God loves our city. It’s not because of anything we’ve done, or haven’t done, but because of who we are, and who He is. We’re also convinced that the Enemy hates our city. Los Angeles is only named after “the angels” because it’s first named after Our Lady, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula, or "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula.” And the Devil hates our Lady. One major reason is because he was created beautiful, but pride and the desire to control were the cause of his downfall; but Mary is exalted because of her humility and offering up all control to the Lord’s will. So we can’t pretend that the Devil is not on the attack here in our home.
I have not had a lot of experience with the demonic, at least in its extraordinary, manifested form. But the one time I saw it most clearly was, of all places, on a retreat. One would think that the demonic would stay away from the holy places. But if the Gospel of Jesus casting out the unclean spirit in the synagogue tells us anything, it’s that they can be bolder than we are.
I had gone up to join some friends for their parish’s Confirmation retreat. They were taking up like 200 teens for a weekend at one of my favorite retreat centers, a place I had taken teens up to for years while I was helping out in youth ministry in my college days. There were probably about four or five of us priests, so we had the work cut out for us to get through as many Confessions that night as we possibly could. About an hour into the night, praise and worship bringing hearts into prayer, the Sacrament of Confession freeing those hearts for worship, I noticed one of the young women beginning to lean a little bit in her chair, and finally fall onto the floor. She began to shake and yell out, “She doesn’t belong to you! She doesn’t belong to you!” I had to apologize to my penitent at the moment, and let them know I had something else that needed some attention, to say the least. Thankfully, one of the other priests there was far more experienced with deliverance prayer and these kinds of situations. So I just knelt next to the young woman, just telling her that she indeed belonged to Jesus.
Eventually, we were able to get her calmed down, bring her outside for some fresh air and prayer, and she seemed to be ok for the rest of the evening. But that wasn’t the end of the strangeness. It wasn’t long after that I noticed the Padre Pio poster they had put on the wall begin to come loose and then fall on the floor (I know the demons don’t like him, but I could chalk that one up to an air conditioning vent beneath, I think). The kicker came when, on the stage there was a crucifix hanging on the wall, where teens were going up to pray their penance after the Sacrament; and the crucifix fell off the walk by itself (no air conditioning vent this time). Thankfully, one of the adult leaders very calmly just walked over and hung it back up on the wall as if nothing had happened.
So as you can probably imagine, the 200 or so teens were a little freaked out. So it was time to calm some nerves and let them know what was happening. I was able to remind them that we are indeed on retreat; this is a holy place. We have praise and worship music, we have Confessions, we have multiple priests ready to pray with them and forgive their sins. So of course, if it was more than a young woman expressing some real hurt in her life in an unexpected way, and if indeed it was some kind of demonic manifestation, what did we really have to worry about? We would be praying for her regardless. But in the end, the Lord was winning so many victories by being praised and by forgiving sins left and right int hat space. If this was truly demonic, it was a losing battle for the unclean spirit. They were just trying to scare us and it was nothing but bravado. They’d already lost. Jesus could not be defeated that night. Or any night.
We keep all this mind as we encounter Jesus casting out demons throughout the Gospel of Mark. Especially important, Jesus’ first public act of ministry is an exorcism. Because the demon refuses to worship God, even though it knows who Jesus is, it has been suggested that the demon was trying to “exorcize” Jesus. In ancient Israel, it was understood that to know and to be able to use someone else’s name could give you a certain kind of authority, even control over that person. This is especially true even today in exorcism. So by knowing who Jesus is and using His title, but refusing to worship Him, this unclean spirit is trying to exert control over Jesus. This is perhaps why, over and over again in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is telling demons and unclean spirits to be silent because they know who He is. Obviously, not only is Jesus uncontrollable by demons, He is the one who can control the uncontrollable.
All throughout Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is controlling the uncontrollable. God’s kingdom is breaking through into this world through His teachings and His actions. From this moment of casting out the unclean spirit in what should have been a clean place; to touching a leper and proving His his healing more contagious than the disease; to rising from sleep to calm the storm at sea with simply a word of command; to reaching out for the hand of a dead girl to bring life out the other side; to being buried into death and leaving the tomb itself behind forever. Jesus is not only uncontrollable in His power, He controls the uncontrollable.
Which makes the whole purpose of the Gospel that much more remarkable—that Jesus would let Himself be crucified out of love for us. That he would not be overcome by any of these disasters and tragedies. But love would overcome Him, and because of that, we have new life. And this is what the demons will never believe. As St. Augustine wrote: “There was in them knowledge, but there was not charity; and the reason was, that they feared their punishment from Him, and loved not the righteousness in Him.”
So while Jesus is not only uncontrollable, but He is the one who can control the uncontrollable, where does that leave us in our relationship with Him? We may not be able to control Jesus, but He has given Himself over to the Cross. In a certain sense, He let Himself be controlled to the point of death. But ultimately, even death would know Him, and still be defeated by Him. Therefore, while we cannot control Jesus, for this reason we can adore Him.
So when we can enter into the Eucharist, let us be humbled by the One who controls the uncontrollable, and has made Himself so humble and vulnerable for us in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. And it’s not because of anything we’ve done, or have not done, but because of who we are and who He is. As the 17th century French mystic, Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament once prayed:
“A God makes Himself our food! O astonishing prodigy! What are all the miracles worked by Jesus Christ during the course of His earthly life in comparison to this one? What a spectacle! What a bounty! What charity! A God who gives Himself to us! O Love! He who with three fingers sustains the universe is held by the priest. He who commands all of nature obeys a being who is nothing. He who is all-powerful makes Himself so dependent that He is in the power of His creatures; they carry Him, they bring Him wherever they choose. This is too much. Your charity, my Savior, goes even to excess! O incomprehensible miracle! Mystery forever inconceivable! No, the thought of man would not know how to attain it. Man cannot understand; but man can love, man can adore.”
—Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament, “The Mystery of Incomprehensible Love”
Come let us adore Him, the One who adores us.