Certain verses in the Gospels suggest that even Christ’s disciples got the devil in them every once in a while.
For starters, we have the story of James and John, whom Jesus called the “Sons of Thunder” and whose similarly assertive mom asked that her sons be at Jesus’ right and left hand in His approaching Kingdom. The other disciples understandably bristled at this shameless ambition to gain favor with Jesus.
The disciple whom Jesus loved
Then Easter season gives us John’s Gospel account regarding the Resurrection where Mary Magdalene “ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb. …’” Interesting that John proclaims himself to be the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” something he did five more times in his own gospel, with no such mention of this special status occurring in any of the other gospels.
The great race
John goes further describing how he and Peter ran to the tomb in something that sounded more like a race than a collegial jog, side by side. That is, John makes the point that “the other disciple (John) ran FASTER than Peter and arrived at the tomb FIRST.”
In fact, John rubs it in by going on to say, “When Peter arrived AFTER him…,” presumably quite a bit after him, because John had already surveyed the situation from OUTSIDE the tomb by the time Peter FINALLY arrived.
I highlight OUTSIDE the tomb, because another curious thing happens: When slowpoke Peter finally gets there, it is “Simon Peter (who) went into the tomb. … Then the other disciple (John) also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb FIRST.”
John apparently was not going into the tomb without Peter, as in, “Hey, I’m not going in there without you. In fact, you go first.” But he still won’t let Peter off the hook, restating that he (John) had gotten to the tomb FIRST, thereby winning the race.
Demons at work
These imperfections in the Apostles (which include not only the humorous account above involving John and Peter, but more seriously Peter’s denial, Thomas’ doubting and Judas’ betrayal) all lead one to think about the demons in all of us.
If I might wax philo-theological for a moment, the word “demons” conjures up images of mythical, mystical figures, something like leprechauns with little horns, working feverishly to undermine our relationship with God. Certainly demons are mystical, but are they mythical?
Not if we believe in the reality of Jesus. He was always casting them out and sometimes referring to them by name. You might remember Jesus saying, “Get behind me, Satan,” while correcting Peter on the latter’s misconception of Jesus’ mission. Apparently the devil had slipped inside Peter for a moment, but was readily removed by name at the command of the Lord.
A number of things seems to stand out about demons: (1) They are evil. (2) They have names. Remember another instance where Jesus asked one his name, and the demon replied, “Legion,” because there were so many of him. (3) Demons need a host. They might be floating around out there, but ultimately they have to land and take up residence in humans to manifest their evil intent.
Now, if we were looking for the names of demons, a good place to start might be the “Seven Deadly Sins:” pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth. Of course, you could add many more that maybe aren’t deadly, but are, at least, unbecoming.
The point is that to exorcise our own demons, we might need to identify and name them first, which might be half of the battle, because then we are in a position to humbly take ownership of these failings and commit ourselves to changing our ways.
Sources of introspection
What are some sources of recognizing and naming your demons? You might become conscious of them at times when nothing else is going on and your mind is most vulnerable, like when you lie awake at night, or even in your dreams when they invade your unconscious. Even daydreaming might reveal them, as thoughts pop into your head from out of nowhere. Don’t run from those thoughts, night or day. Examine them and get to know whom you might be hosting from the dark side.
Another source of information about your demons might be the people who know you best: good friends, relatives, spouse and children. Ask them what demons they see in you from their perspective. Of course, a skilled psychologist or pastoral counselor might help you do some inner searching, as well as provide observations of their own as to what they see in you.
Help in resisting demons
Lastly, we need not only determination, but also help in resisting our demons. Some feel a simple sign of the cross might ward off demons. Others pray directly to Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother or some saint to whom they feel a special connection. My special recourse is St. Joseph, the spiritually strong, totally human male figure that I feel serves as a model that can be called upon when demons are threatening. For example, when impatience arises, I just say, “Joseph, are you here? Keep me calm.” When I am afraid, I say, “Joseph, let’s go, we can handle this together.” Joseph is constantly at my side, day and night, and I constantly remind him that he is the “Terror of Demons” and to do his job.
Well, good luck, folks. Stand tall, and when you fall, remember even the Apostles fell many times. But they got back up, and Jesus always accepted them back into the fold. He would have done the same for Judas, if the betrayer had only asked. In the words of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, “If Judas would have repented, we would have churches all over named St. Judas the Penitent.”
Dr. Tom Dorsel is a lifelong Catholic, Jesuit-educated in high school and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Of course, that doesn’t mean he knows what he is talking about, as he is still simply trying to figure it all out. Contact him on Facebook or through his website, Dorsel.com. Acknowledgement goes to Danny Dorsel for being the first to point out the humorous competition in John’s Gospel.