Spiritual warfare is a reality. As Pope Francis has insisted on many occasions, the devil exists and is constantly waging war against us—a teaching the Holy Father takes directly from Scripture and the wisdom of the Tradition of the Church. Those people who have no room in their lives for God or who do not practice their faith, and especially those persons dabbling in the occult, are in grave spiritual danger. No human group, institution, or individual can withstand satan’s evil power and cunning intelligence—but even the lowliest religious believer can overcome him through the Name of Jesus.
There was a young girl who had a terrifying dream in which she was being attacked by demons—and it turned out to be more than just a dream: when she awakened, her vocal cords were bound, and she was unable to speak. Her parents immediately sought medical assistance for her, but to no avail; for an entire week the girl was mute, and there were no signs that her condition would ever improve. Then a prayer team from her church heard of the situation and, with the permission of the parents, came to see her. They asked the girl to say the name “Jesus.” She tried mightily, but it was terribly difficult—as if something were grabbing her throat and choking her. The intercessors prayed fervently, and then explained to her the power in this Holy Name, telling her to believe in and trust in the Lord with all her heart. She nodded, and then—as a supreme act of faith—she was able to shout the name Jeeesssuuusss, and with that the bonds were broken, and she could speak freely (Venatius Oforka, The Art of Spiritual Warfare, p. 134). Each one of us, and the world in which we live, was created through Jesus Christ, and it is only through Him that we can overcome evil, be open to God’s grace, and fulfill our mission in life.
Sin has the potential to enslave us by closing us off—to God, to other people, and to our true selves. We all have inherited a share of the original sin of Adam and Eve, and as a result, are never fully open to Divine Grace and are often selfish and suspicious in our relationships with others. This was never God’s plan, and that’s why He sent His Son to save us, thereby fulfilling the mission described by the prophet Isaiah (50:5-9): opening the eyes of the blind, clearing the ears of the deaf, and loosening the tongues of the mute, while giving courage and strength to those who are weak and frightened. The deaf man with a speech impediment symbolizes our human condition: because of sin, it is very difficult for us to hear or share the truth of God’s love and mercy. Jesus, however, healed the man, telling him “Be opened”—and this demonstrates His power to save us from our sins. However, everything depends on our willingness to accept and use His saving Grace. St. James (2:14-18) gives a practical example. If we pass judgment on other people, evaluating them on their appearance or their ability to do things for us, we are like corrupt judges with a sinful agenda. True followers of Jesus must be open to the potential goodness of, and the Lord’s presence in, everyone they encounter.
Some years ago a newspaper in Washington D. C. conducted an experiment. Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinists in the world, was commissioned to play his Stradivarius, a violin worth $4 million, in a subway station in the city. He dressed like a street musician looking for tips, and for 45 minutes sat in the station playing world class music. The newspaper set up a hidden camera to record what happened. During the 45 minutes, out of 1097 persons who passed by him, only seven stopped to listen, even for a moment, to this incredible free concert (Fr. Joe Robinson, Guiding Light, Cycle B, p. 139). The vast majority of people hurrying through the subway station were, for whatever reason, not open and responsive to something of immense beauty. The Lord does not want us to make this same mistake when it comes to the joys and beauty of life and the immense value of the gifts He offers us—though I suspect that when we die and are being judged by God, one of the things that will surprise us is how many times during our lives we failed to recognize, accept, and use the blessings He wanted to bestow upon us.
We cannot receive valuable spiritual gifts from Jesus unless we’re willing to accept them—so the Lord says to us, “Be opened!” We cannot receive divine assistance to cope with life’s problems unless we humbly acknowledge our need for the Lord’s help—so He says to us, “Be opened!” We cannot receive the divine forgiveness of our sins that all of us require unless we honestly admit our need for God’s mercy—so He says to us, “Be opened!” We cannot withstand the devil’s snares and temptations unless we rely upon the Lord’s strength and grace—so He says to us, “Be opened!” We cannot discover the purpose of life and experience true meaning and peace unless we accept God’s plan for us—so He says to us, “Be opened!” We cannot fulfill our mission in life unless we learn to look for and appreciate the value and goodness of the people we encounter each day—so the Lord says to us, “Be opened!” We cannot find the way to eternal life unless we actively practice our faith as members of the one Church Jesus founded, despite the failings of its leaders and members—so our Savior says to us, “Be opened!”
In today’s fast-moving, ever-changing world, it’s very easy for us to be so caught up in all our glittering possibilities and our overwhelming responsibilities that we fail to hear the Lord whispering to us and gently calling our names—and in a world increasingly indifferent or hostile to the Gospel, it’s so difficult for us to proclaim and share our faith in Jesus Christ, and so easy to be intimidated into remaining silent when the Holy Spirit is asking us to speak and give witness. Instead of letting ourselves be suffocated by this world’s values and closed off to our calling to be missionary disciples, Jesus is inviting us, “Be opened!” A little bit of prayer, a little bit of humility, and a little bit of trust on our part can throw open the doorway to our hearts and allow God’s grace to rush in and transform us and change the direction of our lives. The Kingdom of Heaven is all around us, if only we take the time to look and listen for it, and the evil in this world must retreat and fall back from us if only we allow the Lord’s powerful and saving love to flow through us. The devil hates and opposes us—but he is also terrified that we will truly allow Jesus to live and work within us. We are each called to help make a difference in the world—and the more we are open to God’s grace and love, the more we will show other people how to accept and believe, and to hear and see and respond.