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Getting Unbound: A Reflection on Deliverance Ministry

August 6, 2017 16 Comments

There is wide interest today in the topic of exorcism. The publication in 2010 of Matt Baglio’s The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist and the subsequent movie and interviews with Fr. Gary Thomas have sparked some of this interest. Prior to this, books such as An Exorcist Tells His Story, by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, had paved the way.

Frankly, another reason for the interest is that as our world becomes more secular, families disintegrate; the outright celebration of sinful practices spreads and there is an increase in bondage to sinful drives, psychological trauma, and openness to demonic influence.

A whole generation of priests were often taught to distrust the traditional understandings of trauma and dysfunction, which gave significant weight to spiritual causes. These priests were often trained to view most such things as merely psychological in nature. Thus, parishioners were often sent off on a recommended course of psychotherapy without so much as a prayer being said.

The tide is turning back to a more balanced approach. Catholics are rightly asking for spiritual help along with other approaches such as psychotherapy and psychotropic medicines.

With the renewed emphasis on exorcism in both the news and other sources, it must be said that some of the increasing number requesting the formal Rite of Exorcism manifest a misunderstanding of that rite as well as a lack of knowledge about other avenues of healing.

Demonic possession is rare and that is what the formal Rite of Exorcism is meant to address. Most people who present themselves (or someone they love) to the Church are not in fact possessed by the devil or demons. There may be obsession, oppression, or torment at work, along with psychological trauma, and other more natural sources of struggle.

For people who are not possessed, what is needed is deliverance, not exorcism.

What is deliverance? Deliverance is prayer and ongoing ministry that uses numerous approaches to bring healing and wholeness to those who, after baptism, have come to struggle significantly with bondage to sin and sinful drives, the influence of demons, or the effects of psychological and/or spiritual trauma.

Deliverance involves taking hold of the full freedom that God is given us, of helping the faithful who struggle to lay hold of the glorious freedom of children of God (cf Rom 8:21). St. Paul says that the Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:13 – 14).

There is also a magnificent passage in the Acts of the Apostles in which St. Paul is told of his mission to the Gentiles by the Lord: I am sending you to [the Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:17–18).

Fundamentally, this is a description of the ongoing work of deliverance, which the whole Church must accomplish for God’s chosen people. Deliverance seeks to take people out from under Satan’s power and place them under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ, to bring people to, or restore them to, their true identity as sons and daughters of God.

Even after baptism, it is possible that we open doors to Satan enabling him some degree of access to our heart and mind. When this is the case, a Christian, working with clergy and fellow believers alike, must take a stand against the schemes of the devil by repenting of sin and renouncing any form of agreement with the deceptions of the enemy.

Deliverance involves coming to an understanding of the tactics of the evil one and recognizing the flawed thinking that often infects our minds. It involves coming to know and name these tactics and the deep drives of sin within us. It involves repenting of them and steadily renouncing their influence so that we come to greater serenity, peace, and healing—to deliverance.

This deliverance is effected in many ways: by the Word of God proclaimed and devoutly read; through the frequent reception of sacraments of Holy Communion and confession; through spiritual direction; through the experience of the Sacred Liturgy, praise, and worship; through authentic, close fellowship with other believers; through personal prayer; through psychotherapy (where necessary); and through what might be called “deliverance ministry,” which often involves both clergy and lay praying with those who struggle and offering support and encouragement.

This is the description of a wider ministry of deliverance that looks past exorcism (which only applies in rather rare circumstances of possession). Deliverance ministry seeks to broaden healing to the large number of people (to some extent all of us at certain times) who need healing and deliverance.

Who needs deliverance? While everyone can benefit from such a ministry in a general sort of a way, there are those among us who go through intense crises and need special, focused ministry. This ministry may occasionally involve formal exorcism, but it usually addresses a more general need for deliverance. This deliverance should be a multidisciplinary approach, as described just above.

My own experience with the need for deliverance ministry is quite personal. Some of you already know my story, but here it is for those who do not: At a critical point in my life, I needed deliverance. Specifically, I experienced grave and increasingly debilitating bouts of severe anxiety.

This significant torment began for me at about age 10, when I began to experience long periods of sleeplessness due to extreme worry. At the time, there were many crises underway in my family related to my sister’s severe mental illness and my parents’ struggles with alcohol. The episodes of extreme anxiety lasted for months at a time but were sporadic, coming and going somewhat mysteriously.

Throughout my teenage years, the frequency and intensity of these episodes increased, eventually spurring my parents to place me in outpatient psychotherapeutic counseling, through which I was prescribed psychotropic medicines. This was somewhat beneficial and my college and seminary years were largely serene.

