Monday, September 03, 2012

Looking Evil in the Eye: Sermon Preached at the Ordination of Br. Shane Neese, AIHM, to the Order of Exorcist, August 11, 2012

Luke 7:11-17 (Gospel for the Feast of St. Monica, observed on the Saturday of the annual retreat of the Order of Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary)

And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.  Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.  And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.  And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.  And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.  And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.  And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.

A few years ago, when I went to visit my parents at their home in Missouri, I stopped to visit a friend from divinity school who is also a veterinarian.  She was teaching in a college, as were her two housemates, and the two housemates had a dog.  I went for a walk with one of the housemates and the dog, and the dog misbehaved very badly, and both she and I ended up tangled in the dog’s leash as the dog kept running and jumping, blissfully ignoring her owner’s commands.  The next day, my friend the veterinarian and I went for a walk with the dog.  The dog began to misbehave, and my friend shouted “No” very authoritatively, while yanking on the leash so that the dog went up in midair and yelped.  The dog was quite well-behaved after that.

At the end of the visit, my friend dropped the dog off at another professor’s house, and the dog visited with the two resident dogs as we waited for the professor to arrive home.  While we sat on his porch, a very bold cat (surely not related to my easily-frightened tabby cat Allie) walked up, and my friend’s housemate’s dog started barking at the cat, clearly relishing the prospect of frightening it away.  But the cat did not react in any way, and kept walking toward us.  The dog’s barking became increasingly upset and unhinged, and finally, as the cat approached, the dog rolled over and began whining, beaten into submission by the cat’s confidence and self-assurance.

In today’s Gospel, something very similar happens.  Jesus meets a funeral procession, in which a young man has died at an early age, and he doesn’t flinch.  He looks death, mourning, and loss straight in the eye – and he overcomes it.  He does not ignore it, he does not let himself be overcome by it – rather, he confronts it, and he is able to raise the young man to new life.

All of us will face sin, evil, sickness, death, mourning, and other things that are not the will of God in our lives.  Some of these will be within ourselves – our own sinfulness, our own weakness, our own failure to do the will of God.  Some of them will be due to external causes – sickness, mortality – our own and those of our loved ones – natural disaster, the sins of others.  But in all of these situations, we are called to be more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ – who enables us to look these situations in the eye without flinching, because we know that Christ has won the victory over them, even if we cannot see it at the present time.  We do not deny their reality – we are broken people who live in a broken world, and only by recognizing the brokenness, can we open ourselves up to healing.  But neither do we flinch from confronting it, because Christ is greater than the brokenness.

Brother Shane Neese was just ordained an exorcist.  If the need to look evil in the eye without flinching is a necessary task for every Christian, it is even more so for the priest.  A priest must be able to see the brokenness in his or her congregants’ lives, and help those who are overcome by sin, or sickness, or grief, to look to Jesus and be healed.  If the priest cannot do that in his or her own life, how will the priest be able to help others to do so?  If a priest cannot look the evil that crucified Christ in the eye and know that the risen Christ will overcome it, then how is the priest to offer the Eucharist?

Mother Sandra Hutchinson, when preparing for her own ordination as an exorcist, said it very well:  “Of all the minor orders, this is the one that intimidates me the most.  Evil is real, and this is a direct challenge to it.  But God is real too, I know that.  And I’m looking forward to it as well.”

Shane, as you take on this ministry of exorcist in your journey to the priesthood, it is my prayer that, like Jesus, you will be able to look evil in the eye, not flinch, and know the power of Christ over sin, evil, and death.  Amen.