An Exorcism (engraving), Matthaus Merian the Elder, 1629

Translation of the Holy Gospel According to Luke

At that time Jesus was casting out a devil, and the same was dumb. And when He had cast out the devil, the dumb spoke, and the multitudes were in admiration at it. But some of them said: He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils. And others, tempting, asked of Him a sign from Heaven. But He, seeing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall this kingdom stand? Because you say that through Beelzebub I cast out devils. Now if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore, they shall be your judges. But if I by the finger of God cast out devils: doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him and overcome him, he will take away all his armor wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. He that is not with Me is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest: and not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. And it came to pass, as He spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him: Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck. But He said: Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

A Message From St. Pope John Paul II’s General Audience for August 25th, 1999

Let us look at Jesus’ attitude [toward the meaning of sin, both personal and social], since he came to deliver mankind from sin and from Satan’s influence.

The Healing of the Paralytic, Netherlandish, cir. 1560/1590

The New Testament strongly emphasizes Jesus’ authority over demons, which he cast out by the finger of God (Luke 11:20). In the Gospel perspective, the deliverance of those possessed by demons (cfr. Mark 5:1-20) acquires a broader meaning than mere physical healing in that the physical ailment is seen in relation to an interior one. The disease from which Jesus sets people free is primarily that of sin. Jesus himself explains this when he heals the paralytic: ‘That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ he said to the paralytic ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home’ (Mark 2:10-11). Even before working cures, Jesus had already conquered sin by overcoming the “temptations” which the devil presented to him during the time he spent in the wilderness after being baptized by John (cfr. Mark 1:12-13; Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

To fight the sin that lurks in us and around us, we must follow in Jesus’ footsteps and learn the sense of his constant “yes” to the Father’s plan of love. This “yes” demands our total commitment, but we would not be able to say it without the help of that grace which Jesus himself obtained for us by his work of redemption.

Now, looking at the world today we have to admit that there is a marked decline in the consciousness of sin. Because of widespread religious indifference or the rejection of all that right reason and Revelation tell us about God, many men and women lack a sense of God’s Covenant and of his commandments. All too often the human sense of responsibility is blurred by a claim to absolute freedom, which it considers threatened and compromised by God, the supreme legislator.

The current tragic situation, which seems to have foresaken certain fundamental moral values, is largely due to the loss of the sense of sin. This fact makes us aware of the great distance to be covered by the new evangelization. Consciences must recover the sense of God, of his mercy, of the gratuitousness of his gifts to be able to recognize the gravity of sin which sets man against his Creator. Personal freedom should be recognized and defended as a precious gift of God, resisting the tendency to lose it in the structures of social conditioning or to remove it from its inalienable reference to the Creator.

It is also true that personal sin always has a social impact. While he offends God and harms himself, the sinner also becomes responsible for the bad example and negative influences linked to his behaviour. Even when the sin is interior, it still causes a worsening of the human condition and diminishes that contribution which every person is called to make to the spiritual progress of the human community.

In addition to all this, the sins of individuals strengthen those forms of social sin which are actually the fruit of an accumulation of many personal sins. Obviously the real responsibility lies with individuals, given that the social structure as such is not the subject of moral acts. As the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia recalls: Whenever the Church speaks of situations of sin, or when she condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behaviour of certain social groups, big or small, or even of whole nations and blocs of nations, she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins…. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals (RP 16).

It is nevertheless an indisputable fact, as I have often pointed out, that the interdependence of social, economic and political systems creates multiple structures of sin in today’s world. (cfr. Sollicitudo rei socialis, 36; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1869). Evil exerts a frightening power of attraction which causes many types of behaviour to be judged “normal” and “inevitable”. Evil then grows, having devastating effects on consciences, which become confused and even incapable of discernment. If one then thinks of the structures of sin that hinder the development of the peoples most disadvantaged from the economic and political standpoint (cfr. SRS, 37), one might almost surrender in the face of a moral evil which seems inevitable. So many people feel powerless and bewildered before an overwhelming situation from which there seems no escape. But the proclamation of Christ’s victory over evil gives us the certainty that even the strongest structures of evil can be overcome and replaced by “structures of good” (cfr. ibid., 39).

The Founding of Maryland, Emmanuel Leutze, 1634

The “new evangelization” faces this challenge. It must work to ensure that people recover the awareness that in Christ evil can be conquered with good. People must be taught a sense of personal responsibility, closely connected with moral obligations and the consciousness of sin. The path of conversion entails the exclusion of all connivance with those structures of sin which, today in particular, influence people in life’s various contexts.