Today's Gospel (Mark 1:21-28):
'Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.'
Jesus, in this passage, performs what we would now call an exorcism; a rite in the Church that still exists to this day. Some people even suggest the Pope performed an exorcism in St Peter's Square recently, though we cannot confirm that this is the case as there has been no definitive response from the Vatican. For more on this particular story, click here.
There is, of course, biblical foundation for the belief that the devil prowls the earth looking to wreak havoc.
In Revelations 12:7-9 we are told:
'And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown out with him.'
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states:
'When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.'
The Church is in no doubt about the need for exorcists within its ranks, to perform exorcisms and continue the fight against the 'Evil One'. A daily fight we are all involved in and all have our part to play in. Indeed, the Church has increased the number of priests trained in exorcisms in recent years, particularly in Spain, Italy and Poland.
Catholic Answers apologist and presenter Patrick Coffin had a very interesting interview with Father Gary Thomas, a trained exorcist, in late 2012. It is extremely insightful and well worth a read. To see an excerpt from the interview, click here.
The fight against the 'Evil One' goes on and we must pray for anyone requiring the right of exorcism and for all priests who perform the rite.
Remember also the great prayer of St Michael, a prayer that should be part of the staple diet of our daily lives:
St Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle .
Be our defence against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
o Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
St Michael the Archangel