“DOES THE DEVIL REALLY WEAR PRADA?” (Mk 5:1-20): 04 February 2008 (Monday)
Once in a while a movie comes along that scares the hell out of you and–at least for a while–changes your sleeping habits. I saw one such movie back in 1973 when I was only twelve years old. The movie was “The Exorcist,” a horror classic that usually lands on the top 5 of almost any “Scariest Movies of All Time” list you can find. You may have seen the Director’s Cut when it was released in 2004.
When it was first shown in 1973, we were told not to watch the movie because of its explicitly sexual and sacrilegious language. So of course I did! Against every advice, I sneaked into a theater, and every night for about a year, I couldn’t rsleep with the lights out.
The film, based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, is about a twelve-year old girl named Regan (played by Linda Blair), who starts exhibiting strange behaviors, not to mention changing her appearance, because as it turns out, she is possessed by the devil. Her mother tries getting medical help, but when all that fails, the doctors suggest an exorcism as a last resort. The mother, an atheist, is initially reluctant, but desperation eventually drives her to seek the help of two priests to save her daughter.
The movie opens at an archaeological dig in a desert near Mosul, Iraq, where the Jesuit Fr. Merrin recognizes a newly found artifact as an ancient clay figurine depicting the Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu, “the evil spirit of the southwest wind,” the same entity he has battled in an earlier African exorcism and the same one that he will encounter again in Regan.
The movie shows us how tedious and threatening an exorcism can be–not only to the possessed, but also to the exorcists. Fr. Merrin’s assistant, Fr. Karras, a younger Jesuit, is plagued with doubts about his faith and guilt about his mother, and the devil precisely uses his doubts and his guilt to try to defeat him. Prior to the exorcism, Fr. Merrin advises him not to pay attention to the devil because it is a liar and a deceiver, but of course that’s easier said than done. In performing the exorcism, both priests expose themselves to dangers not only of the body, but also of the soul. How they battle the devil and at what cost–it’s best to watch the movie.
Today’s reading tells us about an exorcism that our Lord performs. The man possessed has been living among the tombs and has many times tried to hurt himself. Worse, he is possessed not by one, but by many demons. When Jesus asks the demon to identify itself, it responds, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.”
I don’t know about you, but it would be tough enough and scary enough to battle one demon, but a whole legion of them?! How can anyone handle that? Some people will probably shrug their shoulders and say that the whole bunch of demons in the story is probably just a metaphor for some medical condition like epilepsy or mental illness. But is it?
Someone once wrote that the greatest accomplishment of the devil in modern times has been to convince the world that he does not exist, that he is but a figment of our very fertile imagination, the stuff movies are made of. And it’s true: In our day and age, evil, for the most part, has been reduced to a dysfunctional childhood.
When we talk about the devil these days, we usually think of our caricatures of him: the scary scarlet creature, complete with the usual horns and tail, sitting on a throne surrounded by flames or waving its forkpitch. Or we think of the devil as portrayed in movies like “The Exorcist,” the type that possesses unsuspecting people and makes them perform all sorts of bizarre stunts. But I think that all that head-turning and vomiting are probably much too primitive and too crude for the real thing. I suspect the real devil doesn’t look anything like Linda Blair—not even on a bad hair day.
I think the real and more harmful and dangerous devil is the invisible type—the devil that hides and masks itself in our lives. The devil we don’t notice, and because we don’t, it easily preys on us and runs our lives.
Maybe these days the devil really does wear Prada.
I got an email a couple of weeks ago that we don’t give the devil too much work these days. It’s never had it so easy. And the reason is, our lifestyles have been designed in such a way that every single moment of our lives has been filled with all sorts of activities. I’m not just talking about our very busy lives, but also about the usual times when we can be alone—in the middle of a road, in between our appointments, or while walking or waiting for someone. Thanks to cellphones and SMS messaging, we are never alone. It would seem like we have almost developed a fear of empty spaces in our lives.
The result: We hardly have time for ourselves. We hardly have room for solitude. And because of this, we hardly have time or space for God. There’s really no work left for the devil.
Maybe today we can examine our lives and ask ourselves about empty spaces. Do we have enough empty spaces in our lives? Or have we filled ourselves, our minds and our hearts, with so much clutter, so much noise, that there is no longer any room for us to hear the voice of God? Maybe we should do something to un-clutter our lives, to find some empty spaces, so that we don’t end up making life too easy for the devil.
Note: I was really going to upload this unreleased trailer of “The Exorcist” that I found on YouTube, but it was so scary (maybe that’s why it hadn’t been released) I had to stop watching it and decided against posting. If you’re interested, go to YouTube and watch it–at your own risk!
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “Do you think you have enough empty spaces in your life for God? Have you been, for whatever reason, keeping the devil idle?” Think about it, and if you feel up to it, share a thought, a feeling, or a question.