By Deacon Paul Kurmay
This liturgical year, most of our Gospel readings are being taken from St. Mark, who received much of his material from St. Peter himself. His is the first and shortest of the Gospels, but no means the least. With Mark, it’s not so much about what Jesus did or said, but about who Jesus was and is — the Messiah, the Son of God, God Himself.
Unlike the other evangelists, the first miracle that Mark records is not a healing or the transformation of water into wine, it’s an exorcism, because Mark wanted to stress that in the person of Jesus, Satan would be driven out of the world and that in the person of Jesus, sin and evil and death itself would be destroyed. Jesus was not just a sign that the Kingdom had come; Jesus was the embodiment of the Kingdom itself. That’s why, in today’s Gospel, Mark stresses that unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus spoke with authority — not an outside authority which he adopted or quoted, but his own authority, an authority that even evil spirits would recognize and obey.
Today it’s not very fashionable or politically correct to speak about the devil, so naturally, that is exactly what I intend to do! The devil is often the subject of jokes and benign humor. Some of us remember the hilarious black comedian, Flip Wilson, and his delightfully-sassy character, Geraldine. She was a very naughty girl and instead of ever admitting that she was a little risqué, she would always say with a sly smile on her face: “The devil made me do it!” And, of course, we would all laugh.
I also remember an episode from Seinfeld with the zany character, Elaine Benes, and her on-again, off-again clueless boyfriend, David Puddy, who had the body of an athlete and the brain of a snail. He also had the moral character of a toad, who even made atheists look like saints. Well, in that episode, they jokingly pretended to be the devil and made horrible faces and gestures at each other, sarcastically trying to scare the other person into submission. Then they mocked each other for their apparent belief in the devil. Of course, the scene was hilarious and everyone laughed, but what got to me was how these fictional characters (and the wider audience listening to them) thought the devil was only a cartoon character and the product of an overactive imagination and a deranged childhood! That he was actually an evil, fallen angel, the prince of darkness and the author of lies, chaos and mayhem never even dawned on them.
You know, we can look around the world today and even our own country and think that the evil and chaos we see is all man-made, the product of individual and group corruption — and that would certainly be true in part. But it doesn’t explain the depth and utter depravity of it. It’s uglier and deadlier than any human being could imagine or create. The mass shootings we see almost daily — more than 400 last year alone, with many of the perpetrators committing suicide afterwards; the slaughter of millions of unborn babies every year, the glorification of blatant lies, the indiscriminate killing of innocent men, women and children in Israel and Gaza; the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians in Ukraine and the bitter in-fighting within the Church itself — all these things are unmistakable signs of the work of Satan and his legions.
There are so many strident and dysfunctional voices in the world today. They’re everywhere and they come at us all the time — 24/7, 365 days a year, year after year. They tell us what to buy, what to wear, how to look and what to feel. They even tell us what and how to think, and who and what to believe. They tend to demonize those who disagree with them and glorify those whom they acclaim, while minimizing or ignoring God completely — or even worse, attributing to God the worst lies imaginable. Now, THAT is the work of the devil himself — and millions, if not billions, have swallowed his lies — hook, line and sinker. The question the Lord asks us today is “Will we too?” Whose voices are we listening to, God’s or Satan’s??
Satan is the prince of lies, the great deceiver, who will do anything, say anything, become anything to entrap us and destroy us. His biggest lie is that God doesn’t exist, that He’s a child’s fantasy. If that doesn’t work, he then tells us that we are so bad that God won’t forgive us, that He doesn’t care about us or listen to us or love us, that He can’t be trusted and that He wants to punish us for the slightest lapse. And because He doesn’t care about us, we shouldn’t care about Him. We should glorify our senses and seek pleasure, power and prosperity more than anything else. We should look out for number one and forget those beneath us, because they are suckers and losers who don’t deserve our friendship. If it feels good, do it. Don’t trust those who don’t look or act like you. Don’t keep their company; avoid them like the plague. Grab as much gusto as you can and don’t worry about breaking a few rules. Don’t be kind or forgiving towards others; that’s for sissies. Be tough, aggressive, belligerent; destroy your enemies before they destroy you. These are some of Satan’s most common lies and from what I can see, he’s doing a pretty good job of selling them to an unsuspecting world.
You know, we will never solve the problems of the day all by ourselves, through our own efforts or the forces of the world. Satan laughs at our feeble efforts and mocks us. He does everything in his power to isolate us from God and his saints. It isn’t happenstance that in the midst of the evil all around us that Bishop Caggiano and other bishops around the world would re-introduce the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and encourage the daily recitation of the Rosary, invoking the power of Our Lady to crush the head of the ancient serpent.
A friend of mine, whom I know and trust completely, told me a time when she was praying alone in another church. It was so quiet and peaceful. As she was leaving, she saw an image just of a face in the back of the church. It was terrible to behold: ugly, fierce, angry and terrifying. As she turned around and faced the altar, she saw the same repulsive face and then ran out in a panic. As she told me this story, I could actually see that face in my mind. It was as real as if I were there myself. Yes, the devil is real alright, but he cannot harm us at all if we remain united to our Lord and listen to Him. He is Truth itself and He will never lead us astray. He is our life, our hope and our peace.
The only thing that Satan needs to win is for the world to believe that he doesn’t exist. The only thing that Satan dreads is that the world will come to believe that Jesus alone has the power and authority to defeat him — once and for all.
When some of Jesus’ followers were abandoning him by the drove because he told them that he was the living bread come down from heaven, He turned to Peter and asked, “Will you too leave me?” Hurt that Jesus thought that Peter could ever abandon him, he said in reply:”Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”
If only our nation and the world believed that too.
Deacon Paul Kurmay is a retired Probate Judge who has served as a Deacon of St. Mark Parish in Stratford since 1985. He founded Bethlehem House in 2000 (a transitional home for homeless families). He also founded the Lord’s Kitchen in 2011, with St. Mark volunteers and those of 10 other area churches. He is the leader of St. Mark’s Contemplative Prayer Group and Ministry to the Sick, serving those at Lord Chamberlain, Atria and Bridgeport Hospital. Deacon Paul is a graduate of Fairfield Prep, University of Virginia, and Georgetown Law Center.