Exorcism or Deliverance?

There is wide interest today in the topic of exorcism. Numerous books and news stories have helped to fuel this. 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 psychological trauma, bondage to sinful drives, and openness to demonic influence.

An entire generation of priests were 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 (e.g., psychotherapy, psychotropic medicines). However, it must be said that some of the increasing number of people 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 remains 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.

So, deliverance first involves coming to an understanding of the tactics of the evil one and recognizing the flawed thinking that often infects our mind. 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.

The general deliverance we all need 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; and even through good psychotherapy (when necessary).

For those who are suffering acutely from oppressions (and most of us do at some point on our spiritual journey), a more focused deliverance is often needed. It is usually called “deliverance ministry,” which often involves both clergy and lay praying with those who struggle and offering support and encouragement. It is different from major exorcism in two ways. First, it focuses more on the person than on the demons. There may be some minor exorcistic prayers directing demons to depart, but overall deliverance ministry involves praying with and for the one afflicted helping him identify issues and lay claim to the graces God is offering. Second, it is gentler, and the person and those who pray for him are encouraged to pay little attention to any unusual manifestations such as shuddering or shaking, which sometimes occur in the course of deliverance and healing ministry. Deliverance ministry seeks to broaden healing to the large number of people who need healing and deliverance, who may be going through a crisis, a transition, or just a difficult time; who may be oppressed but are in no way possessed.

Major exorcism, in contrast, is a fierce combat directed against demons. There is nothing gentle about it, and like major surgery it is invasive and wrenching. It should only be used for those who are definitely possessed, as determined by a skilled and appointed exorcist who looks for required evidence and has eliminated other lesser or natural causes.

Most often, deliverance takes time and involves a multidisciplinary approach. Most people just want relief, but God is in the healing business; healing takes time, courage, prayer, patience, and waiting for the Lord. It is linked to uncovering and naming sinful drives and distorted thinking, which provide doorways for the devil to rob us of our freedom. 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.

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

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Exorcism or Deliverance?

The Paradox of Poverty – A Homily for the 32nd Sunday of the Year

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, Bernardo Strozzi (1630s)

The first reading in today’s Mass (1 Kings 17:10-16) speaks to us of the paradox of poverty: it is our poverty, our neediness, that provides a doorway for God to bless us with true riches. Our emptiness provides room for God to go to work.

In our worldly riches, we feel we have “too much to lose”; the Gospel just seems too demanding. In our poverty, emptiness, and detachment from this world, however, there is a strange and unexpected freedom that makes it easier to step out in faith—and stepping out in faith is the only thing that can save us.

Yes, poverty brings freedom. You can’t steal from someone who has nothing, and you can’t kill someone who has already died to this world.

Are you poor enough to be free? There’s a strange blessing in poverty. Let’s look at the first reading to see how poverty can usher in strange blessings.

The Desire Portrayed In the first reading, the prophet Elijah encounters a widow at the entrance of the city of Zarephath, a name that means “refining fire.” In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her.

Both Elijah and the widow are hungry and thirsty, for there is famine in the land. As God’s prophet, Elijah speaks not only for himself but for God when he asks the poor woman to share her meager food with him. God has a desire, a hunger, for us. The woman also has desires, but hers need to be purified in this place of “refining fire.”

The widow’s hunger for earthly food is a symbol for a deeper hunger: a hunger for communion with God. At some point our hunger must meet God’s hunger—that point we call Holy Communion. It is a place where our hunger for God and His for us meet, and we find serenity. Every other hunger merely points to this hunger, and every other “food” is but a cruel, temporary morsel until this deepest hunger is satisfied.

Thus, two people meet at a place called “refining fire.” It is desire that has drawn them, a desire that is ultimately satisfied only in God.

The Dimensions of Poverty – The woman articulates her poverty in responding to Elijah’s request: Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.” She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.

We may wonder why God allows poverty and suffering. The quick answer is that it is because there is such grave risk in riches and comfort. The Lord is well aware of how hard it is for the wealthy and comfortable to enter the Kingdom of God. In riches we trust in ourselves, but in poverty we can only trust in God; it is only through trusting faith that we can ever be saved.

