Today at Mass we heard Matthew 8:25-34. I just love this gospel passage! Jesus comes to the region of the Gadarenes, where he encounters a couple of violent demoniacs, wandering around among the tombs and terrorizing the population, so that the people are forced to avoid that road altogether. But the demons who possess the two men recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and they know He is going to drive them out of the men. So they make a request: "if you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." And He does that, and the demon-possessed pigs immediately rush off and drown themselves.
Now, I'm a little thin on demonology, and I can't think why the demons asked for what they did, or why they immediately drove their new hosts to their deaths, or whether they themselves were destroyed in that death, or if not, what? I suppose, demons must work on our intelligence, and although folks say that pigs are very intelligent animals, it's still not like human intelligence. Maybe they didn't intend to drown their new hosts.
But what I love about this episode is the fact that the demons made a request of Jesus, and He granted it. It illustrates something that I think we often tend to miss, which is that God is not in competition with the Devil. There is no great cosmic battle between Good and Evil. There is only one God, and God is good, and God is entirely sovereign, everywhere and always. We are weak and fallible, we do stupid and selfish and even cruel things to each other, but that is not because there is this great, powerful Devil, in serious competition with God. Nothing can compete with God, not at all. The Devil and all his minions are creatures, subjects of the sovereign God. The Devil may be stronger than we are, but God is infinitely stronger than the Devil.
God is always there for us, waiting for us to turn to Him. So why are we so weak, so wicked, so vicious? It all comes down to free will. God will never rape our will. We always, day after day, must choose good over evil, God over evil. We ourselves must reject the wrong and choose the right. As an essential part of that process, we have to be willing to examine our conscience rigorously, and to expose our shame and guilt to God, to ourselves, and to at least one other human being. One reason I appreciate being Catholic is because we sacramentalize that practice of confession, and ritualize absolution. On the other hand, we are weak in the follow-up of concrete atonement. It's not enough to say "I'm sorry" to the priest, if we've harmed someone else. We have to say "I'm sorry" to the one we've hurt, and we have to make amends, and we have to make a serious effort to change.
And part of that effort to change is to reach out for God, to ask for God's grace, to ask God to help us to rise above our baser impulses. If He's willing to answer the prayers of demons, surely He will answer ours? Listen to what St. James says (Ja.4:7-8): "Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." God can, God will. We will always be weak and fallible, but God will always be waiting for us to turn again towards Him. If we're ruled by the Devil, that's our own fault -- the bars are not locked, we can walk out of our dark prison into the sunlight of grace, any time we choose. God is God, and God is good, and there is no other. Amen.