Naming the devils within us
March 30, 2003

Al Cariño
4th Sunday in Lent
Reproduced with Permission

Nowadays, we often hear of the "liberated" woman who when she gets pregnant out of wedlock says, "Why won't I have an abortion? It is my body and I decide what I do with it." True, the woman has the right to self-determination. But so has the unborn child. Her right to self determination does not include the right to destroy the life in her womb.

We also hear of the woman who resents or is even angry at her mother-in-law. When asked why, she answers, "My husband confides more to his mother than to me." For her, her mother-in-law has become the "other woman" in her husband's life. Thus she feels insecure and jealous. Yet unknown to her, she may have brought this upon herself because when her husband confided some things to her in the past, she immediately went ballistic. Her husband was left without a choice except to open his heart out to his mother.

When something goes wrong, we often resort to rationalizations as in the case of the "liberated" woman. Or we attribute wrong motives as in the case of the "jealous" wife. In short, we tend to blame everyone and everything else except ourselves. Yet what is often wrong with us lies in our failure to name what we may call the "devils" within us. Failure to do so keeps us in the dark, not knowing what is wrong with us and therefore unable to confront it effectively.

The story of Nicodemus (Jn. 3:14-21) is one such example, though to a lesser degree. He was a teacher, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He had heard a lot about Jesus, that He was a good man, that people lapped up every word He uttered. Miracles were even attributed to Him. Despite these, there was growing opposition to Him from among his associates, specially his fellow Pharisees. It was perhaps in order to serve as a bridge between Jesus and the Pharisees that he went to see Jesus one evening. His opening statement was quite indicative: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him."

The reply of Jesus must have caught Nicodemus flatfooted. He talked about "being born from above" if one were to "see the kingdom of God." Puzzled, Nicodemus asked, "How can a person once grown old be born again?" Nicodemus had now deviated from his original purpose. Still talking in the same vein Jesus added, "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit."

Nicodemus went to Jesus with an agenda. But Jesus had one, too -- a more important one. And when He presented it to Nicodemus, all he could do was ask clarificatory questions. Which Jesus accommodated. Thus Jesus was able to add that being "born of water and Spirit" would come after He had been "lifted up," namely, after being raised from the dead following His passion and death.

Nicodemus came out of that brief encounter with Jesus a new man. Jesus accomplished this by making Nicodemus realize that there were things more important than his narrow concern. His openness to and acceptance of what Jesus said enabled him to name his "devil" and effectively confront it, leading to his rebirth.

The rebirth of Nicodemus, which was really an entering into a personal relationship with Jesus, can also happen to us. Jesus desperately wants this for our good. He told us why: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." The price Jesus paid for this? His being "lifted up" after His passion and death.

If we but let Jesus, He will help us name and overcome our "devils". Which are ultimately grounded on our self-centredness, our pride.

But we often do not let Him. Jesus gives us the reason: "Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light." Instead of making Jesus and His love for us the center of our lives, we busy ourselves with so many other things. With Jesus out of our lives, we live in darkness.

How can we get out of the darkness into the light, into the way to eternal life? In other words, how are we to name the "devils" in us which hold us back from God?

As we know, Lent is a time for self-denial -- which primarily is the giving up of the self -- our self-will, self-seeking and self-centredness. Self-denial makes us choose God over self.

Lent is also a time for prayer. One very helpful way to do this is to read the Word of God, specially the gospels. As we read them, let us spend time in silent reflection thus allowing Him to address us directly, to talk to us about His concerns. Then we will realize that His concerns are really those that are best for us -- scatter the darkness from our lives by helping us name our "devils" and allow ourselves to be reborn -- as Nicodemus did.