation which happens to everyone, 2) oppression which happens to many, and 3) possession which happens to a few who invite it.  Think again of the heat we get in the summer.  We use the term “oppressive” to describe that: it’s an external force hovering around us that affects us internally.  In spiritual terms, oppression can be defined as “sorrow of spirit” or “sadness of spirit”.  It can affect us emotionally, psychologically, personally, and spiritually.  When students come to me and say that they are in a funk spiritually or personally, or they don’t feel the presence of God anymore, or that they don’t get anything out of prayer anymore, or just something is wrong and they don’t know what, I will often diagnose it as oppression.  College campuses can be rampant with oppression because serious sin invites it. Sin brings sadness; serious sin brings serious sadness.  The devil tries to keep people mired in their sin; college campuses can be a devil’s playground. But, oppression can also happen to people who are trying to live holiness.  To whomever it occurs, the devil tries to weigh people down with discouragement, despair, minor depression, or sadness….an oppressive spirit.  This is of what Jesus healed people.  He continues to heal people of oppression through his priests.  If you are experiencing oppression this semester, come to me or your spiritual director to be prayed over, to receive a blessing with oil, or to go to Confession.  The Lord will cast out the sadness and bless you with his peace. 

Finally, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord today, we recall our own baptism when we first received the presence of the Lord in our souls – Father, Son, and Spirit.  It’s when we first received the Kingdom of God within us.  The light of Christ cast out the darkness of Original Sin and our dignity was restored.  Why was Jesus baptized? Not for himself, but for us.  To show us the way.  Just like with the cross, he shows us the way to salvation through Baptism. He shows us the way to healing from oppression.  And, at our baptism, a minor exorcism was done to protect us from the evil one!  And, being baptized in Christ assures us of one more similarity to the Lord: God said about us what He said about His Son, “this is my beloved son…this is my beloved daughter…with whom I am well pleased”.             

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