Mark 1:21-28
God's Authority and Spiritual Warfare
by Rev. Richard Miserendino

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath 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.  All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this?  A new teaching with authority.  He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."  His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Repeatedly throughout the Gospels, those who hear Jesus are struck by a stark difference between his message and those of other contemporary religious authorities. The words typically used to describe the Lordís message are power and authority. Unlike others in the world, Christís preaching and message has power to move mountains and heal hearts, authority to command, commend, save, transform and transfigure. Jesus has this power and authority because he is the Author, he is God. All of history is really his story, and it is in his creative Word that we live and move and have our being.  Without Christ, we can do nothing. His power is the literal omnipotence of God, and his word bears the mark of authority because it is none other than the eternal Word of God.

This is especially visible in our Gospel reading this Sunday, where we hear not only of Christís potent preaching that convicts and convinces his hearersí hearts, but also witness his power and authority even over evil spirits. The Word of God is effective and alive, not just good for saying and hearing, but for doing and creating and recreating. But it can be tempting to wonder: Can we still hear those words of power and might today? Do we even still believe in demons and spirits? Does Christ still have power over them and our sins?

The answer is yes to all of the above. Jesus Christ still speaks authoritatively, daily. It is his words that resound through the priestís words at each and every Mass ó Christís command making body and blood from bread and wine. It is Christís sovereign Word that speaks to human hearts whenever sacred Scripture is proclaimed or heard. And it is the solemn authority of Christís voice that binds and looses in the sacrament of confession.

Furthermore, we still do believe in spiritual warfare, sin, hell, demons and the devil. Those are real, as is the struggle against them. Yet more importantly, Jesus Christ is real. Heaven is real. Prayer is potent. All the angels and saints are real, and because they live with the life of God, they are infinitely more real and potent than any evil.

It also is important to realize that Jesus has conquered Satan, sin and death forever. The victory is won overall, it just needs to be extended to our hearts. Another important facet: Jesus and Satan are not equal and opposite combatants. Satanís match is not God, but St. Michael the Archangel. God is infinitely good and thus all the demons in the world amount to a few grains of dust in the presence of the sun.  The authority of Christ will always dwarf that of the devil. God is author, and his authority is absolute over all. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Still, when it comes to living in grace and fighting evil, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  We should certainly avoid the occult, fortune tellers or other non-Christian "supernatural" things, even if itís only for fun. No good ever comes from it. We should avoid even the near occasion of sin.

Moreover, a good habit of confession and worthy reception of holy Communion are your best protection against all evil. Ninety-nine percent of spiritual problems are solved by being in a state of grace. It never hurts to read Scripture, either. For the remainder, we take solace in knowing Christ still acts authoritatively in his church, his priests, his sacraments and Word. If you find yourself in suspected spiritual peril, start with confession and ask the priest to help you. Godís mercy is there, and it endures forever.