So our gospel today is from near the beginning of Mark's gospel, and we're going to hear from Mark a lot throughout this year, so I want to make sure we understand Mark and what he was about in his gospel. Mark was writing for the new Christians in Rome, and the Christians in Rome were being persecuted and martyred. So Mark wants to write the story of Jesus to strengthen them in their trials. This is only verse 21 of the gospel and already Jesus is confronting demons. With the persecutions in Rome at the time, Mark had no time for the nice nativity stories we love from other gospels, he gets right down to business with Jesus's ministry.
And this is what Mark wanted those Romans to understand, and it's what he wants us to understand also: Our real fight isn't against the bad people of this world, our real fight is with the Devil himself. We fight and we struggle against the powers of this world, just like Jesus did, but we are actually engaged in a supernatural battle. Just the same as Jesus, our real battle is against the devil and his minions who are actively at work in the world. That's why, already on just page two of Mark's gospel, we see Jesus fighting with this unclean spirit that has taken ahold of this man.
Now, in order to look at this passage and understand where the message is for us, we have to get a couple things right in our heads first. The biggest one is this: Demons, evil spirits, they exist. Sometimes we wonder, "Does the Catholic Church still believe in all that stuff." Yes, we do. They are real just as real as you and me, they want to drag you into hell, and yet they are no match for even the name of Jesus. I state this so strongly because we are inclined to make a couple of dangerous errors. First, sometimes we think that evil is just the lack of good, the same way cold is just the lack of heat. No, evil is personified in the devil and other Angels who turned away from their lofty calling. Jesus made this clear.
The other great error we sometimes see comes from our modern perspective. Armed as we are with great advances in medicine and psychological sciences, we are tempted to look at somebody like this man in the gospel today and say that he suffered from a psychological condition of some kind, and the people of his day, in their ignorance, diagnosed it as demonic possession. But one of the Devil's greatest deceptions is convincing you he doesn't exist. There's a lot of truth to that. If we ever read these bible stories and don't take seriously or literally the evil that Jesus is confronting, then the devil has won a huge victory. So we have to understand that this was real demonic possession, and never downplay the seriousness of this.
So once we recognize the seriousness of this story, then we're prepared to take a closer look at it. When the demon says, "I know who you are," the demon isn't just taunting Jesus, he's trying to battle with him. Because in the spiritual realm, to know the name of something is to have lower over it, that's why in your exorcist movies you always see the priest demand to know the demon's name. So this demon is so filled with pride that he thinks he can control the Son of God by knowing his name. But of course he is gravely mistaken, no matter what he thinks, he has no power over Jesus Christ.
Jesus has two commands for this demon, and he wastes no time in giving them. The first thing he tells the demon is, "Quiet." Even right there there's a lesson for us. We don't dialogue with evil. We rid ourselves of it, we push it far away, we don't dialogue with it. But the other reason for this command is that Jesus' name is powerful, and although the demon wouldn't have been able to use it to control Jesus, Jesus was not going to allow this demon to abuse the most holy name of Jesus. This demon would not be allowed to abuse the most holy name of Jesus. For you and I, the name of Jesus is still powerful. Invoking the name of Jesus in a reverent and confident way whenever we're in any danger, especially spiritual but also physical danger, will instantly dispel darkness and evil spirits. Things like holy waters, rosaries, crucifixes, they are powerful. Demons can't stand them. They don't belong to a superstitious dark age, they belong to you here and now to aid you in the cosmic battle that is being waged for your soul. But even more powerful are the sacraments, especially the Mass and Confession. Use them frequently. There is no better way to dispel evil spirits than a good confession. I recommend going to confession at least once a month.
But then, what's the second thing Jesus commands of this demon? He says, "Come out of him." Just like this demon wasn't going to be allowed to abuse the name of Jesus, just the same way this demon wasn't going to be allowed to possess this man any longer. Two of Jesus' primary actions in the gospels are healing the sick and driving out demons. They rightfully belong together, because exorcism is fundamentally a ministry of healing. Exorcism heals a person of a far worse affliction than any physical illness.
So let's summarize: Demons are real, and they are diametrically opposed to you reaching heaven, they are fighting against you day and night. But you have more powerful forces fighting for you, you have God and all his angels fighting for you. And today's gospel shows us that those demons can't even stand up to the name of Jesus. So you have the name of Jesus to aid you in this fight, and you have these powerful tools that the Church has given us. Use them. Sacramentals like holy water and crucifixes, they should be present in your house. But even more importantly, the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession should be present in your life. Through these things God has given us, we will keep the devil far from us, and we will prepare ourselves to share eternal life in Heaven.