As we read in 1 Peter 5:8-9: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith.” There is a connection between solid faith and resisting the devil as part of ordinary discipleship.
“By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith’ (CCC 143).” Obedience of faith is a willed act of love for God who loved us first.
In contrast to obedience of faith, according to Fr. John Hardon, “The Fathers of the Church generally refer to the fall of the angels in the words of Jeremiah, which the rebellious Israel speaks to its God, I will not serve (Jeremiah 2:20). Or the words of Isaiah are applied to the fall of the angels:
“How did you come to fall from the heavens, Daystar, son of Dawn? How did you come to be thrown to the ground, you who enslaved the nations? You who used to think to yourself, ‘I will climb up to the heavens; and higher than the stars of God I will set my throne. I will sit on the Mount of Assembly in the recesses of the north. I will climb to the top of the thunderclouds, I will rival the Most High.’” What! Now you have fallen to hell, to the very bottom of the abyss! (Isaiah 14: 12-15).”
Fr. Hardon continues, “Clearly the sin of the angels was their ambition to become God, which is the height of pride. It is a crime that, among human beings, is committed by the false messiahs of philosophy and, in our day, by the agents of the culture of death.”
In our day an urgent situation exists. Solid faith in God the revealer of truth has waned. Pride of life in a relativistic culture encourages independence from God. Resisting the devil and discerning the spirits is a spiritual exercise that is little practiced. Too many people put aside sacramental life that provides grace and spiritual armor. The desire for love is written on the human heart but Satan seduces people into counterfeit love through disordered indulgences.
Consequently, countless people have opened doors that invite evil spirits in, and are in pain from demonic oppression, obsession and possession. Eventually, by the grace of God, some people want liberation from the demonic torment. Often, whether or not they are Catholic or Christian, the afflicted person seeks the help of a Roman Catholic priest for liberation. The Church provides the pastoral care of such souls. Bishops and priests are trying to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for the ministry of healing, deliverance and exorcism.
On November 6, 2014, the Catholic News Agency published an article authored by Mary Rezac, stating, “Catholic experts say occult activity and the resulting need for exorcisms has reached a critical level.” The CNA article quotes Dr. Valter Cascioli, spokesperson for the International Association of Exorcists (AIE):
“It’s becoming a pastoral emergency. At the moment the number of disturbances of extraordinary demonic activity is on the rise. The rise in demonic activity can be attributed to a decreasing faith among individuals, coupled with an increase in curiosity and participation in occult activity such as Ouija boards and séances.”
Cascioli said, “It usually starts out of ignorance, superficiality, stupidity or proselytizing, actively participating or just watching. The consequences are always disastrous. Ramifications of occult activity affects people on physical, psychological, spiritual, and moral levels, and include anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, acts of self-harm, and constant thoughts of death, to name a few, he said. In severe cases, occult activity leads to demonic possession. Whether we realize it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we do it for fun, for amusement or for any other reason, it does not change anything: the devastating impact of spiritism, is the same.”
“Another common error is believing that the devil and the spiritual realm are not real, Cascioli said; but the devil is real, he affirmed, and the Bible refers to him 118 times under various names including Satan, the evil one, and the prince of this world.”
Providentially, when the Catholic News Agency article was published, the Pope Leo XIII Institute, hosted at Mundelein Seminary, was in session. Priests plus faculty convened for further training in the Church’s ministry of exorcism. Those of us who are part of that experience are in awe of how God is working to provide the utmost care for suffering souls who seek liberation from evil.
It is helpful to know that the International Association of Exorcists, whose 250 exorcists are placed all over the world, and the Pope Leo XIII Institute, a teaching apostolate for priests, are on the frontlines as part of the Church’s arsenal in the spiritual battle. Exorcist priests, many of who must remain anonymous under their bishop’s orders, have great need of continuous prayer support from the faithful because they become the foremost targets of demonic retaliation; and they are called to a high standard of personal sanctity.
In the CNA article, Dr. Cascioli, speaking on behalf of the International Association of Exorcists stated, “We know that in some countries of the world, there are no exorcists, and demonic activity and its consequences are spreading all over the world. It is not a socio-cultural phenomenon, it is present all over the world, and that tells us a lot. So, it is truly becoming a pastoral emergency and this is why we have the necessity to combat this situation.”
There is much work to be done in this area of ministry in the Church still. The care of souls requires expertise for healing the entire person. Priest exorcists are wisely encouraged to never work alone, and to engage the help of medical and psychological professionals as well as laity with gifts of discernment and intercessory prayer. An entire team becomes engaged in loving and serving the suffering victim. The person is accompanied in their quest for freedom and inner healing availing themselves of the Church’s arsenal of sacraments and sacramentals. The process of liberation takes time and effort on behalf of all involved. Fr. Bamonte, an experienced Rome exorcist, reported, “Possession can become a school of holiness for the victim and their family.”
It is true that God always brings good out of evil. But this begs the question, why go there in the first place? We are all sinners but with God’s ever-present grace, we can resist the devil’s temptations, renounce evil, and avail ourselves of the sacrament of confession and the healing power of the Eucharist. St. Paul clearly articulates the architecture of spiritual warfare and the protocol for putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians. 6).
The Church’s teaching is clearly stated in the Catechism:
2116: “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.” The Catechism continues the warnings in the following paragraph against any magic or sorcery or occult activities, called “spiritism.”
The list of occult activities contains a common thread of prideful desire for knowledge and curiosity contrary to trustful dependence upon God. The Christian is called to courageously live the standard of the cross (sacrificial love) by which Satan is defeated.
The pastoral emergency that exists today is a call to arms—not only for bishops and priests, but also to the faithful who, with solid faith are called to resist the devil and to pray for the liberation of all demonically afflicted persons. Love requires this.
St. John Paul II, in 1976 at the Eucharistic Congress in Pennsylvania, foretold today’s call to arms, “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the antichurch, between the Gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. This confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.” Onward Christian soldier!
For more information, please visit the spiritual warfare section of www.foundationforpriests.org.