Herod and the Temptation of the Enemy Spirit

Here at the retreat house yesterday, I preached on Matthew’s account of the beheading of John the Baptist.

I have always found this to be a very disquieting passage, in part because of a detail we get in Mark’s account that Matthew does not.  Mark tells us that Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, and that, although he was often perplexed by John’s words, he liked to listen to him.  (I picture Herod, like Nicodemus sneaking off in the dead of night to speak to Jesus, going down to John’s cell when the guards were not around listening to John.)

Herod knows John to be holy and righteous, likes hearing him speak, and knows killing John would upset his followers.  Yet, he kills him anyway.  What’s up with that?

As I began my reflection by observing, one of the key meditations of Week Two of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is the Meditation on the Two Standards.  In that exercise, Ignatius invites us to a deeper sense of both the draw of Jesus and the pull of the enemy spirit.  (Ignatius took for granted that both exist, and  whether or not one shares Ignatius’ belief in Satan, it is apparent that there is a force that pulls us away from good.  Call it, as Ignatius sometimes does, the enemy spirit.)  Ignatius wants us to reflect in the Two Standards meditation both how the enemy spirit deceives us so can guard against it, and know what it is like to live life in Christ.

Ignatius tells us that the enemy spirit tempts with longing for riches, honor, and pride, and through these entices us to all other evils.  And it is important to him that we get a clear picture of how enemy spirit works.

In my view, this is one of the very helpful Gospels in seeing how the temptation of the enemy spirit operates. Continue reading