The ARM of St. Michael
The story of the violent demoniac is perhaps the most fearsome of the tales of suffering from demons in the New Testament. The Gospel reveals again the reality of the invisible adversary, the enemy of Light, and how grotesque men can become under demonic obtrusion. The uncontrollable states of chronic addiction, including all perversions, are demonic emergencies.
In this Gospel passage, the Son of God is absolute calm supremacy in the midst of terrible things seen and unseen. The deliverer from all evil is Christ, the One Higher Power.
Starved for either feeling alive or ecstatic release, anyone today can be lead into the abyss of the sensual body. The demoniac is described most tragically as bruising himself with stones. Danger and violence can exert the threat of peculiar intoxications and entrapment associated with them. The power of lust can spawn a whole array of self-destructive behaviors, proportionately concentrated as ‘highs’ by their forbidden nature and strangeness.
The afflicted man in the scene comes ‘out of the tombs’, where he is living, exiled. Like possession, addiction threatens to impose an ever narrowing anti-social incarceration, a blind association with a death cave. In the heathen spaces of ignorance on earth, remote from parental love, true nurture and the sacramental power of God, extreme behavioral disorders can emerge.
The man is restrained by others to prevent himself from self-harm. But such measures fail. Addictions also are unconquered by force. Sobriety is not attained by stress or strain. They may help reduce the number of near and easy falls, but restraints alone will not bring sobriety, recovery or salvation.
“Night and day he was always howling.” An addict cries out continuously. The cries may be for more and more ‘drug’, or cries of sorrow, guilt, and shame after episodes of using. Addiction brings chains of suffering as the Devil torments from both ends - temptation to the habitual error, and persecution for weakness and failure.
The man sees Jesus from a distance and runs madly toward him. Is it subconscious desperation? Here, before the Lord, the demoniac bows down. Jesus sees the state of helplessness in the tormented. There is neither confession nor inquest of faith. The profound mercy of this includes the absence of sin judgment. God knows the demoniac cannot help himself. Simultaneously, the Demon knows Who the superior is, and there is no contest.
Before commanding the demon to leave, Jesus asks only one thing “What is your name?”. The demon is obliged to speak. As the demon’s existence is confirmed, the sufferer can no longer live in ignorance of both his broken flesh and his need of deliverance. Healing cannot occur before the malady is named and this for us today is both the disease of the flesh and the spiritual adversaries who have attached themselves to the victim.
Sin is a knowing complicity with what is disordered. But a demoniac, a chronic addict, or sufferer of disorder have often passed beyond ‘sin’ into an awful realm of habituated evil, of flesh now distorted in a fixed way. In time we can, by grace, be consciously freed from seeking the poisons that feed disorder. Yet involuntary, unbidden, unwelcome, accidental and subconscious triggers may persist.
But, uncontrollable behavior does not grant a free pass from healing. For a great majority of addicts there remains always the conscience’s anguish of knowing deep down something is not right. Under some circumstances, it may not be sin as a pre-meditated choice, yet behavioral disfigurement remains the reality. Addicts and compulsives too easily take advantage of mercy, in order to act out.
“No one was strong enough to subdue him.” Except Jesus. Jesus only is the peace. Jesus addresses not the man, but the unclean spirit who seizes and speaks through him. The darkness of demons is undone by light, by support group participation and most efficaciously by the sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession. Reconciliation is a minor rite of exorcism, worked by the Spirit of Christ through His priest.
We confess that we have ‘been a demon’, made freakish, abominable errors in wrongly desiring and saying yes again to our intoxicant. And we are promised to be unbound and made clean, if there is faith and desire to be free. How many actually say with depth and conviction: “I do not want the demon to return.”
For a recovering addict, bearing patiently with a slow-dissipating susceptibility, is a cross. We remain in hope, praying without ceasing, determined for God’s transforming grace of eventual freedom, even if the wait requires us to persevere a long time.
“And people came out to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by “Legion” (thousands of demons), sitting there clothed and in his right mind. And they were seized with fear. “ The demoniac is not the victim of a demon but a multitude of demons. We glimpse the cruel tactics of advanced evil. But far stranger and inspiring is deliverance. Thus: Do not be afraid.
Jesus’ power is beyond the comfort zone of the locals, beyond their understanding of the world, beyond the poverty of not recognizing the supernatural dimensions of the unseen, over which God alone is Master. To accept the victory by Christ requires a significant revision of what might be known about reality and life. Many today, by pride and fearful aversion, might prefer not to have to revise anything, remaining oblivious of the Devil.
Jesus regarded frightening sickness with neither derision nor aversion. Jesus sees only souls and He is Master. The fact of this should inspire every one of us. If Jesus can heal seemingly terminal self-violence and demonic invasion by thousands in a single person, what can He not do for we of less horrible afflictions, who may actually be conscious of what is needed and can ask for remedy with faith?
Lastly, we see that Jesus did not command a legion of demons to leave a human in order to infect other creatures. It is the demons themselves who make this request, which Jesus passively permits. The swine herd rushes headlong to death. If a person is completely taken over, if there is not intervention, demons will lead the possessed to death. Satan wants to destroy life.
What mercy that Jesus spares the man this horror. Human life, again, God assures, is worth more than many beasts. In the era of grace, we are not beasts, we can resist the evil with faith and prayer.
Thank you Holy Triune God. Thank you, Jesus. We praise thee, we bless thee, we surrender all to thee. Amen.