By Fr. John Higgins
not long ago a few young people were talking with me. They are good kids who are members of our "Life Teen" group and do a lot to help our parish.
One of them said that she had watched several movies and documentaries on demonic possession and "conjuring". She asked what I thought about it. I smiled and said "Sit down, this is going to take awhile." She said "Oh, I don't want to take up too much of your time, just give me the short version". She was trying to not be a burden. I said: "Go get some other teens. We'll have a good time. Bring me a soda!" She laughed and ran off. A few minutes later she came back with several other teens and a couple of young adults. I got them to sit down and described what I thought of it all.
I won't get into all of the details, but I told them that the only power that demons directly have is to frighten and tempt us. I said that I had seen some people who I honestly believed had come under the influence of demons. Their eyes widened. I told them that Satan is much too sneaky to show his real hand, but that he often works in subtle ways. I said: "I have seen Satan's work right here on this property. They asked me to describe it. I told them: "Well, one day I was talking with a man who said to me: "If you want a good parish, get rid of the Mexicans!" The young people looked shocked. I smiled and said: "You can see how that is evil, right?" They all agreed. "So I told him to never talk like that on this property again or I'd throw him off the property and forbid him from coming back. They looked shocked. I asked "What, do you think I should have been accepting, inclusive and nice with him?" They looked confused. We cannot dance with evil and treat evil nicely. We have to make God's Will known. They started to understand. I followed up with "Now, another time a transgender person came here. The person was asking for help in dealing with the problem of transgenderism. What do you think I did? One girl said: "Well, knowing you I think you didn't treat that person with anger, but with kindness and talked to them." I said "Right! The person was the victim, not the perpetrator. But if that person was telling little children that they could choose their gender I'd have a problem.
We went on to discuss the evil that is in our culture today, that of division, anger, sexual perversion and degradation of the human body. One girl said "Oh, now I am starting to understand what you are talking about. Satan isn't going to show up screaming and shooting fire. Satan shows up in the evil that people choose!" I said "Now you have it!" I said "People usually conjure up evil not by getting the devil or some demon to show his true face, but by accepting the evil that the devil presents as attractive. What attractive evils have you seen at your school or here in Downey or even at this parish?
They started listing things like bullying, racism, arrogance and selfishness. I said "Well, now we've got a start." But what about other things. They looked confused. I said “What about what’s happening in the homeless encampments? They hadn’t thought of that as being evil. So I explained. “The majority of people in the homeless camps aren’t evil, but there are people who take advantage of them. We as a culture are taking advantage of them.” One young man asked how. “By using them as political fodder. We can see that politicians use the homeless situation for their own gain. They promise to clean up homelessness in one area and it shifts to another area where another politician makes the same promise and they are shifted back and forth, around and around without anyone actually having to do anything to really help. Many of them need psychiatric care or a way to recover from alcohol or drug addiction. Some would respond well if we helped them in time. Look at me! I was quite a drinker, but someone intervened and told me the truth about my drinking. Now I haven’t had a drink in about 34 years. “What about the mentally ill people?” We used to have hospitals for them called “State Hospitals”, but we decided to defund those and put the mentally ill out on the street or into prison.
Then we began to talk about things that seem commonplace today and how they are evil at their root. We can see the anger and division in our small culture in our city. It isn’t as bad as other places, but it’s still enough to make us change our lives to accommodate it and even make excuses for it. I told them about certain restaurants and areas that I won’t go into because of who owns them or what’s going on there. This includes every hotel except one in our city. It includes restaurants and even a grocery store. There are people who do not only illegal things, but immoral things right in front of us and we don’t notice. One young woman asked me: “Like what?” Well, besides the people who own certain restaurants and bars there is an abortion clinic right next to one of our high schools. They looked shocked. I asked why they were surprised. One said “Well women should have the choice over what happens to their own bodies!” I let another young woman respond: “But it’s not just one body, it’s two bodies involved.” I knew this would turn into a heated discussion, so I said: “Let’s leave this discussion for later. Right now we are focusing on evil in our midst. What concerns me is that there is so much evil that goes unnoticed. We have people endangering other people’s lives with how they drive their cars. Others who are praying for the elderly and stealing from them in parking lots. People are finding their children depressed at home and unable to find any joy due to their lack of contact with other people right now. Still others are intentionally trying to convince young people that they aren’t good enough the way that they were born and that all they have to do is change the outside of themselves and have a better “self image” to “feel” better about themselves. They looked confused. I said “Have you been told that?” Several of them understood and said that they had. Still others seemed convinced that if they changed their self-image that they would feel better about themselves. I said that many of them were already convinced that if they wore the right clothes, got their hair just perfect, said the right things, acted in a certain way, went along with what was popular that they would be accepted and be happy. Others had been convinced that happiness could be found in getting the right material things, like clothing, jewelry, cars, big houses and other things. They agreed. Then I said something that they had heard many times before. But I first said “Listen very carefully to this. Try to understand! I am going to say it slowly: “You are made in the image and likeness of God. Do you know what that means? You don’t need to change your self image, you must accept that you are made in God’s image and then live thanking Him for it by loving Him and treating others with love as well! This doesn’t mean being nice! It’s far more than that! Sometimes the most loving thing one can do for another person is to tell them the truth! That’s what happened to me when a close friend said to me in 1987: “You are drinking too much. You don’t realize how sick you are. But you don’t have to drink any more if you don’t want to! I’ll help you find the way out of this.” That was painfully honest but the most loving thing he could do for me.” I was quiet for a moment and let that soak in. “Evil comes at us to convince us that we can change into something else to be OK. We can change our gender, our ethnicity, our “look” , our way of speaking, we can avoid doing things that are not nice, we can even join groups and do nice things for other people but none of it is any good until we realize who we are and what we are called to do!” And we are called to be children of God, truly loving people, not making them feel good. I can feel good with a bowl of ice cream or a dive into a pool. But that goes away soon. I can realize who I am and who God is in me and that changes everything. Suddenly I am responsible and can turn away from things not because I think I have to do that, but because I WANT to do that. Those who conjure up evil will tell us that we need to get ahead of everyone, we need to be nice at all times, we need to have a good self image, we can change who we are at any moment just by “identifying” as something. We can sit back and expect others to take care of us, we can blame other people or make excuses for ourselves. But the real evil is convincing us to accept the ways of the world around us, the culture around us. We must live in this culture, but we are not really part of this culture. We are counter-cultural. Whatever is popular and well accepted is probably not for us, even if it sounds fun. I’m talking about moral or ethical things, not other things like food or art (music included) which are often neutral, like the painting of a desert or of a person or a house. Then I said: “Let’s talk about the “right to choose” vs “the right to life”, but not today. It’s getting late. If you’re really interested all you have to do is let me know and we’ll set up a time to talk. But that should come from you when you are ready for it. Right now, don’t try to conjure up evil in entertainment or in any other part of your life. Conjure up joy and love instead. They smiled. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me. We’ll see...