This homily is based on Matthew 16:21-27.

A few years ago, I watched a film called “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”  I expected a full-blown horror movie in the tradition of other Exorcist movies, complete with all the scary special effects like 360-degree head turns, shaking beds, and lots of vomiting.  Instead, to my disappointment, with the exception of a few scenes, the movie wasn’t all that scary.  It wasn’t even really a horror movie, strictly speaking, since the scary parts were relegated to flashback scenes.  To my surprise—but pleasant surprise—the film turned out to be a religious movie in disguise; in fact, it turned out to be a deeply moving and spiritual experience.

Based on a true story, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is about a college girl, Emily Rose, who came to believe that she was possessed.  At first she experienced nightmares, and then she began seeing things like faces of people turning into demons.  She also started speaking foreign languages.  After medical care failed to solve her problem, her family asked for the help of their priest.  An exorcism was performed.  But not only did the exorcism fail, but Emily also eventually died. The movie is about the trial of her priest who was accused of negligent homicide.

For me, the strangest scene in the film is also the most important.  It comes near the end, after the failed exorcism, when in a vision, the Blessed Mother appears to Emily and gives her a choice:  “Recovery or suffering?”  If she chooses recovery, the demon will be exorcised, and her life will return to normal.  If she chooses suffering, she will die, but her case will be known and will provoke people to ask questions about the existence of demons and spirits that many in the world today deny.  If she chooses to continue to be under demonic possession, her case will lead many to think about and perhaps even recognize the existence of God himself.

According to the testimony of her priest, Emily chooses suffering and virtually becomes a martyr of the faith.  She embraces pain and death so that strange as it may sound, others may recognize—in the terrible suffering she undergoes because of demonic possession—the existence of spirits in the world and ultimately the existence of God.  It’s the strangest thing:  a girl deciding to endure demonic possession until her death to do something good.

I remembered this movie when I read the gospel reading today.  Our Lord talks about his upcoming suffering and death, and Peter quite understandably takes him aside to discourage him from going through it.  Our Lord then turns to him and utters what may be some of his harshest words he has said to his friends: “Get behind me, Satan!”

By comparing Peter to the devil, our Lord here seems to be saying that like the devil in the desert, Peter is also tempting him.  But tempting him to do what?  When you think about it, Peter is not asking the Lord to commit any sin.  There is nothing wrong or sinful about thinking and acting sensibly in order to avoid getting killed by his enemies.  But I guess this means that temptations refer not only to those situations when we might commit a sin, but also those in which we might not choose the greater good.  Maybe we can call this a temptation of the “lesser good.”

It’s true, isn’t it?  When it feels good to do good, we experience no hesitation and have no difficulty about doing so.  But when doing something good is going to cause us some pain, that’s when we experience the temptation to do something “less good,” and we begin negotiating with the Lord.

In a sense, Emily Rose must have been tempted to do something less good too.  After all, she certainly can’t be faulted if she had chosen healing over continued demonic possession.  Who wouldn’t prefer to finally be rid of the demons that possessed her especially after all the suffering that she and her family had gone through?  But instead she opted to remain possessed because she could accomplish a greater good through this choice.  Emily Rose rejected the temptation to do the lesser good, and like our Lord, she told Satan to “get behind her.”  But in an ironic sort of way, she did this by choosing to remain behind with Satan.  What a brave and loving decision!

So here’s a Quick Question for you:  “Have you ever experienced the temptation of the ‘lesser good’?  If you have, how did you choose, and how easy or tough was your choice?”  Think about it, and if you feel up to it, share a thought, a feeling, or a question.


I remember the movie because you made a group of us watch it and then we had a discussion and sharing after. I am afraid I most often choose the lesser good, unfortunately. I do not think I would be capable of choosing the path of Emily Rose.

Father this was an unexpected reflection for the Gospel today, but I do find it very insightful. The Lord does surprise us – what we perceive to be impossible is made possible through Him. If you told me that a woman choosing to be possessed til death was a martyr of faith, I would have called it impossible, and yet, here we are! As someone quite interested in horror films I’m inclined to watch this (even if you said it wasn’t that scary) particularly because of what it can teach me about faith. Have a blessed Sunday father!

Thank you for such a deep, relevant reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel reading. It is helpful and surprising for me to realize that there is such temptation of “lesser good.”
May our dear Lord give me, us strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit, especially in times of any temptation that we may always choose to follow God’s will in joy and humility.?

Lord our freedom to choose gives us the opportunity to decide from temptations ~ help us to go beyond ourselves , beyond what is comfortable & choose the “lesser good” , Instead , show us to choose that which brings the greater good to more people other than those i favor & closest to me.

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