There is a kind of freedom in poverty. The poor have less to lose.

They can operate in wider dimensions and have a kind of freedom that the wealthy often lack.

Not only is it hard to steal from a poor man, but it also takes little to enrich him. A man who has lived in a great palace may be discouraged with a humble domicile, while a poor one may be satisfied with a single small room to call his own. A hungry man may appreciate mere scraps of food, while one who is already satiated may need caviar to feel grateful. The rich miss many of life’s little blessings and may suffer from boredom, whereas the poor delight in even small pleasures. The rich man’s world gets ever smaller and less satisfying; the poor are more likely to truly appreciate even the humblest things.

Here again is the paradox of poverty, wherein less is more, gratitude is easier to find, and losses are less painful. As we shall see, it is the widow’s poverty that opens her to lasting blessings. Having little to lose, she is free enough to accept the next stage of our story.

The Demand that is Prescribed – God’s prophet, Elijah, summons her to trusting faith: “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Elijah tells her not to be afraid to share. In effect, he teaches her that the Lord will not be outdone in generosity. On a human level, Elijah’s request seems almost cruel, but from a spiritual perspective he is summoning her to the faith that alone can truly save her.

Note that although she is afraid, her fear is easily overcome. Why? Because she has little to lose. So many of our fears are rooted in the fear of loss. The more we have, the more we have to be anxious about. In recent decades we have grown increasingly wealthy yet seem to have more problems. What are our chief problems? Fear and anxiety about the loss, maintenance, and protection of all our “stuff.” Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Eccl 5:12). This is so true! The wealthier we have become the more we’ve been spending on psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs. We are anxious about so many things; insomnia and stress are common today.

We have too much stuff, too much to lose. Most of us, hearing Elijah’s request, would call him crazy or cruel or both. This woman is free enough to take him up on his offer. How about us?

We, too, must come to realize that looking merely to our own self-interest will only feed us for a day. Only in openness to God and others can we procure a superabundant food, that which will draw us to life eternal.

The Deliverance Produced – Having little to lose, the woman trusts in God’s word through Elijah and shares her food. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

If we learn to trust God, we come to discover that He never fails. Of course, this takes faith, and faith involves risk. This is where poverty can have its advantages. The widow takes the risk and shares what little she has. For her, the risk is immediate, but ultimately it is a lesser risk because she has so little to lose.

So, the woman is free enough to risk it all. Her only gamble is trusting God, and God does not fail. Scripture says,

  • Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (Eccles 11:1).
  • Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38).
  • And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward (Matt 10:42).
  • Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor 9:6).
  • Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to (Deut 15:10).
  • He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done (Prov 19:17).
  • A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor (Prov 22:9).
  • He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses (Prov 28:27).

Do you believe all this? Or are these just slogans for others? Well, you never know until you try. If you don’t think you can try, maybe you have too much to lose.

Consider this woman who was poor enough to be free and free enough to try the Lord—and God did not fail. He never fails. I am a witness, how about you?

Reluctant Prophet – The Story of Jonah

Jonah, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

Of all the prophets, Jonah is perhaps the most reluctant; his struggle with sin is not hidden. We are currently reading Jonah’s story in daily Mass. In the story we see a portrait of sin and of God’s love for sinners. Psalm 139 says, beautifully,

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I descend into hell, thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me (Ps 139: 7-10).

Let’s examine the story of Jonah and allow its teachings to reach us.

I. Defiance This is the word of the LORD that came to Jonah, son of Amittai: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the LORD.

To defy means to resist what one is told to do, openly and boldly. Defiance also indicates a lack of faith because it comes from the Latin “dis” (against) and “fidere” (believe). Hence Jonah is not just insubordinate; he is unbelieving and untrusting.

His scoffing and defiance likely result from hatred or excessive nationalism. Nineveh is the capital of Syria, the mortal enemy of Israel. Jonah instinctively knows that if they repent of their sinfulness they will grow stronger. Rather than trusting God, he brazenly disobeys, foolishly thinking that he can outrun God.

