Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent:
The cure of the man possessed by the devil

 

Gospel. Luke xi. 14-28. At that time: Jesus was casting out a devil, and the same was dumb. And when he had cast out the devil, the dumb spoke; and the multitude were in admiration at it: but some of them said: He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. And others tempting, asked of him a sign from heaven. But he, seeing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because you say, that through Beelzebub I cast out devils. Now if I cast out devils by Beelzebub: by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I, by the finger of God, cast out devils: doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his court: those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him and overcome him: he will take away all his armor wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest: and not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. And it came to pass as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd lifting up her voice said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.

Our loving Redeemer, in all His journeys through Judea, performed many works of mercy and kindness to poor humanity. All the sick people who could approach Him were cured, the blind received their sight, the deaf heard, the lame walked, and even the dead were raised to life. He was the great wonder-worker of those days, and the sick and unfortunate especially flocked around Him.

But not only did He work miracles–He also led a most holy life, a life that was an example to every one. In Him there was no defect, no vice, no fault. From all this it would appear to us that He should be known by all as the Messias. The crowds, indeed, knew Him, but they were the common people, who followed, loved, and adored Him as their Saviour. But the Pharisees were not of this class; they were full of envy of Jesus because He was not of their school; they calumniated and persecuted Him; His greatest and holiest actions were presented in a bad light, and in this very day’s Gospel we have an example of their perversity. Our Lord had cast out the devil, and the Pharisees, with a significant shake of the head and frightened mien, said, “This man casteth not out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of devils.” There are many in the world that imitate the Pharisees; whatever good is done by a person is looked at in a bad light; evil purposes are attributed to the purest intentions.

Young people are much given to this sort of criticism; they are so thoughtless that they will say almost anything of another. They see a companion serious and pious, and they say he is crazy, or a devotee; here is one that goes to communion regularly–and they call him a hypocrite; here is a noble young fellow, polite and good to his masters and obedient to their directions–they say he is a mean, sneaky character and does it all to obtain power; a retired, quiet boy is considered a fool; if he is found praying in church, they make fun of his devotion; in fact, the bad boy cannot see any good in a well-behaved, religious lad. It is a singular thing, but nevertheless true, that jealousy is in our hearts, especially in regard to the good qualities of our companions. All the good they have seems to detract from us, and we cannot acknowledge ourselves inferior to others. It is an abominable trait, hateful to God and to our fellow creatures. Then speak no evil of the goodness of others; commend your good companions, love them the more, recommend them to the notice of others, and make up your mind to avoid the company of evil talkers and detractors. If this detraction should strike you, and make you feel the injustice of mankind, continue in your goodness, let them talk. Would you become bad because the wicked see no good in you? Did Our Lord change the manner of His life when the Pharisees spoke evil of Him? On the contrary, He quietly continued, as if He did not hear them at all.

The devil had deprived the poor man of the power of speech, not for his own good you may be sure; he might have left him the use of his tongue, and instigated him to speak very much evil: for though the tongue is a small member, it can do an immense amount of harm. Just consider for a minute what the tongue can do: the blasphemies against God, the frauds against men, detraction, deception, bad counsel, immodest words, ridicule of religion and religious usages; these are the fruits of an unguarded tongue. St. James tells us that the tongue is the universe of iniquity. If our young people were only dumb in regard to the vices of the tongue, they would not have to answer for so many sins or for the eternal ruin of their companions. St. Vincent Ferrer relates an example of a dumb woman who was brought to him to be cured. “What do you wish me to do for you, my daughter?” She, that had never spoken before, said, “Give me the knowledge of how to live a holy and spiritual life, besides the faculty of speech.” St. Vincent replied, “Yes, you shall have the first request, but as to the faculty of speech I will not obtain it for you; it is better to save yourself without being able to speak, than to damn your soul by the sins of the tongue. Even though now you have spoken you will again become dumb.”

How many men at the judgment-seat will wish that they had been born dumb, when they see that they have lost their souls by the faculty of speech! As I said before, the devil did not deprive this youth of whom we are treating in this Gospel of speech for his own good. Satan never does anything for our good, but for our destruction. The devil’s delight is to make men spiritually dumb; he enters into their hearts, takes possession of them, and makes them incapable of speaking. They become mute and do not open their mouths in prayer; even when pressed by the greatest need they cannot go to confession. They have committed a great sin and he makes them tremble with fear; they would rather conceal the poison in their breast than confess the fault. Bold as men are before committing a crime, they are real cowards after it is done; he suggests to the poor sinner that he will lose the esteem and good opinion of the confessor; that he will be scandalized, that he will scold and that he will deny him absolution.