I experienced a major crisis at age 33 when, as a young priest, I was asked to take a very challenging assignment. While I initially agreed to it, I was soon assailed by debilitating anxiety, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and almost non-stop rumination and depression. I was certain that I was losing my mind. This led to brief hospitalization and the need to step back from the assignment.

However, my crisis only worsened, descending into post-traumatic stress syndrome and deeper, darker depression. I also began to experience a demonic presence. Even on sunny days my peripheral vision was shrouded in a palpable darkness. I experienced demonic presence in my bedroom, a dark, brooding presence that tormented me throughout the night. I found it necessary to sleep in my outer room with the door open for fear of this presence.

Knowing and seeing my declining condition, a brother priest prayed with me and insisted that I seek help. It was clear that I was in need of deliverance, that I was not living the normal and promised Christian life. I was tormented by fear and locked in depression and self-loathing. My accuser, the evil one, had shown his face and largely robbed me of the glorious freedom of a child of God. Deliverance was needed, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

More than twenty years later, I can tell you I have been delivered. Thank you, Jesus! I rarely worry about things now.

I also want to say that deliverance takes time and involves a multidisciplinary approach. Unfortunately, most people just want relief. But God is in the healing business; healing takes time, courage, prayer, patience, and waiting for the Lord.

The elements of my deliverance and healing included daily Mass, daily prayer and reading of Scripture, spiritual direction, psychotherapy, group therapy, weekly Al-Anon meetings, weekly confession, deliverance prayers, and walking in fellowship with the people of God. Gradually, through all these means, the dark moments grew briefer and the light grew brighter. My priestly ministry also grew richer. I became more compassionate and more able to help others in their struggles.

One of the things I had to discover was that my deliverance was linked to uncovering and naming sinful drives and distorted thinking, which provided doorways for the devil to rob me of my freedom.

The primary sinful drive with which I struggled was that of control, which is a form of pride. Growing up in an often-troubled home, one of my survival strategies had been to carve out small areas in my life that I could strictly control. For example, I kept my bedroom very clean, even locking it when I was away from the house. There were many similar things that I did; the little areas of life that I could control gave me some sense of safety.

As I grew older and my responsibilities increased, I brought this desire for control into those areas and often insisted on being in control of things that could not reasonably be controlled. Finally, struggling in the face of this challenging assignment I was given, I realized that I could never possibly keep everything under control; I spiraled into great crisis.

Ultimately I needed to repent of my strong drive to control. I had to see it for the pride that it was. I needed to learn to rely more on God. But striving to rely on someone other than myself—even God—was terrifying. It took lots of repentance, growing self-knowledge, and learning “the moves” of pride and control. In addition, I had to develop better and more reasonable strategies for dealing with these situations, accepting the fact that there are many things I cannot control.

Through it all, there were great battles with Satan, who did not want to easily relax his grip on me. Thanks be to God, I had many helpers, counselors, and people who prayed for me. Deliverance did come, slowly at first, but with increasing speed as time went on.

This is deliverance ministry. It takes time and many helpers from many different disciplines. Sacraments are essential and fundamental, as are prayer and the Word of God, but in most cases deliverance cases also requires psycho-therapeutic and medical intervention. This was my journey to deliverance.

In my years as a priest I have also walked with others, slowly helping them to find serenity and to appreciate that there is a big difference between relief and healing. Little by little, building trust and striving to increase the “healing team,” I have seen many make progress similar to my own—but it takes time; it is a journey. God proceeds very delicately and deliberately in these matters. Healing takes courage and God often waits until we are ready.

So, while recent interest in exorcism is encouraging, we must be careful not to focus too much on what is rare (demonic possession), overlooking what is often more necessary and applicable to most cases: deliverance prayer and ministry.

Here a few resources I would recommend:

Two excellent books on deliverance have been written by Neal Lozano:

Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance
Resisting the Devil: A Catholic Perspective on Deliverance

Here are some deliverance prayers that I and others in this work often pray with the faithful, encouraging them to pray with others as well: Deliverance prayers.

An Unbound: Freedom in Christ Conference will be held in the Washington, D.C. area on August 11-12, 2017. More information is available here.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). I am a witness.

Comments (16)

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  1. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    This is another one for the books Monsignor. Strong information and powerful prayers. Good servant.

  2. Nick says:

    Catechism 2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.” (Saint Augustine’s Confessions 10,29,40:PL 32,796)

  3. Sara says:

    Thank you for this post, Msgr.

