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June 30, 2020
July 2, 2020

Homily for 01 July 2020, Wednesday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Mat. 8:28-34

Jesus healed two men who were possessed by evil spirits. But when the townpeople heard about it, they drove him away. He was not welcome to their place anymore. Why? One commentary says, what Jesus did had very bad consequences for their business of raising pigs. Another one says it could only mean Jesus had to deal with a “deeper kind of demonic possession involving the whole community. “ Maybe it is both: the devil possessing a whole community through a lucrative swine business. But first, let us talk about individual devil possession and exorcism.
Yesterday, we held the third part of our psychospiritual webinar on the topic “Love and Abuse in Relationships”. We invited the psychiatrist, Dr. June Lopez, to help us understand the clinical aspect of abusive behavior, and Fr. Ted Gonzales SJ of the Center for Family Ministries on the psychospiritual approaches to the same issue especially in the family setting.
In most instances, a consistently abusive behavior is an obvious indicator of a serious mental illness. In ancient times, such as in the first century world in which Jesus lived, their generic term for mental illness was a state being “possessed by unclean spirits”. They had no insight yet into the mental and emotional dynamics of the human person. Remember, this was many centuries before the birth of the modern disciplines we call psychiatry and psychology.
When people come to me and tell me that their family member is “possessed” by evil spirits and in need of exorcism, I do not always presuppose that they are right, or that we are really dealing with devil possession. Some of them could simply be manifesting a psychological disorder. It takes a lot of discernment nowadays to be able to tell whether or not we are really dealing with “possession by evil spirits”, or a disorder that is spiritual in nature.
You see, evil is very sophisticated in its ways. It can be at work in some people who do not necessarily manifest the typical kind of weird behavior that is associated with the so-called “possessed”. Some people may look ok, well-dressed, articulate, rational, and functional, but can be “possessed.”
The symptoms could be more subtle, such as when their values get twisted, when they cannot tell right from wrong, when they can laugh at very sick jokes, when they find pleasure in cruelty, violence, and abuse, or when they become verbally or physically abusive themselves. It is more diffficult to exorcise the not-so-typical or not-so-obvious forms of “devil possession”.
In my book on MERCY, I told the story of a mother who sought my help, asking me to exorcise her daughter, who, she said, was being tormented by an evil spirit. I spoke with the daughter who looked sleep-deprived and emotionally distraught. She told me that could see in her dreams and in her waking hours a female monster with big bloodshot eyes, ordering her to abduct their neighbor’s baby for her. I asked more questions and was able to get some things that helped me understand the dynamics between her mother and her jobless father who was a stroke survivor, and whom the mother had separated from.
I took time also to speak to the mother, and by asking some leading questions, I was able to get her to admit what she did for a living. She was a pimp. She took care of finding clients for women and girls as young as 15 who were willing to prostitute themselves. No this was not the big-time kind of prostitution. She catered to jeepney and truck drivers who could do it quickly in a parked vehicle, or for an additional fee, right in her own house. One of her older daughters had also learned the trade and was herself accepting clients.
Whenever I was close to getting to the root of their family issues, she would spiritualize and say all she needed was a pray-over. I eventually did give her daughter a pray-over, but not without getting the mother to see what was going on in her daughter: that the monster her daughter was imagining could be no less than her own mother, that this girl was sleepless because she was worried that one of these days, her mother would pimp for her too and push her into prostitution.
To cut the story short, I addressed the need for her to find another job, and with some help from our social action coordinator, she was able to get a loan to start a small business of peddling fruits and veggies, instead of prostitutes. I remember how, many months later, she agreed to be included among the twelve whose feet I was going to wash ritually on Holy Thursday, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
When she saw me after that Mass, I jokingly told her that there was no dirt to clean anymore from her feet. She had tears in her eyes as she took my hand and pressed it on her forehead, thanking me that her daughter was already well and that her little new business of peddling veggies and fruits was also doing well.
In the meantime, the business of prostitution goes on in that area where she lives, and there are still a lot of pigs around, who, for fifty to 100 pesos, or sometimes even for just a can of sardines are able to get poor girls and women to prostitute themselves in parked jeepneys. When I spoke publicly against this, there were of course those who didn’t like the idea of a bishop meddling with such worldly affairs. They knew that I knew that some of the people who were involved in the business were regular Church goers; they looked decent, they lighted candles and dropped their love offerings in the collection boxes.
I understand now why the prophet Amos says in our first reading, “I hate your sacrifices, says the LORD, I take no pleasure in your… offerings… and your noisy songs!” The prophet is addressing people who don’t see any contradiction between their religious piety and their corrupt ways in society. They think they can manipulate God with their offerings. They prefer the idea of a closeted God, whom they offer votive candles, flowers and cash to, as long as their God did not meddle with their lives, disturbed the status quo, or raise moral and political issues.
And so you see why the prophet Amos was not welcome? Neither was Jesus, as we earlier noted. I imagine the community reacting and saying, “But whoever told you we wanted a righteous life? That we wanted evil to be expelled? You’re hurting our business, so get out of here. This was their message to the prophet.
It is easier to work for the spiritual healing of individuals. It is a bit more difficult to do so for whole communities that are possessed, or sectors of society that are afflicted with a collective disorder. Sometimes, people feel more comfortable acting like pigs than like humans, even if they know that they are headed to a cliff, towards self-destruction.
The prophet is rejected; the healer is crucified. But he will come back, because he does not give up easily. He knows it is not enough to exorcise the unclean spirits that possess groups. His work is not completed until he has succeeded in the opposite kind of possession: possession by the Holy Spirit. That is how Jesus multiplies himself in us his community of disciples, in the mission to “let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.“ (Amos 5:24)


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