II. Distance He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went aboard to journey with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.

Tarshish is widely held to refer to the coastline of modern-day Spain. In order to avoid going 500 miles into God’s will, Jonah runs some 1500 miles away. It’s always a longer journey when you disobey God.

Note that he also puts down good money in order to flee. Indeed, many people spend lots of money and go miles out of their way in order to be able to stay in sin. Yes, sin is usually very expensive—but many seem quite willing to pay the price.

The simplicity of holiness is often far less onerous and less costly as well. Like Jonah, though, many line up to pay the price and take the long, painful journey deeper into defiance and sin.

How much of our trouble comes from our sin? The great majority of it. So much suffering, so much expense, so much extra mileage could be avoided if we just obeyed God. The bottom line (if you’ll pardon the financial pun) is that sinful choices are usually very costly.

III. Disturbance The LORD, however, hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up. Then the mariners became frightened and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship for themselves, they threw its cargo into the sea.

Jonah’s defiance sends him and others headlong into a storm that grows ever deeper. The teaching is clear: persistent and unrepentant sin brings storms, disturbances, and troubles. As our defiance deepens, the headwinds become ever stronger and the destructive forces ever more powerful.

Note that Jonah’s defiance also endangers others. This is another important lesson: in our sin, our defiance, we often bring storms not only into our own life but also into the lives of others. What we do, or fail to do, affects others.

The mariners, fearing for their lives, also lose wealth and suffer great losses (by throwing their cargo overboard) on account of Jonah’s sinfulness.

Similarly, in our own culture today a good deal of pain and loss results from the defiant, selfish, and bad behavior of many. On account of selfishness and sexual misbehavior, many families have been torn apart. There is abortion, disease, teenage pregnancy, children with no fathers, and all the grief and pain that come from broken or malformed families. It is of course the children who suffer the most pain and injustice as a result of so much bad adult behavior.

To all this pain can be added many other sufferings caused by our greed, addiction, lack of forgiveness, pride, impatience, and lack of charity. These and many other sins unleash storms that affect not only us but others around us as well.

No one is merely an individual; we are also members of the Body, members of the community, whether we want to admit it or not.

Jonah is a danger and a cause of grief to others around him. So, too, are we when we defiantly indulge sinfulness.

IV. Delirium Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship, and lay there fast asleep.

While all these storms (which he caused) are raging, Jonah is asleep. Often the last one to know or admit the damage he does is the sinner himself. Too many wander around in a kind of delirium, a moral sleep, talking about their rights and insisting that what they do is “nobody else’s business.” Yet all the while the storm winds buffet and others suffer for what they do. So easily they remain locked in self-deception and rationalizations, ignoring the damage they are inflicting upon others.

Many people today talk about “victimless sins,” actions that supposedly don’t hurt anyone. Those who are morally alert do not say such things; those who are in the darkness of delirium, in a moral slumber, say them. Meanwhile, the gales grow stronger and civilization continues to crumble. All the while, they continue to ramble on about their right to do as they please.

V. Dressing Down The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.” Then they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots to find out on whose account we have met with this misfortune.” So they cast lots, and thus singled out Jonah. “Tell us,” they said, “what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country, and to what people do you belong?” Jonah answered them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing?” They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.

In a remarkable turn in the story, those who are not believers in the God of Israel dress down Jonah, who is to be God’s prophet, unto repentance! It’s a pretty bad day for a prophet when those whom he is supposed to address, must turn and call him to conversion. They seem to fear God more than he does!

First there comes the pointed question, “What are you doing asleep?” Yes, what are you doing? Do you have any idea how your behavior, your sins, are affecting the rest of us? Wake up from your delusions. Stop with your self-justifying slogans and look at what’s really going on!

Next they say to him, “Pray!” In other words, get back in touch with God, from whom you’re running. If you won’t do it for your own sake, then do it for ours—but call on the Lord!

This is what every sinner, whether outside the Church or inside, needs to hear: wake up and look at what you’re doing; see how you’re affecting yourself and all of us. Turn back to God lest we all perish.

