As we begin the ordinary time of the Church year, we follow the Lord’s public ministry. The curtain lifts and we are in the synagogue at Capernaum:
Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. (Mark 1:21-26)
Here are two brief thoughts:
First, note the astonishment of the people. The preaching of the Word of God is not meant to be a perfunctory part of the Mass. Even when the preacher is not gifted with eloquence or charisma, God’s Word has the power to astonish us.
The Greek word used in this passage is very strong: ἐξεπλήσσοντο (exeplessonto). It comes from combining exe or ek (wholly out) and plesso (to strike) Thus the most literal translation is that Jesus “knocked them out” with his proclamation. The word indicates the state of being utterly amazed, dumbfounded, or left at a complete loss after witnessing something incredible. One can picture someone gaping in sheer astonishment.
If we carefully attend to the Word of God rather than just listening half-heartedly, we should expect to be astonished. It may make us mad, sad, or glad; it may console or afflict us; but we cannot be unchanged if we open our heart and mind to its power.
Do you go to Church expecting to hear a Word that will change you? When you read Scripture, do you expect to be surprised, astonished, or even intrigued? If not, why not?
Second, notice that the demon recognizes Christ for who He is: The Holy One of God. James rather sadly observed that demons believe and even tremble (see James 2:19). If even demons recognize and are thunderstruck by the glory of God, how is it that so many of us are half asleep during the sacred liturgy?
Those who have attended exorcisms are quite surprised at the power that simple holy water, the touch of the priest’s hand, and the priest’s stole have over demons. This is also true of relics and sacramentals. The demons experience their power, yet so many of us are casual and unexpectant around such realities.
These observations are meant not so much to shame as to remind us that in the sacred liturgy we encounter the Lord of Glory. He is present in both word and sacrament. If a demon can know that and have servile fear, how about us? Can we know this and have a reverential fear and love?
Tomorrow I will post more on the power of Jesus’ preaching.
Archbishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix celebrated Mass with members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Region XIII who gathered at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Feb. 12, 2020, during their ad Limina Apostolorum visit. (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA/EWTN)