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Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen January 28, 2024

 

Have you ever wondered if we are alone in the universe, if there is any intelligent life existing somewhere out there? Given the fact that we are able to recognize the virtually unlimited size of the universe, I believe that there are other forms of intelligent life, beyond what we are able to see. And now, in our day and age, it is becoming common to speak of artificial intelligence. Some people, very, very smart people, use that term, AI, and then the rest of us nod our heads in agreement, even though we don’t really know what they are talking about. However, we must remember that artificial intelligence cannot do anything that we cannot do, except that AI can do it faster, at least for the most part.

 

Are we alone in the universe? Ancient people were united in saying no. From the beginning of time, people have believed in what we today call ghosts and angels. We have no proof that they were wrong, and it's not right to say they were. In ages past, trusting what you could see with your own eyes made a lot of sense. However, we live in an age of satellites, telescopes, computers, and cell phones. Saying that I will not believe in what I cannot see, what I cannot understand or explain for myself, shuts us off from our modern world. Perhaps it is time for us to give greater thought to intelligent life, for there are too many questions that cannot be answered by just saying, “that's just how we human beings are.”

 

Think about what is happening in our world; take the Middle East, for example. Do the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people justify the October 7th massacre and kidnappings of thousands of Israeli people? We do not even have to look too far from home for evidence that demonic intelligence holds sway over much of humanity. Even after more mass shootings than we can count, why do some people insist that the sale of assault rifles remain unrestricted? Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, most of the people in our world, allow innocents, women, and children to die rather than to question their beliefs. We may disagree on where it is, but there is a madness in this world that seems bigger than we are, and we are not its masters. If only it were madness, or insanity, but it is not; evil is not simply something we choose. Evil appears to eat at us. Perhaps we should give thought to the fact that evil exists outside ourselves, that evil is perhaps greater than we are.

 

This is the evil that Jesus confronts in today’s Gospel, where his first act is an exorcism. Jesus enters the synagogue of Capernaum, and he begins to preach. The Gospel tells us: “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” His listeners are not alone in recognizing his authority: “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!’” Scripture says that we are not alone, that we are not the only intelligent beings in the universe, that we are not even the highest form of intelligence. Demons recognize Jesus as the Christ, the presence of God in Israel, long before his listeners do, even before his disciples do. Yet knowledge alone, the strength of demonic intelligence, is not enough. Those unclean spirits lacked the will to submit, to be attracted to a higher power, one greater than their own. The unclean spirits will not accept the Christ; they will not open themselves to his love. As Saint Augustine put it, “the demons had much knowledge but lacked love.”

 

Yet the Good News of the Gospel offers a warning for all intelligent beings. God is freely offering everything: God’s own self, God’s love, in the person of Jesus. So, to reject Jesus is to reject the only possible fulfillment we can know. I sit and wonder, are there alien intelligences, far and above our own, someplace in the universe, far from us, watching us, to see how things unfold for us in our world? Do they gaze at us with a certain sadness because so many of us think that intelligence alone will win the day and carry us into a bright tomorrow? Have aliens realized that the intellect, unguided by the will, a mind closed to love, is dead? Do they know what we still must learn? That without a desire to love and to be loved, our minds become unstable, and we die. Therefore, in the face of evil, we turn to Jesus, who silences the voice of evil and casts it out.

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