“Prepare to get possessed” is the banner text on the trailer for the Fox television network’s series, The Exorcist, scheduled for release in September 2016. The ad campaign develops, “Two very different priests tackle one family’s case of terrifying demonic possession in the all new Fox series, The Exorcist.”
Recently I was interviewed on a global Catholic radio program, in part to discuss the Catholic response to media such as “The Exorcist” and “Lucifer.” The day of the radio program, I received an unsolicited email, “Your reading for the day,” with an invitation to “explore what the psychic has to offer you; we all want to know what the future holds, etc.”
Knowing what the future holds was precisely what a stranger, a well dressed woman offered in the midst of a crowded Southern California mall, saying to me, “I would like to offer you a free palm reading right now, right here. You’ll discover things you need to know about the future.” I responded, “No, thank you. I walk by faith in Jesus Christ.” Noting my firm expression, she turned away, entering into the crowd.
Here’s what the Catechism teaches about such things:
2116. All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
Curiosity has been the downfall of many people since the ancient serpent’s temptation to Adam and Eve. “The serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field the Lord had made” (Gen. 3:1). In the Garden of Eden, the serpent’s tactic was multifaceted: 1) suspicion of God’s goodness, 2) curiosity for hidden knowledge to become like God, 3) lead to disobedience.
The ancient serpent hasn’t changed his ways. He’s keenly aware of our fallen nature that reaches for forbidden fruit. A partial list of common demonic temptations include: curiosity about the future, hidden or secret knowledge, power or unbridled control, disordered indulgence of the senses, disobedience to God’s law of love, deceit, attachment to carnal, material things, and the seven capital sins: pride, envy, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, and anger. Satan tempts to destroy. Christ tests to give the crown.
Efforts to soften or deny the continuous threat of the devil have left too many Catholics unprepared and unarmed. On the opposite extreme, we must not blame the devil for everything or see Satan everywhere he is not.
Without exception each person is tempted by the devil, and often when he least expects it. With eyes of faith firmly set on Jesus Christ Victor, the Holy Spirit makes the baptized aware of temptations and demonic antics. In the battle against evil, we must engage our God-given gift: free will!
Christ told St. Faustina that all merit lies in the will—not in our feelings. (Cf. God’s Healing Mercy, 123.) While emotions are neutral, they can lead in two opposite directions: vice or virtue. Resisting temptation leads to virtue; indulging the temptation leads to vice. It’s a continuous battle. An exorcist advised his “patient” (energumen) that demonic antics would cease only after his death.
St. John records how war in heaven broke out. It’s important to remember—especially the role of St. Michael the Archangel who, presently, and to the end of time, battles against evil on our behalf.
And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them. But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:7-12).
The enormous good that St. Michael the archangel does for us cannot be overemphasized. He protects and guides against the clever, constant wiles of satanic legions. In all the major exorcisms that I’ve witnessed, serving as part of a team assisting exorcist priests, I can only conclude that St. Michael’s presence is not only real, but also extremely powerful. He is a mighty angelic spirit, feared by the evil spirits. My devotion to St. Michael only grows deeper. In times of personal spiritual trials, the great Archangel amazes me by his protection extended to my family. We do well to cultivate true devotion to St. Michael.
Spiritual Warfare 101
- Who is Satan and what do Catholics believe about the devil, evil spirits?
“Demon is the name applied to all varieties of evil spirits, including the devil or Satan. Demons, like angels, are pure spirits, which means they do not have bodies and are invisible; nevertheless, they sometimes manipulate or possess the human or animal body (cf. Gen 3:13; Isa 34:14).” (Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, 210.)
“Chief among the demons was Satan. He is the judicial adversary or accuser in Job (Job 1:6ff, 2:1ff; cf. Zech. 3:1), and the chief evil spirit, tempter who took the form of the serpent in Gen 3 (Wis 2:24). In the New Testament, demons—also called unclean spirits, evil spirits, and similar names—are an assumed reality. They are servants of evil, the angels of Satan, determined to tempt and destroy humanity and to spread evil and suffering in the world.” (Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, 211.)
- Why does the God of mercy ordain a spiritual battle for his people on earth?
Christ’s words to St. Faustina, recorded in her spiritual “Diary” (no. 1489) lend understanding, “But child you are not yet in your homeland; so, go, fortified by my grace, and fight for my kingdom in human souls; fight as a king’s child would; and remember the days of your exile will pass quickly, and with them possibility of earning merit for heaven. I expect from you, my child, a great number of souls who will glorify my mercy for all eternity.”
This principle applies to all believers. A greater number of souls will eternally glorify The Divine Mercy because they received mercy in the way that David did in the defeat of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17). (Beckman, God’s Healing Mercy, 113.)
Temptation: demonic seduction to sin
While much attention is given to the more extraordinary demonic tactics (infestation, possession, obsession, oppression), the most common demonic tactic is temptation to sin. The emphasis falls upon sin—the universal phenomenon. We are all born with original sin, and even after sacramental baptism, we suffer from its effect, finding ourselves attracted to actions that God forbids because they harm others or us. Insights:
- Never underestimate how clever the evil one can be in tempting us.
- In the moment of temptation, we often deny the negative consequences of our sin.
- Sin can be attractive in appearance even though it’s wrong.
- Sin is a social reality; our own sin affects others.
- We often try to blame others—including God—for our sin.
- Sin is serious. It’s an offense against the eternal God.
- The debt we owe due to sin is never repayable by us, only by Jesus Christ.
Resisting Temptations: sacramentals
Those who have witnessed the use of the Church’s sacramentals during minor or major rites of exorcism attest to their powerful effectiveness. For example, when the priest exorcist commands the energumen to “look at the crucifix” the reaction is one of obvious torment to the demon. Why? The crucifix is the true victorious proclamation of Christ’s victory over the devils. The sprinkling of holy water during deliverance sessions also causes loud cries of pain from demons. The recitation of the rosary, even if prayed silently, elicits violent demonic outbursts such as, “Stop those beads!” This is shared only to emphasize the unfailing, efficacious power of sacramentals. They are not magic or superstitious. They are the Church’s tools to bless and help liberate God’s beloved people.
- Practice custody of the senses: misuse of the five senses can become a portal for evil.
- Do not neglect God and prayer: cultivate a Eucharistic life: become what you receive.
- Pray for detachment from sin: decide for holiness.
- Trust in God: anxiety can lead to more temptations.
- Avoid complaining and negativity: cultivate gratitude and prayer in all circumstances.
- Forgive and accept God’s forgiveness.
- Live the present moment: in the presence of Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels and saints.
- Read and pray with the living Word of God: use it as a weapon against temptation.
- Rely on God’s power, not yours: discern, resist, and run to the Lord.
- Sacramentals: In faith, use them pro-actively as protection.
- Sacraments: all sacraments are perpetual powerful resources of grace.
- Freedom: know the power of your free will to choose good over evil.
More: visit the spiritual warfare section at www.foundationforpriests.org.