The Unclean Spirit, Ideological Possession, and the Dignity of All Persons
In Sunday’s reading from the Gospel, Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit in, of all places, the sacred space of the synagogue. The spirit recognizes him and fearfully reacts “What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus silences the unclean spirit and casts it out of the man.
Certainly, demonic possession is still a phenomenon that happens today. But is seems that most often, evil prefers a much subtler approach. What might that look like?
One of the great thinkers in our day has coined a phenomenon he describes as “ideological possession.”
As I understand it, it’s the idea that a person can become so attached to an ideology that no amount of evidence or truth can ever bring them to have a change of heart or mind. And it doesn’t matter whether the truth is revealed by science or religion, by empirical evidence or experience; they are completely resistant to it. If you have ever engaged someone like this in a discussion, you know that the truth frightens them, as if it might actually harm them.
As Catholics, we believe that the Truth has a name; Jesus Christ. And we are called to follow him wherever he leads us. This isn’t easy. Because to follow Jesus, to be loyal to the truth, means that we will have to let go of those things in our lives that are not true. It means we have to be open to being changed, or transformed by the truth. And while this is not easy, we do it because we believe that Jesus is ultimately leading us to a higher good. “You will know the truth,” he said, “And the truth will set you free.”
Ideological possession exists even in, of all places, the Church. There are many examples but I will share with you two extremes. I have met people within the diocese who do a good job of raising our awareness of the dignity of immigrants, for example. This is important and necessary work, especially today. But they would suggest that such work must necessarily lead one to deny the dignity of the unborn. They rationalize what our society is doing to the unborn. And no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.
On the other hand, there is the extreme that raises our awareness of the dignity of the unborn, likewise, extremely important work in our day. But they suggest that such work requires denying the dignity of immigrants. They rationalize what is currently happening to immigrant families who are being torn apart. And nothing you tell them about the immigrant families that live in their communities will ever convince them to have a change of heart.
Both extremes throw a veil over the dignity of human persons. They just happen to do it in different situations. They make us believe we have to choose between the unborn and the immigrant. Their hearts are completely hardened against the truth.
The role of the Church
The role of the Church in all of this is to highlight the dignity of each person. Without sensationalizing the issues, we have to say over and over again that the dignity of each person means we are responsible for what happens to one another. It means our status as sons and daughters of God does not rely on our being born or having a birth certificate or any other government issued document.
I don’t want to give the impression that there isn’t room for disagreement and passionate debate within the Church. If anything, we need more debate. But we need good debate. We need to be mindful of the spirit that is driving it. Is it one that is motivated by fear of the Truth and where it could lead? Or is it one of faith in Christ who leads us to a higher good?
We are Doing. God is making.
I am often reminded that the work God gives us keeps our focus on what we are doing, while God is focused on what we are becoming in our hearts. And what he wants for us is that we become saints. By God’s grace, I hope to always remember that if I should win every single public policy debate before me, but I become an obstacle to Christ to even one person, then I have failed. If I enjoy every success according to the world’s standard but I do not become the saint God wants me to be, then I have failed.
I often meet good Christian men and women who are frustrated by politics. They are disappointed by what is happening. I try to gently remind them that our hope does not abide in a political savior or a political party; that that is precisely what Judas was hoping for. And if we are not careful, placing our hope in anyone besides Jesus can lead us to betray him.
He is our hope. And while the world, at times, seems to be racing toward its own demise, we believe that Christ has already conquered sin and death. So while we acknowledge our frustrations we must preach a Gospel of hope.
Our Lady is the perfect model for this. So filled with grace was she, that merely the sound of her voice was enough to cause her cousin Elizabeth to think of Jesus. Just her voice at the door made Elizabeth cry out “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to visit me?” Think about that. Just Mary’s voice made Elizabeth think, “Ah! Jesus!” Do our voices do that? When people hear Deacon Mike’s voice at the door do they think, “Ah! Jesus!” Or is there reaction more like, “Oh Jesus…. He’s back.”
Joy is contagious. It spreads like wildfire. But in order to spread it, we first have to have it. And our Lady shows us how to have joy.
We have it when we have Jesus in our hearts. He shows us the dignity of each and every person we meet, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, Catholic, non-Catholic, believer or non-believer, unborn or immigrant, from the womb to the tomb and every state in between.
This recognition is the foundational truth from which all of our advocacy for the common good flows out of. But if we don’t get it, we can’t do it. If we don’t recognize our own dignity, we will never see the dignity of others.
So I invite you to fix your eyes on the image of our crucified Lord now, and listen to what I have to tell you. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever languages you speak, whatever your perception of God is right now, whatever you have done in the past, whatever you have failed to do in the past, whatever your state in life, however old you may be, know this, you are worth that kind of pain. You are worth that much suffering. You are even worth dying for; because you are precious in Father’s eyes. This, is the Truth! This is the reason for our joy. Whatever life brings you, remember that.