In today’s Gospel we see that debasement engenders debasement, that fear engenders fear, and that both are an obstacle in the spiritual life. The demons, fallen angels, already condemned for making a radical choice against God, are “slumming”: amusing themselves by tormenting two poor souls–the men they are possessing–and attacking anyone who draws near. When Our Lord approaches them they know they’re busted, but they don’t care–they’re already convicted. Until the Last Judgement at the end of history they’ll try to get as many kicks as they can without getting caught. When Our Lord permits them to go into the herd of swine–angels lowered to enjoying being pigs–they take one last “joy ride” before being driven off. We have to be on guard as well against “slumming” in the spiritual life, because it will gradually make us indifferent to God’s goodness and mercy and set us on a downward spiral.
The swineherds pass from one fear to another: from keeping their distance from two crazy demoniacs to seeing a Jewish man (if they were Jewish, they wouldn’t be tending pigs, since they’re unclean animals) casting out demons into their swine and seeing their whole flocked wiped out. When they return to town they can only give witness to terror, so it’s no surprise that the locals are also gripped by terror and beg its source–Jesus–to leave. The grace of God has passed them by.
Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us identify any downward spirals we’re on in the spiritual life. For us, it’s not too late to overcome debasement and fear.
Readings: Genesis 21:5, 8–20a; Psalm 34:7–8, 10–13; Matthew 8:28–34.