FR. JONATHAN ST. ANDRÉ, T.O.R.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says, ‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.” Luke 11:25-26
“And let us beware of the malice and craftiness of Satan, who does not want anyone to turn his mind and heart to God. And prowling around he wants to ensnare a person’s heart under the guise of some reward of assistance, to choke out the word and precepts of the Lord from our memory, and, desiring a person’s heart, to blind it through worldly affairs and concerns and to live there…Let us always make a home and a dwelling place there for Him Who is the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…” Francis of Assisi in the “Earlier Rule,” 23.27
In his “Early Rule to the Friars,” Francis of Assisi comments on the passage from Luke’s Gospel that headlines this article. The passage in focus from the 11th chapter of Luke is somewhat perplexing. A person has just been exorcised of an unclean spirit — that is certainly a good thing! The unclean spirit returns trying to reenter the person’s soul, and it finds it “swept clean and put in order” — that seems like a good thing as well!
We might expect the unclean spirit to leave and go looking for another vulnerable person in whom to reside. But then the twist comes: the unclean spirit actually “brings back seven other spirits,” and the person originally afflicted is in worse shape than before. How can this be? What does it mean? What might it mean for us?
Francis of Assisi recognized the inestimable value of the human soul and its spiritual capacity as the dwelling place of either the triune God or Satan.
Consider Francis’ beginning words about the malice and craftiness of Satan. The human soul is a home for the one we welcome, and we are either welcoming the living God in whose image we are made, or we are making a home for what is not of God. In some sense, every time we go to the sacrament of reconciliation, we are letting God sweep clean and put in order our soul, the spiritual house.
The problem is that we often stop there. We have allowed the Lord to cleanse us of the negative, but we haven’t let him fill us.
As Scripture scholar William Barclay notes, “Cleansing is necessary, but after the rooting out of evil, there must come the filling with good.” We have uprooted the weeds, but we have not planted the flowers in their place.
In the words of Francis, when we “serve, love, honor and adore the Lord God with a clean heart and pure mind,” we are making a home and dwelling place for the triune God.
So, we root out the malice of gossip, but we don’t make a concrete plan for the next time we are with that friend with whom we always gossip. We tend to make poor choices with what we watch, but we aren’t willing to watch a movie about a saint. We say we are distracted at Mass, but we don’t spend time with the readings in advance when we sense the Holy Spirit calling us to. Why are we surprised when the demons return to us when they find a still–vacant soul?
We are invited by the Gospel and by the words of St. Francis of Assisi to examine our souls and to see what, and more importantly who, is filling it.
St. Bonaventure liked to say that the Holy Spirit comes where he is welcomed. We should not be discouraged by the sins and struggles in our life, the weeds that we struggle to uproot. We should also not give more power to the evil one by failing to use our human freedom to take practical, common-sense, human steps to cultivate virtue — the flowers that fill the empty space where weeds have been uprooted.
The malice and craftiness of the evil one has been vanquished by the Beloved Son. Let us welcome him into our souls.