No, my dear children, allow not yourselves to be led away by the devil. The confessor does not think less of his penitent by hearing his confession; on the contrary he is impressed by his openheartedness; he is not scandalized at the recital of sins, he only sees an example of faith and piety; he will not scold, only to put you on your guard and give you the necessary advice to escape faults in the future; and if he does scold, it is because, aroused by the danger you are in, he wants to put sufficient emphasis to his words, so that you may appreciate the importance of your fall. The confessor will never deny absolution except in cases where he sees that there is going to be no effort made at correction.

Be on your guard, my dear young people, against sin; but should you commit any, make up your mind at once to get rid of that dark stain on your conscience by a sincere confession. Oh, what miseries are heaped up by those who conceal their sins! All their confessions are worthless; the sin of sacrilege is added to the rest, their condition is even worse than it was before. Then there is the danger that when a sin is once concealed, it will close the mouth of the penitent so effectually that even at the hour of death it will not be revealed, as we find in many cases. An unhappy woman was ashamed to confess a certain sin. She fell seriously ill, and her confessor was called; when she saw him she cried out, “You have come in time to see a lying penitent of yours go to hell. I have often confessed to you, but have always concealed the graver faults.” He begged her to make her confession, but she said, “I cannot, I am damned!” and she breathed her last.

When you have overcome this dumb devil by a good confession, and he shall have gone away from you, have the doors of your heart well under observation that he may not come back again; then you will have peace of mind. “When a strong man well armed guards his house, all that he has will be secure.” Our Lord does not say to guard the interior, but He desires you to have special care of the entrance. And why? Because when the door of the soul, by which all manner of evil may enter, is not looked after, there will be little hope of your continuing in good. Is it not written, “He who loveth danger shall perish in it”?

Easter is near, and you wish to make a good confession; you desire to be really converted. Then you will have to make a good and firm resolution not only to avoid sin, but to watch every approach to the soul. If your conversion is not of this kind it will not be real, and you will not persevere to the end. You cannot imagine all the tricks the devil is going to employ to catch you again. “When the devil has gone out of a man, he wanders about in lonesome places, looking for a home; but not finding a suitable one he will say to himself, I will go back to the soul from which I came. He finds the soul cleansed and beautifully ornamented with virtues, a thing not at all to his taste, and he sees that the soul evidently thinks herself strong. He goes and takes with him seven others worse than himself; they make a sudden attack by wily means, and again they triumph; they enter, and the last condition of that soul is worse than the first.

The devil will not quietly give up what he has lost; he makes every possible effort, employs every artifice to regain possession. He tempts the poor soul with a sense of false security, he follows her in all her acts of piety and devotion, he fills her imagination with magnificent promises. “All these things will I give thee.” He would give the whole world if it were his, to gain his point. You can, from this, form an idea of the value of a soul, when you see the devil make such efforts to gain it. You can see how valuable it is, when it has cost the life of Our Lord to ransom it from the grasp of the enemy. What insanity, then, to think the soul of little worth! From henceforth have a great care of your soul; do not sell it to the devil for any price; certainly not for a momentary pleasure, or for some unlawful satisfaction.

When the devil has come into possession of your soul for the second time, how hard it will be to dislodge him again; if he takes seven other devils worse than himself, how much stronger will be his hold; he will rivet the chains firmer.

The devil does in your case as you would do to a bird that has escaped the meshes of your net; you will choose stronger cords, and should you succeed in alluring it to the net again, you will make sure that it shall not escape a second time. The devil would do with you as you would do to a slave who has struck off his chains. You would put heavier chains on him, and keep such a guard over him that it would be impossible for him to get away. So also will the devil shut off every avenue of approach to your relief. Should you find some benefit to your soul from the reading of a good book, he will lead you to places where there are none to fall into your hands; should you have an opportunity to hear a good sermon that would perhaps open your eyes, he will lure you to plays and enjoyments. In this way he will use every artifice and all the cunning of which he is master, until at last you will be firmly under his dominion. And thus it is that the last state is worse than the first. So it is that those who fall again into the slavery of Satan rarely find the power of resistance until they are led to the gates of hell. May such a terrible thing never happen to you; that having put the devil from you, you should again make peace with him and allow him to regain your soul.

When Our Lord had concluded His words, such admiration came over the crowd that they could no longer contain themselves, and a certain woman cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee and the paps that gave Thee suck.” Our Lord was certainly conscious of the great glory of His Mother Mary, but He answered, “Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.” Be of the number of those happy and blessed ones. The Pharisees heard the word of God, but kept it not. You, my good children, listen with simplicity of heart and with humility. Many have gone and many will go to heaven because they heard the word of God and kept it. St. John of God was a wanderer on the face of the earth; he had run away from his home: was twice a soldier, and was once condemned to death. He had the happiness once to hear a sermon; he heard it with a contrite and humble heart, he fell on his face in the church. publicly confessed his sins, and rose to become a saint.

Sermons for Children’s Masses
by Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900

 

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