We can examine today’s Gospel from a number of different perspectives. The first thing we notice is the usual envy of the Pharisees for our Lord. They accuse Him of being in league with the devil! The envy would appear to stem from the fact that our Lord was actually successful in driving out devils, while, presumably, the children of the Pharisees were not so successful. This is of historical interest, for the Old Testament makes no mention of people trying to drive out demons. The closest to it is a reference to the Archangel Raphael instructing the younger Tobias in how to keep the demon at bay as he marries Sarah, whose first seven husbands were killed by the devil on their wedding nights. But there are references to exorcism in the Talmud (the post Christian books of Jewish teaching)—primarily by reciting the names of the good angels to drive out the bad one. The historian Josephus even claimed that King Solomon had used various roots or herbs to ward off the devil, and even devotes a passage to the Roman Emperor Vespacian extracting a demon through someone’s nose by using a magical ring made according to Solomon’s formula!
Our Gospel is also significant in that it points to the reality of the devil. We have a number of passages in which our Lord heals people from purely physical maladies; deafness, blindness, dropsy, hemorrhage, and so forth. But we also have passages like this in which the problem is diabolical rather than medical.
Fifty or a hundred years ago many people would have just smiled at the notion of diabolic influences on men and women. With something of a feeling of intellectual superiority they might have said that modern science had found physical causes for what the ancients attributed to the devil. From the modern perspective, such people did not suffer from diabolical obsession or possession—they were schizophrenic, or bipolar, or suffered from one or the other psychoses that had been identified by modern psychiatry. And, of course, to some degree they were right—there are indeed illnesses which might be mistaken for supernatural maladies by those with no training in modern medicine.
But in the past fifty years or so, we have seen a significant resurgence of diabolical activity. One doesn’t have to look too far to find references in the nightly news to crimes that were committed in connection with Satanic motivations and rituals. At least one of the three students accused of burning down nine churches in rural Alabama recently is quoted as saying that “he wasn’t raised a Christian” but had discovered that he could find peace in being what he called a “Satanic Christian,” and that he had previously taken some of his friends “demon hunting in the woods.”
The folks at EWTN published a short paper on Satanism in Italy. For years the anti-clerical forces at Turin made that city the capital of Italian Satanism and black magic. But since the late 1960s, the pursuit of things diabolical has bubbled over, and several Italian cities have outpaced Turin. Bologna seems to be the new capital of Satanic activity, but one must give due attention to Father Gabriele Amorth, the official Vatican exorcist, who claims that “Rome is currently the most satanized city in Italy.”
We have the problem in America as well. You have probably seen it mentioned occasionally in the news. Just last month the criminal trial began in the case of a priest charged with the ritual stabbing and strangulation of a nun in the chapel of Mercy Hospital in the Diocese of Toledo. A second victim—one who claims to have survived ritual torture and molestation at one of the local parishes—is waiting in the wings to accuse the same priest.
From the Catholic perspective, this rise in Satanism was quite predictable. In general, since the 1500s, and in specific, since the 1960s, western civilization has abandoned the God-given means to holiness. Where, once, vast numbers of people attended daily Mass before going out to work the fields, there are today cities and towns with no Mass at all, and even the “devout” think of “church” as a purely Sunday affair. Where, once, the observance of the natural moral law was everybody’s business—Christian or not—today it is nobody’s business. Much of what passes for Christianity today, and for Christian worship, is downright pagan, sacrilegious, and simply foolish. How many no longer pray at all? In the past we have mentioned the truth that God’s creations are good, and that evil is simply the absence of good—and that is precisely what we are witnessing—a concerted effort toward the disappearance of holiness.
Now, I suppose that one still might argue that all of this Satanism is nothing more than human foolishness—that it is simply the work of foolish people who are grabbing on to the latest craze, in a quest for excitement, or to stand out among the fools in the crowd. If that is true, it is all the more frightening, for it means that the devil has gotten his victims to do his work without any effort on his own part! People are willingly choosing eternal damnation.
And that will bring me, however briefly, to the other aspect we must see in this Gospel. One doesn’t have to be diabolically possessed to fall into sin and the bad habits of sin. And it really doesn’t matter whether we fall into sin because we are especially tempted by the devil, or simply because we are weak and self centered—sin is sin.
When our Lord tells us about the devil who was cast out, but who returned “with seven other spirits more evil than himself,” He is speaking about the general human condition. If we have some sense of morality, we recognize when we have done something wrong, we confess our sins, we do penance, and we try to put our wrongdoing behind us. So far, that is very good. The problem comes when we have had a little success in being good, when we begin to feel that our evil inclinations have been conquered, when we forget what it felt like to be tempted and to fall. In the proverbial “nutshell,” the problem is that we become overconfident—that we trust in ourselves, that we trust our own knowledge, and that we trust our own strength. For it is precisely when we trust ourselves that we begin to lose sight of the need for God’s help. And that is when the seven “even more evil” spirits come upon us.
Sin is a spiritual problem, and it really doesn’t matter whether it originates in the assaults of the devil or in our own human weakness. Whether we are talking about Western civilization or about our own individual lives, we must resolve to make use of the God-given means of holiness: Prayer, penance, good works, the Holy Mass, the Sacraments, the keeping of the Commandments both publicly and privately. We must return to holiness—both as a society and as individuals!
 Epistle: Ephesians v: 1-9.
 Gospel: Luke xi: 14-28.
 Tobias vii & viii.
 Larry Copeland, USA Today March 10, 2006, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-03-10-arson-suspects_x.htm