    I would just offer that when I went to an unbound retreat, there was no acknowledgment that the other elements you mentioned are also part of the process. Instead, the implication was that all you needed was the unbound prayer experience. I found it extremely unhelpful (as a person who has depression but is healthy thanks to therapy and medication) because it enforces the idea (already present) that the illness is your fault for not trusting Jesus enough… I’m sure that’s not everyone’s experience, but I think it’s super important that retreat leaders do not act as if their prayer is going to be your “savior”- only Jesus is that.

  4. Peter Stuart says:

    Thank you, Monsignor. I am plagued with SSA and addicted to pornography. It is good to be reminded that I can be freed of my demons instead of having to accept or embrace them. Don’t ever stop telling the truth!

  5. oraEtlabora says:

    Thanks for this post Msgr. Pope. God bless you!

  6. Jeanine says:

    I completely agree with what Sara says. My son has seen many people (priests and lay people) for deliverance prayer and has these same type of experiences. They seem to believe that after one session and you should be better and if not it’s your fault. That you are doing something to block it.

  7. Anon says:

    Msgr.,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and may God continue to bless you.

    A quick question: Do you recommend that the linked Deliverance Prayers be recited by laypeople?

  8. Dan H says:

    Really awesome testimony, thanks for sharing. I’ve gone through some problems similar, although probably not as bad, as he talked about, and it gives a lot of hope to me that I can be fully recovered at some point.
    Dan

  9. Nancy says:

    Thank you Monsignor for you openness. Praise God that you found your way. I find your posts to be relevant and helpful. Praying for your continued protection!

  10. for you says:

    Thank you for your testimony, I am sure it is a great help to many people. I too had an out of control childhood and can relate to wanting to control as a way to feel some sort of security in all sorts of circumstances. I am not sure it is a “sin of pride” but more a reliance on self, a false confidence in one’s self instead of trusting in God. I have been painstakingly taught by God that HE is my confidence and that I really can trust in Him. I have been taken to circumstances in my life where there was no choice for me but to rely on God and in that I have learned He will never abandon me now or ever. He reminds me of that over and over through all the years. He only asks that I Love Him and others, to do as He wills for me, to follow His Commandments and in that I have my security, no matter what the circumstances.

    We do have a natural desire to direct our circumstances which is good because we need to reasonably direct our lives to avoid harm and pitfalls and progress in a positive way, and in prayer and a right relationship with Jesus Christ we will be directed and guided. We can trust in Him to help us and direct us even in the uncertain circumstances of life, He will be there.

    I wanted to say that the devil is real and deceives many and there were many Saints of the Church, who were in the Will of God, that still dealt with the attacks of the devil. I can see in these recent years a great delusion against humanity of the devil and there are even those who think he is their friend when in reality he wants nothing but to deceive and destroy them. God help us!

  11. Lynette says:

    The Unbound book and all materials do state that an Unbound prayer session would only be the beginning of a conversion process. Many people do experience an amazing turnaround, but for many others it’s a turning point, much more gentle and quiet. Our heavenly Father works with everyone differently. From what I have read and experienced it sounds like a wonderful and timely ministry!

  12. Geoff says:

    Thank you for your moving and powerful testimony.

  13. John says:

    There’s a fine line in discussions between ‘exorcism’ and ‘deliverance’ in the conversations. Lozano is not as definitive as Father has been here. Thank you for writing this, and for sharing you own journey.

  14. Luis Gamas says:

    Thank you Msgr. for your testimony. It strengthens our resolve to keep our sight in our Lord away from darkness. May our Heavenly Father keeps you always in his Sacred Heart and give you the peace that only within it can be enjoyed.

  15. Estevam says:

    Caro Monsenhor Charles Pope,
    desde que li este blog pela primeira vez, ele tem sido uma benção e um alento na minha vida. Agora, lendo este testemunho ficou claro para mim, porque as chagas da minha alma se sentem reconfortadas quando leio as suas palavras. Eu estou no início da jornada que você fez. Obrigado, pelo texto de hoje, como todos os outros de todo dia. Obrigado.

  16. John says:

    Dear Msgr. Charles;
    Please note (and make known) that Neal Lozano’s book “UNBOUND: A Practical Guide to Deliverance” contains neither an Imprimatur nor a Nihil Obstat. while “Resisting the Devil” does.
    The reason for this, I’m told, is in Key #4 – Taking Authority. It seems that, in Neal’s book, and web resource pages, the Lay minister assumes Sacerdotal authority in commanding the demons to leave rather than leading the person being ministered to in taking the authority over themselves and, after renouncing them, commanding the demons to leave by the authority they have over themselves. Your thoughts?
    Thank you and God Bless.
    John

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