Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica

Saturday 28 January 2012 – 4.15pm

[Readings: Deut 18:15-20;  Ps 95;  1 Cor 7:32-35;  Mk 1:21-28]

In this evening’s Gospel we see that those who heard Jesus teach were astounded at his authority.  This authority showed forth in what he said and what he did, and there was a unity between Jesus’ preaching and his actions.  This is contrasted with the scribes: who preached, but then failed to live up to their teaching.  There was no such dichotomy in Jesus.

One aspect of the authority of Jesus is his power over evil.  Jesus’ word is powerful;  a power that is able to exert authority over evil spirits.

Commentators on the Gospel suggest that the man with the unclean spirit whom Jesus encounters in the synagogue represents all those who need to be converted to God, and freed from the slavery to sin and the devil.  In some way, the man with the unclean spirit represents all of us.  In differing ways, all of us stand in need of deeper conversion to the Lord’s will for us.  All of us struggle in some way with some attachment to sin.  Conversion is rarely achieved once and for all.  We may have to struggle for a long time but victory is assured: the Evil One is powerless against Christ.

One thing we note from the Gospel is that the unclean spirit knows who Jesus is.  In fact, it probably knew Jesus better than most people.  However, that knowledge of Jesus is not coupled with a love for Jesus.  This is a warning for us on our path of conversion and deeper conversion: it’s not enough to know something about Jesus.  That knowledge needs to be coupled with an active and personal love for Christ.  And so, if we are to overcome evil in our lives, if we are to be freed from slavery to sin, we have to stay close to Jesus in love.  We can do this through regular prayer, especially Eucharistic prayer: the prayer of the Mass, and the extension of the Eucharistic liturgy in our adoration of Jesus present in the tabernacle.

If the unclean spirit lacked love of Jesus, it also lacked love and charity towards other people.  If Christ is the Lord of Love, then the devil is the master of selfishness.  One way that we can resist this selfishness is through service of others.  And so while we stay close to Jesus in love, we also stay close to those in need.  As we serve others, whatever their need might be, we slowly but surely weaken the devil’s influence in our lives.

Thirdly, it’s instructive to reflect on Jesus’ words to the unclean spirit, “Be silent!” Jesus says to the unclean spirit.  “Be silent!”  There is a Spanish adage that could be translated as something like, “Virtue is silent;  evil is noisy.”  If you study any of the Saints who have developed rules of life for those seeking holiness and intimacy with God, silence is always a key factor.  It sounds so simple, and yet it can be profoundly difficult.

Many people today can’t bear silence.  If you take some people away from their computers, and tell them to turn off their cell phones and any other mobile device, some people panic!  And yet you can see it time and again: when you take people away from the noise of daily life, particularly when people enter into a time of spiritual retreat – God is able to do amazing things in their hearts, in their lives.  In silence we can better hear God’s word to us;  from silence, virtuous activity can more easily spring from us.  And so if we’re going to allow God to convert us more to himself, we need to develop and cultivate silence in our lives.  That might come in all sorts of different ways: a turning off, a turning down, stepping away from … whatever it is that fills our lives with “noise” …  we create a space in our hearts and lives so that we can be more attentive to the Spirit of God.

As we come to Mass tonight we have an opportunity to express our love for Jesus.  As we bring ourselves, to offer ourselves to the Father through, with and in Jesus, we acknowledge those parts of our lives that are still in need of conversion;  those parts of our lives where we are still trapped by sin – where there is some unclean spirit preventing us from truly enjoying the freedom that God wants us to have.

As we offer the sacrifice of Mass tonight, let’s resolve in the coming week to stay close to Jesus in love;  to also stay close to those in any need, and let’s try to open up some space of silence in our lives – so that the power of Jesus can strengthen us more, banishing darkness, cleansing us of sin, and drawing us deeper into the Father’s love.

The Navarre Bible: Saint Mark’s Gospel in the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate with a commentary by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2009, pp. 56-57.