Casting out Demons

Children in Somotillo, Nicaragua
Ched Myers really breaks this passage (Mk 9:14-29) open. Ultimately, it is a story of faith/doubt and unbelief. The disciples doubt their power. The father doubts their power. He is desperate for relief for his son. Jesus here is casting out the demon of unbelief which beset disciples then and now. Jesus connects prayer—one of the three Lenten practices we will use—to faith. Prayer is “the power of belief.” Myers says, “To pray is to learn to believe in a transformation of self and the world, which seems empirically impossible—as in ‘moving mountains.’’ (11:23). What is unbelief but despair, dictated by dominant powers, that nothing can really change, a despair that renders revolutionary vision and practice impotent. The disciples are instructed to battle this impotence, this temptation to resignation, through prayer.” Myers goes on to say that we must all struggle with the “demons that mute our prophetic voice.
This commentary is timely. We saw so much poverty and hopelessness in Nicaragua. The people are despairing that the government is corrupt and that the fruits of the Sandinista Revolution 30 years ago have gone the way of corrupt government. But there is hope. We met Father Fernando Cardenal, S.J. who was Minister of Education in the Sandinista government. [His brother, Ernesto—poet and priest—was a novice under Merton at Gethsemani before he returned to from a base community in Nicaragua. He served as Minister of Culture in the Sandinista government. When he knelt to greet Pope John Paul II at Sandino Airport, the Pope shook his finger in his face because he was a government official.] The Sandinistas gave hope. They took the revolution into every nook and cranny of Nicaragua with medical care and education. Fernando still has fire in the belly. He proudly speaks hope—Fe y Alegria is educating 1.3 million of the poorest of the poor in the Global South. Education gives hope for things yet unseen. All we, like Paul, can do is plant the seed. God—the God of Hope—gives the increase. The person, power and presence of the risen Jesus gives hope and casts out the demons of despair.
Liberation theology is the theology of the Risen Jesus. He said that he came to liberate the oppressed and to set captives free. Radical evil is the refusal to alleviate human misery. I foresee the revival of base communities as faith-filled people of Latin America struggle for Gospel freedom. “Jesus es Senōr in Nicaragua!” (And everywhere else in Latin America.)
Lent is upon us. This Gospel account reminds us that we must pray, fast and give alms. We should increase our prayer practice during Lent. Some form of contemplative prayer will lead us to the emptiness and the void which God will fill with love so that we can love one another with God’s love. Fasting and almsgiving also empty us so that we can make room for God and one another. We should give alms during Lent. The Catholic Relief Services boxes we got in church is one good way to give alms.
Maximus the Confessor identifies three elements in charity: (1) Giving from one’s abundance to people based on their need, (2) Serving others, and (3) Sharing the Gospel with others. We should serve others. Jesus comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor. We should also share Gospel hope with everyone we meet.
Gospel hope gives us the prayer power to work for justice, to seek to dismantle the structures of the powers and principalities which bind and oppress. Examining our consumer complicity in oppression should help us change our worldly priorities for Gospel values. Recently, Newsweek labeled us as a nation of socialists. The early Christians were socialists. Be that as it may, Gospel values compel us to work for justice—right order and right relationships. Justice drives us to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to care for the sick, to visit the imprisoned, to love one another, to pray for our persecutors, to turn the other cheek, to put away our swords, to forgive one another.
We must take heart, cast out the demons of despair and work for justice.

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