Sunday, February 5, 2012

What an Exorcist Can Teach an Evangelist

Reposting for new Sky View readers. Originally posted on October 24th, 2011.

The Devil may, of course, win the battles, even important battles, but he will never win the war.

-Father Gabriel Amorth, Vatican's chief excorcist

Knowing the Truth:

Evangelization and exorcisms are two kindred missions of the Church. After all, Church-approved exorcisms are but a dramatic expression of the titanic but often unperceived struggle between grace and sin in every individual. But good triumphing over evil depends on first knowing the truth about this conflict.

Take for instance, The Rite, The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. These are movies that were inspired by true stories. Nevertheless, all three films were riddled with half-truths. In my opinion, none of them conveyed the clear sense that Christ won the battle. There lingered a kind of dreary overcast and a shadow at the end of each of these movies. From my vantage point, the victory of good over evil was neither decisive nor satisfying. The one rare exception to the rule is The Haunting in Connecticut; a well-done documentary by the Discovery Channel on a demon infested house that oppressed a family. These evil spirits were cast out by an Exorcism and a Mass in a convincing fashion. When the rite of exorcism was complete, it was as if light, peace and warmth permeated the house. Evil had been defeated. Christ had won just as he had in the Gospels so many times. And as for the family that had been oppressed for so many weeks, they had been finally liberated.

The Conflict of Exorcisms:

The Discovery documentary on the exorcism in Connecticut, as with any exorcism, is instructive for Catholic evangelists and teachers. Exorcism is a microcosm of how Christ restores what belongs to him in the Church’s day to day mission. Ushering in the kingdom of heaven quite often presupposes a conflict that involves causalities. After all, purging evil is offensive to both demons and men. St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they are the aroma of Christ for those who are being saved but the odor of death for those who are perishing.

The exorcist, as well as the evangelist, must see through the hazards of the battle. To be sure, the reason is that with the eradication of evil there is opposition and resistance. But the failure to pull up evil from the roots is to endanger the seed of God from being firmly planted in the soil. Our Lord himself said to the Pharisees, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house…” Indeed, every rite of exorcism performed in his name is an act of plundering, tying up the strong man and casting him out. This must take place before the return of God’s peace and his grace either to a soul or to a house.

I Smell God:

This decisive victory in Connecticut reminds me of a story in what used to be my hometown. A young gentleman had attended a high school party where the Ouija Board was being played by a number of kids. It just so happened that this Ouija Board was pretty active that night. In fact, it was alleged that there was a spirit, if I remember correctly, by the name of "Sue" that they had supposedly contacted. This spirit said that she had died at age eight and began to reveal some other features of “her life on earth.” This is where the young gentlemen who told my family the story comes in. He had walked into the house and realized what was transpiring. Being well formed in the Catholic Faith he got a little concerned about the paranormal activity. He then went back into his car and retrieved his scapular (a necklace-like cloth piece which carries with it, our Lady's protection and our Lord's blessing) and put it on underneath his shirt. This, he did without telling anyone. He then proceeded back into the house. Lo and behold, the activity with the Ouija board abruptly stopped. Baffled over the abrupt silence, the teenagers petitioned the spirit why it had ceases to interact with them. The last words that were spelled out, supposedly from the once friendly spirit of “Sue,” was the following: “I smell God!” The Ouija board participants heard no more from Sue.

Prudence and the Criteria:

With every report of diabolic phenomenon, prudence must always accompany the discernment of its authenticity. It has been said that 80-90% of all cases that come before the Church have a natural explanation such as a psychological or physical disorder. But for those approved exorcisms, one or more of follow criteria must be met: bodily levitation, extraordinary strength, speaking foreign language or unfamiliar tongue or knowing things beyond the person’s natural capability, and demonstrating an aversion to sacramentals or to the name of Jesus and Mary. When a diabolic presence has been determined, an exorcist must approach the victim with a spirit of sacrifice and confidence. When the world’s leading Vatican exorcist, Fr. Gabriel Amorth, was asked if he was afraid of the devil, his response was: “Afraid of that beast? He’s the one who should be afraid of me because I work in the name of the Lord of the world. He is only an ape of God.”

The Attitude of an Exorcist:

In fact, 1952 rite of exorcism gives the following instructions: “Let the priest pronounce the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice, and at the same time with great confidence, humility, and fervor…with his intention fixed on God, whom he should entreat with firm faith and in all humility. And if he is all the more grievously tormented, he ought to bear this patiently, never doubting the divine assistance.” Every exorcist knows that the demons or the evil spirits will not willingly vacate. That is why the rite prescribes the following: “He [the priest] will pay attention as to what words in particular cause the evil spirits to tremble, repeating them the more frequently.” A real battle is anticipated. As such, the priest who engages in spiritual warfare of this nature cannot flinch if the victim soul is to be liberated.

Spiritual Pacifism:

But many Catholic clergy and laity are flinching. In some cases are not fighting the war all together. For instance, Fr. Gabriel Amorth lamented that “casting out demons” and “tying up the strong man” is simply not being done in many European countries. In a 2006 interview he said, “Before this new Rite came out, the German Episcopate wrote in a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger that there was no point in a new Rite in that exorcisms should no longer be performed.” The he goes on to report the following: “We have countries completely devoid of exorcists, such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. This is a shameful shortfall.”

Exorcisms and Evangelization: Two Kindred Missions

What does the evangelist take away from the exorcist? The fact that exorcisms and evangelization are kindred missions is not to suggest that evangelists and teachers should go around issuing commands or put on an air of militancy. But there is a general lesson to take away from exorcisms. And the lesson is that preaching the Gospel is a kind of exorcism in that evil is purged as God’s goodness is ushered in. In practical terms, it could mean the Church calling people to repentance before admitting them to the Sacraments; or it could mean issuing a public reprimand or warning to politicians and other celebrities who publicly oppose Catholic principles; or it could mean for dioceses and parishes to get the right people on the bus (Catholics who embrace the fullness of Christ’s teachings) and getting the wrong people off of the bus (nominal Catholics). Keep in mind, the unity of minds, the uniformity of action and speaking with one voice depends on it!

With that said, many twenty-first century Catholics refuse to drive away demons and tie up the strong man both in their personal spiritual warfare and in their ministries. However, there are two problems with this: First, it is diametrically opposed to the Gospel. Second, it doesn’t work! It obviously doesn’t work with exorcisms. And it does not work with the Church’s pastoral practices and her mission to evangelize! In terms of the last five decades, the Church’s diminished influence on culture, of lower church attendance and of a fewer priestly and religious vocations seem to suggest this.