Today we honour the memory of three courageous English women who were martyred for protecting priests and allowing them to celebrate Mass in their homes – an act of high treason 450 years ago. St. Margaret Clitherow is perhaps the best known of the three: she was crushed to death in York in 1586 and her children were so moved by her heroic witness that her three sons became priests and her daughter a nun; St. Margaret Ward was hanged at Tyburn in 1588, and St. Anne Line was also hanged at Tyburn in 1601. All suffered for their Catholic Faith, their reverence for priests and their love for the Mass – which we are able to celebrate freely today.
“The word is mightier than the sword” is one way that we might describe the episode in today’s Gospel. When Our Lord cast out an unclean spirit, the people were shocked that his words had such power. He didn’t physically battle the spirits or use any fancy curse or proclamation: just a simple command. It took him only a few seconds, and the demon was sent running while the audience looked on in amazement.
This account shows us just how powerful Our Lord’s words are. And the fact that this story has been preserved emphasizes all the other words of Our Lord that are collected in the Scriptures. Each and every one of them has power to cast out evil, to melt hearts, and to heal wounds. They are the words we hear every day at Mass and in the Office. They are the words we read every time we pick up a Bible. They are the words we memorized when we were little children. These words are meant for us, and we should study and embrace them with open hearts.
It’s not uncommon that our time of personal prayer and lectio divina touches our hearts. We gain new insights into God’s love, or we are moved to repentance or worship. But there’s another side to Our Lord’s words: the power they have when we speak them to other people and even more so when we live them out day after day. It’s the power to break the chains of those bound by sin and fear.
Our Lord’s words are filled with divine grace and power so that they would never lose their effect. He breathed his Spirit into them so that no matter how many times we pray about them or obey them, we find more and more grace for our lives. We also find more and more grace flowing from us and touching other people’s lives. As the Prophet Isaiah said: “Truly, his words never come back to him void.” (Isaiah 55:11)