In the Gospel of Luke, 11:14-23, Jesus engaged in combat with an unseen enemy called both ‘Beelzebul’ the Prince of Demons and ‘Satan’ which means the adversary, who is intent on destroying the human race and stands against the goodness of God. It’s probably not helpful now to delve too much into what Beelzebul or Satan may mean. While few people today believe in a personified evil one, we still need to explain good and evil in our world. That said, I find the number of television shows about the demonic and the supernatural fascinating.
In the light of modern psychology, we have some indications of the great complexity of human motivations. Added to this complexity of human motivation, we Christians live in a faith-world which acknowledges the unfathomable power of evil and the even more mysterious power of good focused in God. And so, when we attempt to say something the sources of these good and evil spirits or motions which originate deep within each of us, we can still be helped by the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits developed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola 500 years ago.
For Ignatius, good spirits and evil spirits come from
- within ourselves, or
- outside of us, from (a) our fellow men and women, or (b) a power more than human.
In just 100 days in 1994, some 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, a predominantly Catholic country, by ethnic Hutu extremists. In the Holocaust 6 million Jews, gypsies and others were killed. At the instigation of Pol Pot the Khmer Rouge killed 2 million of their own country men and women. How are we to explain these crimes against humanity? Was a power more than human at work?
On a personal level, I know that I can be divided against myself – sometimes listening to Jesus, and sometimes listening to the enemy of human nature. Such battles take place inside us all. As St Paul notes in his letter to the Romans:
“I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)
Prayer is our time of nourishing the good in us, so that goodness will win over evil. Prayer brings us in touch with goodness, with the goodness of God created in the heart of every man and woman.
Fr Michael Smith SJ
Homily at St Ignatius’ Church, Richmond