There’s a story in the Old Testament about King Saul and a visit he made to a witch – the Witch of Endor – she was called. At the time, Saul was losing the biggest battle of his life against the Philistines and the Prophet Samuel, who had been his constant companion, strategist and guide, was recently deceased. To learn what God’s instructions were, Saul went to the Witch of Endor dressed in disguise (he went disguised because he had previously, under Samuel’s instruction, either banished or killed every witch he could find). The witch was canny enough to recognize Saul despite his deceptive clothing; but Saul assured her that he would do her no harm, but instead demanded that she summon the spirit of Samuel from beyond the grave. And summon him she did.
Her reaction can be read in a comical way. I read the story that she screams in surprise that her spell actually works! (it appears that she was a charlatan, only pretending to be a witch); but this time the spell actually did something, she miraculously sees Samuel rising up from below – the imagery of the text indicates that Samuel was not coming from Purgatory, Paradise or Heaven but rather from below, an intermediary place of rest which we might logically call to mind Limbo – and he is very angry with Saul for having been called-up from his repose.
I’ll let you read the rest of the story to its dramatic conclusion which can be found in First Samuel, chapters 28 thru 31. I merely bring it up to illustrate the point that the world of spirits – the “unseen” world around us to which we Catholics make our Credo – was clearly understood by the ancient Hebrews to be real. They experienced and believed in the works of spirits both good and evil: Cherubim, Seraphim, Angels, Archangels, the Panoply of Heaven as well as the Devil, Satan, the Serpent, Lucifer and his fellow demons; they all played a part in their day to day lives and they had a healthy respect for their powers.
The time of our Saviours ministry on earth, however, seems to be unique in that there was a noticeable increase in spirit activity. The Angels of Heaven ministered to His needs as they were given leave to do so, and the demons sought to undermine the Fullness of “Grace and Truth” that walked in Galilee and Judea. It was as if the powers of darkness tried to increase in proportion to the increased graces of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.
Of course, it was with God’s permission that evil spirits were allowed (and still are) to take possession of and afflict people to an extent that, in prior and following ages, He did not permit. I believe the reason for this is two-fold. Our Lord wanted to show us:
- The subtlety, power and malignancy of Lucifer; and (more importantly)
- To display His own compassionate mercy and tenderness towards us, and to demonstrate His infinite power to save those oppressed with demons.
Nowadays, we still have our experiences with demons as, for example, the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. We have a godly parent with an unbelieving, ungodly child, whose heart is easily taken in hand by evil and unruly spirits. The degree to with the parent abounds with love for God, the child is filled with apathy; the light of understanding in the parent is paralleled by darkness and foolishness in the child.
Faithful Christians (and “Natural Law”-wise-speaking Authentic Human Beings) always function in terms of Love, Truth and Logos – Logos being the Rational Principle, THE WORD, which governs our Universe. We Faithful Christians viscerally believe and practice the virtues of sincerity, fidelity, integrity, honesty and fair play. Faithful Christians are those which the Heralding Angels sang about 2000 years ago as being people of “good will towards men” (Lk 2:14). We are people of peace. But our Enemy, the Devil and his sock-puppets, actualize their lives in a manner akin to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s who said that: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” What Lao Tzu was getting at – in terms of demonic exercise of power – is that the best strategy is to make your enemy – the Christian – believe that you don’t even exist; and once he’s convinced of your non-existence, that’s when you pounce.
The mother of today’s Gospel wasn’t falling for it. She brought her complaint to the reigning champion and ultimate authority over demonic possession, obsession, oppression, infestation and subjugation. She knew her daughter was in a very bad way – she knew the devil was sifting out her daughter light wheat flour – and she was fully committed to be her unfailing advocate. You get the sense that the woman is not going to leave until she gets exactly what she came for. She persistently and obnoxiously beseeched The Lord. Even when the nay-sayers – who in this case were The Lord’s very own disciples – tried to chase her away, she ignored them. And she even showed a bit of her own subtlety when The Lord declares special privilege on healing powers only for the children of Israel: she says “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
The short of it is: obey the Commandments and never ever give up begging God for the salvation of the souls of your loved ones. “Confess your sins… and pray for one another… The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Js 5:16).