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The mystery of the self and of the other


Mark 1:21-28

This Gospel proclaims to us the quality of Jesus’ words: the power of communion, and, by contrast, the quality of the power of unclean spirits, which is a power of isolation.

Roberta Coni, “Erasing herself”,

In listening to the Lord Jesus we perceive in his words a power which is quite different from all other powers and which resembles only the power of the Lord as it is recounted in the Scriptures: the power which in the Exodus set Israel free from slavery so that it would learn to belong to him in freedom.

From the words which the possessed man cries out to Jesus we realize that the essence of impurity is the painful and arrogant estrangement of oneself from all others, on which we call for self-preservation, a perverted form of salvation, as salvation from others is.

Fear of the other, always a priori perceived as being against us, is a breath of every unclean spirit. The refusal to meet and to listen to the other is the crude pain which every unclean spirit within us procures for us, humiliating our innermost desire, which is, precisely, the desire for the other. This refusal is sustained within us by a faulty knowledge of the other which does not stem from listening and from meeting, but precedes and prevents both of these, disrespectful of the mystery of oneself and of the other. It is a knowledge which, in self-defence, seeks and immediately ferrets out the other’s weakness, in order to possess and to blackmail him or her. And indeed where is Jesus most disarmed, most bound to gentleness and humility, other than in his truth as a holy man of God? Like Jesus, we must not opt for this violent knowledge of the other since it will never create communion.

Nor do those who perceive themselves to be possessed and agitated succeed in imagining any other relationship that is not possessing and agitating the other in turn: which is exactly the opposite of a loving relationship.

The human vocation is never, ever that of being possessed; not even by God.

Indeed, with his words the Lord sets us free precisely from the spirit of slavery, because we belong to him in freedom.

Our adherence to the Lord is the space in which our God calls us to become his partners in the Covenant with him and with others, calling us to be listeners and speakers, rather than to be deaf and only the object of speech, giving us freedom and hence the possibility of responding as well as and the responsibility and capacity for doing so.

As he faces this poor, possessed man, Jesus reveals and complies with God’s holiness as an infinite capacity for communion. To those who call on estrangement from him, Jesus does not show himself to be estranged. He knows that truly nothing, not even nothingness, can separate human creatures from the love of God who created them. And he gives body to this truth of God: with the power of his words he addresses the unclean spirit which disfigures this man, enjoining it to silence, and subsequently chases it out.

Roy Nachum, “Self-Portrait”

Jesus confronts this man’s despair, he does not grant what he asks but the deeper and unexpressed request that lies behind it.

The Gospel does not gloss over the effort and pain which this man bore in being liberated from isolation, from the lack of experience of any communion which was his condition. Yet his meeting with Jesus reveals that this was not his destiny, just as Egypt was not that of the Jews. For Jesus, no one is destined to be estranged from him: Jesus’ vocation is, precisely, the reconciliation with themselves and with God of all women and all men.

While we are enemies and call ourselves to estrangement from him and from others as if to our only consistence, Jesus comes to meet our needs with his presence and his words; he declares to us, on that note, his inability to be estranged even from me. Jesus does not refuse our estrangement which is an estrangement from ourselves, an ignorance of how to live that distance which is without end, but rather he embraces it.

Jesus’ way of being and acting comes to meet us in his words and is addressed to all that is in us, even what is against everyone and everything. For the breath which carries and dwells in his words, the Spirit of God, is a closeness which embraces every distance, every form of estrangement, and always speaks to our despair.

The Sisters of Bose




St. Peter’s Square

Aug. 24, 2019