Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lord's call

“He went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.”

Many times in the Gospels, Jesus calls to various individuals to follow Him. The most famous, of course, being the apostles themselves. The urgency of His call was such that Peter and Andrew, James and John left their former lives immediately and followed Him. We should note that while the evangelists are making the point of how dramatic is the call of Christ, these men, and others, were disciples of Jesus for almost two years before He gave them this definitive call. As the Gospel of John describes the history of the early ministry of Jesus, there was about a two year gap between the baptism of Jesus and His passion, death and resurrection. Two Passover celebrations took place before the one during which He was put to death. And during that time, these first disciples-made-apostles spent time with the Lord, and even followed Him about, before He called them to leave everything for His final year of preaching, teaching and proclaiming the “year of favor from the Lord.”

That being said, there were others who were called by the Lord. Many followed Him; some others did not. Some started to follow Him, but left Him when He announced the Eucharist, calling Himself the “Bread of Life” to be eaten for eternal life. “Leave the dead to bury their dead” is one of the most intense warnings Jesus gives to a would-be disciple, who seemingly only wanted to bury his deceased father.

Yet, there was one man who wanted to follow Jesus, but was refused in his request, the man possessed by a Legion of demons, in the land of the Gerasenes. This area, also called the Gadarenes, was on the east bank of the river Jordan, and was partially Hebrew and partially gentile. We know that gentiles lived there because there were swineherds, something that the Jews would not even think of possessing.

This man lived among the tombs, and was often chained because of his violent outbursts, caused, we learn, by having been possessed by a Legion of demons. Not your ordinary exorcism, as we see that Jesus Himself seemingly had a difficulty freeing the man from possession. In your every day exorcism, a simple word from Jesus would free a person so possessed. This devil was not wont to go. In the Church’s exorcism rite, part of the ritual directs the priest to ask for the name of the demon within a person. Once the name is given, the exorcism usually becomes effective shortly thereafter. To “name” someone means to have a certain power or authority over someone, or at least gives access to that person. Knowing the “Name” of God gives us access to Him. Once the demon announces his name, Jesus completes the exorcism. Surprisingly, once the name is given, the demon makes a request of the Lord, to be sent into the pigs, and Jesus gives him permission to leave. Thus we see that Jesus was in control of the situation the whole time.

Once the demons enter the pigs, they are sent into a frenzy, and the whole herd rushes over a cliff and drowns in the sea, causing quite a bit of consternation for the swineherders and the townspeople. Finding the recently possessed man free of his sufferings, they demand that Jesus leave them. The un-named man wants to go with Jesus, but the Lord refuses, and tells him to go and tell everyone “how much the Lord has done for [you], and how he had had mercy on [you]. And he went away and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him.” This previously twisted and tortured soul becomes the means by which the Lord makes His name known among the gentiles, and he makes a pre-gospel preparation of these people for the full preaching that would take place after the ascension of Jesus.

For some reason, I have always identified with this fellow. To be clear, I have no thought that I’ve ever been possessed. But one would have to say that there was a legion of troubles, from which only the Divine Voice could deliver me. Without getting into details, the Lord did for me what he did for the man of the Gerasenes. I understand the reasons why the Lord did not immediately drive out the legion of demons at once. When someone has been living with demons, of whatever kind, he becomes used to them. I suppose it is like any habit, good or bad. Bad habits, as they say, are easy to learn, but hard to live with, and can be very hard to break. Good habits are hard to develop, but easy to live with.

When I used to read this passage, back in the days of vocational discernment, it would often cause me to pause, and wonder. My intuition at the time moved me to question my motive, or the Lord’s call. There were and are still remnants of the old self. Complete conversions into living saints are rare, such as what occurred in the soul of Saint Paul. For most of us, there is a gradual transformation from darkness to light, from sin to holiness. Indeed, it often takes a life-time of work and prayer and solid devotion. As in the case of the Garasene demonic, the Lord may not want such a person to take on the difficult burdens of apostleship. The Lord’s denial is for the sake of the person, and not from a lack of desire on His part to transform that person. After all, Jesus knew this man would be a prophet in his own right amongst his own people.

When I wrote to His Holiness requesting a dispensation, I mentioned, among other things, this passage from the Gospels. Ordination and apostleship build upon nature. As one friend commented, one might call it “Discernment: The right vocation, but the wrong person.” Of course, argument can be made that once ordination happens, the call is affirmed by the Church, and must be valid. Experience, though, can trump the best of theological reasonings and arguments. Perhaps the book could be written outlining my experience, but most is very private. Suffice it to say, better decisions could have been made, by me and others, as in anyone’s life. My hope is that the success of the now-freed demonic was not entirely unique. Who knows how he came to be possessed, and what part he played in it. The Lord loved him enough to free him and make of him a vehicle of the Gospel.