The Spirit of Herod
The Gospel says, "behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him." (Matt. 2:13)
An "angel of awakening" came and woke Joseph up. It must have been a very powerful experience, a direct word from the Lord, for Joseph (an even-keeled, dignified and "righteous man," Matt. 1:19) to get up and leave immediately.
There is an evil spirit that seeks to kill the Lord's anointed ones- those whom God has called, and the flow of the Holy Spirit that changes lives, and sets captives free. This spirit works among authorities- why? Because they have the worldly power to destroy people. Even authorities among God's people- Caiphas, Annas the high priest, even Herod was one of God's chosen people. So were Saul and Ahab.
This spirit seeks to destroy. It tried to kill Jesus from when He was just born. It tried to kill Elijah through Jezebel. It tried to keep Israel in slavery in Egypt, and to kill them after they had finally been released. It tried to shut up the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, ultimately killing him. His Holiness Pope Francis mentioned the prophet Jeremiah in a letter to bishops on the Feast of the Holy Innocents:
"Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, Matthew presents it in the bluntest of terms: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children' (2:18). It is the sobbing of mothers bewailing the death of their children in the face of Herod’s tyranny and unbridled thirst for power." (December 28, 2016, link, emphasis mine) Fr. Fernando Suarez always used the famous quote attributed to Lord Acton, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." We are meant to give glory and power to God, as the priest prays in the doxology of the holy Mass... "all glory and honour is Yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen." Those who grasp power for themselves are corrupted by it; meanwhile, "those who humble themselves" before God "will be exalted." (Matt. 23:12)
Interestingly enough, Ramah was the birthplace, home and resting place of the prophet Samuel. There, he established a "school of the prophets." (1 Sam. 19:18-24) Therefore, it is clear that the "spirit of Herod" goes after the anointed prophets and worship leaders, as well- since from here, in the time of Jeremiah, the children of Israel were led into captivity in Babylon. "Ramah," which means, "height," is where God exalts His people- and the devil seeks to bring them down into slavery.
Although the devil "cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy," Jesus came "that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10) If we trust in Jesus, the devil won't be able to tear us down. Jesus wasn't killed until it was His time to die and rise again for the salvation of all people, and it was the Holy Spirit Who directed Him in all that He did. We would do well to follow His example. St. Faustyna Kowalska said that "the shortest route to holiness" is "faithfulness to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit." (Divine Mercy in My Soul, par. 291) Jesus followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and He never did anything except what He saw the Father doing. (John 5:19) Elijah was directed by the Holy Spirit, and an angel who also woke him up (1 Kings 19:5) which kept him safe from the evil Jezebel.
There are times when God speaks to us urgently to do something, and life or death could depend on our obedience. Moses didn't enter into the Promised Land, because he was disobedient only one time.
Lord, give us the gift of obedience, to surrender our own will to be led by the Spirit. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches today. (Revelations 3:22)
Dan Devine, M. Div