The Spiritual Battle: Victors, Not Victims

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“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).”

Recently EWTN’s “Women of Grace” television ran a five-part series titled “How to be Freed from the Influence of the Demonic” in which the host, Johnnette Benkovic, interviewed me about the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance, and exorcism. Please understand that I am not an expert, rather, a poor servant who has witnessed intense battles between darkness and light since I am a member of an exorcist’s team. “The battle is the Lord’s” (Samuel 17:47). The only expert is Christ, the Chief Exorcist. Those who serve in the deliverance or exorcism ministry are Christ’s ambassadors in the school of divine mercy; always pupils.

The Lord confers upon His priests the authority to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). The priest’s ministry is a collaborative one in which he engages with the laity, medical professionals, and brother clergy.

When the television program aired on the global Catholic network, my inbox was filled with inquiries for help; many heart-rending stories. In this brief reflection, I hope to address some of the inquiries since it is beyond my jurisdiction to respond to individuals.

First, being deeply moved when I read the personal stories of pain, I ardently interceded for each person. What is common among all stories of men, women, and families who suffer diabolical affliction is their “broken-heartedness.” I empathize because I know the pain of being brokenhearted. It’s a dark place where hope fades. But I want to assure those who are in this place that there is healing and hope in Christ Jesus, our Victor. Please persevere to seek Jesus, the Divine Physician for “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Crushed in Spirit

The devil is often empowered when he observes someone who is “crushed in spirit.” An opportunist, he redoubles his attacks with seductive false promises and then crushes the soul even more. The evil spirits tempt us to sell out Christ; lose faith in Him completely. “Where is your Jesus now?” Demons are bullies aimed at the eternal destruction of souls. When we are brokenhearted, we are more easily worn down and can easily slip into agreement with the temptation.

We can’t imagine the hatred that Satan harbors against human beings who are destined by God to eternally exist in the very place from which he was banished: Paradise. He is jealous of our inheritance. That is why its wise to focus as much as possible on our eternal goal: Heaven. But we are not meant to do this alone. And we can’t manufacture faith, hope, and love. We must receive God’s infilling. Often I cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, possess me!”

My first experience of being brokenhearted occurred when I saw the ugliness of the murder of a loved one. It was a dark path for a time when I questioned everything and everyone—especially God. I experienced a great spiritual battle with temptations to deny Christ who did not prevent this gut-wrenching tragedy in our family. A demon of death pursued us. Death is the preoccupation of the devil.

When you are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit there is a greater need for spiritual accompaniment. Holy Mother Church provides. I know by experience. To heal my wound, to overcome the wild temptations, and to forgive the murderer, I deposited my pain into the wounds of Jesus Christ whose pain was “unto death on a Cross”— and I was healed (not instantly; it was a process). I experienced healing through the Cross and Eucharist.

As stated during the EWTN program, one of the greatest temptations of the devil is, “Put down the cross; get off the cross; reject the cross; hate the cross.” Of course! By the sacrifice of divine love on the cross, Satan was, is, and always will be, defeated. Christians don’t run from the cross. We unite with Christ on the cross. We raise it up! We proclaim Christ’s victory over evil and darkness. We are victors, not victims. When the devil perceives that we won’t reject the cross, that we cling to it as our victory weapon, he is weakened (cf. James 4:7).

Seek Help

Many inquired as to where to begin when one believes that he or she is afflicted by evil spirits. Please start with your local parish priest. Why? Because the Catholic priest is ordained to be a spiritual father with God-given spiritual authority.

Of this I am sure, your desire for liberation from evil and sin is God’s grace because He desires it all the more. He will not abandon you unto sin and evil. He will lead you to the place of healing, conversion, and restoration. The journey to liberation is not unlike the Exodus experience of the Israelites fleeing the slavery of the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 14). Sometimes we grumble because we want quick fixes, not true conversion of life.

It takes courage to seek help, to entrust your broken heart to a priest. Catholic priests have a special anointing conferred upon them for the liberation of God’s people. Ideally, you will be welcomed and met with compassionate understanding. Remember that you are not seeking a perfect personality fit, you are seeking the healing power (authority) of the universal Church through a person who is on a journey toward holiness (a work in progress).

Some people wrote about the disbelief of their priests regarding diabolical affliction. I acknowledge that according to a publication of the “Association of International Exorcists” some priests have ceased to believe in the existence of the devil. Pray for our priests please (foundationforpriests.org). Most clergy do believe according to the teaching of the Church. Please do not be discouraged, rather, keep seeking help within the Church and do not go outside of the Church. Too many people suffer terrible spiritual, emotional and physical consequences from so-called healing practitioners outside of the Church.

Let us imitate the entrustment of Jesus who places His Body and Blood into the imperfect, anointed hands of His priest in the sacrifice of the Mass to become our spiritual food. Christ is vulnerable first so that when we are “crushed in spirit” we can entrust the little pieces of our heart to Him. He collects, cherishes and re-constructs the broken parts into something quite beautiful and new.

On the EWTN program, we mentioned that deliverance is often accelerated with the help of medical professionals. A medical, psychological evaluation is prudent, not because the Church denies the diabolical; rather, because the Church acknowledges the whole person: body, mind, and soul. My best friends are psychiatrists on the deliverance team and I check in with them regularly.

Praying for Yourself

Exorcist priests explain to the diabolically afflicted person that while he and the team can help toward liberation, the big extent of the work will be done by the person. The Exorcist has the authority to pray the Rite (powerfully effective), but the hard work of conversion, of cultivating a sacramental prayer life, and renouncing evil practices, is done by the person. Praying for oneself, putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6), is necessary. You can find Catholic prayer books with authorized deliverance prayers for the laity, ideally with the Church’s Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat. The most powerful reading for liberation is scripture; the Word of God is living and effective. Insert your name into the scripture. Pray with the Psalmists; insert yourself into the scenes of healing and liberation, personalize scripture passages.

Sacramental Confession

For Catholics who experience diabolical affliction, I encourage you to run to the confessional. It is one of the Church’s most powerful sacraments of healing; a hundred times more powerful than a sacramental such as the rite of exorcism (according to exorcists).

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
– reconciliation with the Church;
– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
– peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

Recourse to Mary

Here’s an account that best illustrates what I want to convey about the Virgin Mary. It is told by a renown Rome exorcist priest.

One day, while I was saying to the demon, “in the name of our Most Immaculate Mother, leave this body!”, The demon yelled, “That is the word that I hate the most!” And I responded, “Immaculate?” And the demon said, “Yes!”

One time during the novena of the Immaculate Conception, a demon began to yell, “Send her away! Send her away! Send her away! Everyone is saying her name in these days. All are calling her. Everyone says her name. Too much light, too much light, too much light!”

Another time, one demon exclaimed, “The Immaculate Conception is my opposite.”

In another exorcism, we repeated the following prayer several times: Oh, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. The demon responded, “Stop that! This short prayer is powerful against me!”

School of Holiness

On the EWTN program, I shared what Fr. Bamonte taught us, “Even diabolical possession can be a school of holiness.” Possession is rare. More common are diabolical oppressions or obsession. Christ is your sure help, the Church is your hospital, sacramental grace is your medicine. You were not created to be crushed or brokenhearted. God’s provision is yours. His hand is grasping for yours. St. Paul teaches, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Of this I am sure because I have witnessed the liberation of persons tormented by the demonic who are then transformed into healed vessels of light, peace and joy.

image: The Torment of St. Anthony, attributed to Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons