By Orlando Hernández
The Gospel for Monday of the fourth week in Ordinary Time (Mk 5: 1-20) follows the story from the end of Chapter 4. The disciples, after the terrifying experience of the storm in the Sea of Galilee, “came to the other side of the sea to the territory of the Gerasenes”. They were about to undergo another scary experience. From the caves in the mountainside, a naked, wild-eyed, scarred, bleeding man, strong enough to break chains, crying out in a terrifying voice, runs right up to them! (I have often wondered if any of the disciples stepped up in front of Jesus to defend Him, or if they stayed behind Him!) To what must have been everyone’s relief, the man prostrates himself before Jesus. It turns out, a host of demons have possessed this man, and Jesus drives them out of him. At the end, the man is “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.”
This story has always had a special, if disturbing, meaning to me. I don’t think I have ever been possessed by demons, but I must confess that, even after all these years with Jesus, I still have all these fears, prejudices, resentments, and hatreds (of myself and others) in my mind and soul, which come out of nowhere and torture me in a way that makes me think of the Gerasene demoniac.
On the Pilgrimage to Israel this was one of the places that I most wished to visit. There, I wanted to kneel by those cave-tombs on the mountainside and beg Jesus to finally rid me of these personal flaws. The site is neatly kept by the Israeli government as a national park, next to the highway that goes around the Lake. One can visit the ruins of an ancient Orthodox Church and Monastery that commemorates the miracle by Jesus. I was not interested in seeing this place, so I detached myself from the group and climbed up the trail to the steep hills that were dotted with caves. A winding steel staircase led up to the caves but I knew that I did not have enough time, so I stood there at the bottom. I was all alone, surrounded by this arid, lonely landscape. I could imagine the screams of the possessed man echoing all around, and within me. I felt the urgency. If not here and now, when? I threw myself upon the ground and started to beg Jesus, whose presence I felt so strongly, to deliver me from all these things that torment my soul. I moaned. I cried. I yelled. Then, a quiet attitude came within me, not peace, but acceptance. Somehow I felt that the calm, quiet message that my Lord was giving me was this:
“I will not release you of these ‘demons’. They will be with you until the day you die. They are part of your cross. What I will do is be with you always, and help you to control them. I will never stop teaching you to love yourself and others. You can count on me.” I felt with certainty that this was Jesus’ message.
I stayed there for a while, until my wife came to tell me that the group was leaving. I did not say a word during the bus ride back to the hotel in Tiberias. That night I dined and laughed with my fellow Pilgrims. But that moment at the hillside was always in the back of my mind. That night my sleep was troubled, and I kept on dreaming that I was going in and out of those dark caves. To this day this memory haunts me.
To this day I fight with these elements of negativity within me. Of course, I am not alone. Wonderful people of God surround me, helping me to be a better person. Occasionally , I meditate and pray in Ignatian fashion and visit those caves with my Lord at my side. The Holy Spirit of God fortifies me with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharistic Christ comes within this old, crumbling temple of my soul, and boy, does He clean up! I realize that there is nothing I can do without Him. Without Him there is no meaning in life.
The healed Gerasene man wanted to stay with Jesus, but the Lord gave him the mission to stay and give His message to his people. The message, after all, is Love. Lord, You hold me up me with such an awesome Love! Thank You. Let me be an instrument of that Love.