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One of the more bizarre experiences of my time in the shanty town on Nueva Prosperina, Ecuador was when I was involved in a supposed exorcism.  There I was taking part quietly in a Parish meeting with around twenty folk when the door burst open and the shout came in “Padre Martin, you’ll have to come – there’s a girl on the main street possessed!”  I ran up to the main street with the Parish group to find a girl whom I didn’t know lying on the ground who was in great distress with people helping her so that she didn’t hurt herself.  She was surrounded by around 200 people – a mob!  I didn’t know what to do but was told she needed an exorcism.  While I was wondering what to do, the cry went up “take her to the Church”, so there we were carrying the distressed girl through the shanty streets and into the Church.  All the while I was thinking “I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to do here” but decided that the best thing to do was to do the most “Catholic” things I could think of.  So when we got to the Church, I put on an alb, I read from the Bible, I prayed the Rosary, I sprinkled the girl with Holy Water.  To no avail, she was still shouting and distressed.  Not much was working.  Then a man ran to the front of the Church and started shouting at her – in Spanish – “In the name of God the Father, sinful Spirit come of this girl! ”  Something seemed to happen and, at that moment, another cry went up “take her to the Evangelical Church!”  And out they went with this man – who turned out to be an evangelical pastor – leaving me to consider how poor my prayers were and how good his prayers were by comparison!




It was the force of the pastor’s words – compared to my weaker words – that struck me that day and it was the strength of his words that came back to me this week as I read this Gospel of John the Baptist baptising and calling people to “prepare a way for the Lord.”  The reason that the pastor’s words in Ecuador came back to me was because I began wondering what words John would actually have said when he was “baptising” people.  Of course when we think of “baptising” we immediately think the words would be “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” but Jesus hadn’t yet come and the Holy Spirit was still to appear.  I was, therefore, left thinking that John the Baptist’s words would have been similar to the Ecuadorian pastor: “in the name of God the Father, I baptise you!”  And it led me this week to think again of the place of God the Father calling people back to the best of themselves, calling people back to the best of their Creation.




There are three elements to the Gospel story today with John the Baptist: the wilderness, the need for repentance; and the forgiveness of sins.  John, it says, appeared “in the wilderness” which would have reminded the people of the 40 years that God’s people spent in the wilderness of the desert waiting to be set free.  Negatively wilderness was a testing place for them but positively it was place where God renewed their hearts.   Then we remember that John’s message was of “repentance” calling the people to look into their lives, see their faults and decide to turn their lives around.  And when they had repented, God the Creator would grant them “forgiveness” so that they could renew their hearts and find a new creative energy that they had lost.




John the Baptist calls out to YOU today.  He meets you in the wilderness of your heart, that place where you too have wandered and are lost, the place of your sin.  John the Baptist calls YOU to repent, to look into your hearts to see those attitudes which hurt you and others, those words, those actions that keep you from the best of your created self.  John the Baptist calls you to Monday’s Reconciliation Service at St. Joseph’s at 7pm where you can experience the forgiveness of your sins.




John the Baptist calls to you today “In the name of God the Father who created you, I call you to repentance of your sins, to newness of life!”


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