“Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” Matthew 10:1
Jesus “sent out,” (apostello), these Twelve to proclaim that “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7). This is an urgent calling. The coming Kingdom is imminent, about to break through at any moment, and there is work to be done. This includes the driving out of unclean spirits. This pressing message and mission was not the exclusive work of the first apostles only. No. It is ours, too.
And where do those unclean spirits reside? Look around. They haunt us, possess us everywhere. They look like greed. The United States, along with the other 10 percent of the wealthiest nations, consume nearly 60 percent of the world’s resources. Or like gun violence. In the first six months of this year alone, the United States suffered through 154 mass shootings (involving at least four victims), more than any other country in the world. Or the slaughter of innocents. More than 900,000 unborn children were aborted last year. Tough numbers to swallow as we sip our $5 latte while more than 14 million children go to bed – and to school – hungry.
St. John Paul II called these unclean spirits the “structures of sin,” sin beyond individual wrongdoing, and yet sin in which we have corporate responsibility. And just as Jesus “sent out” the Twelve, so too did John Paul II prophetically send us out to drive out unclean spirits. How? By taking action; by doing something, however insignificant it may seem, by resisting, correcting, or countering that structural sin, that unclean spirit.
Christ sends all of us. No exceptions, no excuses. We begin at those places where the world touches us, and where we touch the world most immediately, in those places where it hurts. God’s creation is innately good. But this world is broken and in crucial need of mending. We are sent out not only to fix those damaged places, but to improve upon it, to bring it closer to the harmonious and loving condition in which God created it. Only as we work to heal our small part of the world, will we make real the words Jesus summons us to proclaim: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.