VI. Despair They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more turbulent. Jonah said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, that it may quiet down for you; since I know it is because of me that this violent storm has come upon you.”

Jonah is now beginning to come to his senses, but not with godly sorrow, more with worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. Worldly sorrow brings death (2 Cor 7:10). Somewhat like Judas, Jonah and many other sinners do not repent to the Lord but rather are merely ashamed of themselves.

In effect, Jonah says to them, “Kill me. I do not deserve to live.” This is not repentance; it is despair.

VII. Dignity still the men rowed hard to regain the land, but they could not, for the sea grew ever more turbulent.

Surprisingly, the men are not willing to kill him, at least not as the first recourse. Despite his sin, Jonah does not lose his dignity. Even the fallen deserve our love and respect as fellow human beings. It is too easy for us to wish to destroy those who have harmed us, returning crime for crime, sin for sin.

But God would have us reach out to the sinner, to correct with love.

It is true, however, that not everyone is willing or able to be corrected. Some things must ultimately be left to God. Our first instinct should always be to respect the dignity of every person—even great sinners—and strive to bring them to the Lord with loving correction.

VIII. Deliverance Then they cried to the LORD, “We beseech you, O LORD, let us not perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have done as you saw fit.” Then they took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea’s raging abated. Struck with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice and made vows to him. But the LORD sent a large fish, that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God. Then the LORD commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore.

In the end, the men must hand Jonah over to the Lord. Somehow, they sense His just verdict yet they fear their own judgment and ask for His mercy.

In many American courtrooms, upon the pronouncement of a death sentence, the judge says, “May God have mercy on your soul.” Even in the sad situation in which we can do little but prevent people from ever harming others, we ought to appreciate their need for God’s mercy as well as our own.

God does deliver Jonah. After his “whale” of a ride, a ride in which he must experience the full depths and acidic truth of his sinfulness, Jonah is finally delivered by God right back to the shore of Joppa where it all began.

IX. Determination Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-3).

Yes, God works with the sinner, drawing him back. He is the God of the second chance. Thank you, Lord, for your grace and mercy. He remembers our sins no more. In effect, God says to Jonah, “Now, where were we?”

God does not save us merely for our own sake, but also for the sake of others with whom our life is intertwined. Jonah will go finally to Nineveh and there proclaim a message that will be heeded by those who are so lost in sin that they do not know their right hand from their left (see Jonah 4:11). Hmm, now why does this description seem so familiar?

Here is a video of a performance of the Peccavimus (we have sinned) from the oratorio “Jonas,” by Giacomo Carissimi. It is a luscious, heartfelt piece depicting the repentance of the Ninevites. I wonder if (and hope that) the young people who sang it understood its significance for them, too.

Getting Unbound: A Reflection on Deliverance Ministry

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.

Titles and Descriptions of Satan from the Rite of Exorcism and What They Have to Teach Us

blog-9-7-2015In the realm of demonology there is a cautious balance to maintain. Sadly, an exorcist must usually inflict pain upon demons in order to drive them out. This is done through the prayers of the Rite of Exorcism and through other things recommended by the rite such as the use of holy water, the use of relics, the touch of a stole, and the use of the Holy Cross.

And yet the exorcist must be careful not to hate demons or harbor unjust anger toward them. For in so doing, they would have him; he would be drawn into their territory. If they can get him to hate and to have vengeful anger then they have made him to be like themselves; he is theirs, little better than they save for the possibility that he can still repent.

Hence the exorcist and any who would pray for deliverance from demons for themselves or others, do well to stay inside the norms of the Church and Scripture. These norms warn and set limits for those who would confront demons, lest they stray by pride or anger.

What are some of these norms? Here are just a few, but they are properly cautionary to be sure.

  1. A lay person should never undertake to drive out demons except by the following simple formula: “I command you, all evil spirits to leave me at once in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.” At no time should a lay person ever engage a demon in conversation, ask questions, or in any way seek information.
  2. The same holds true for priests who engage in minor exorcisms. While they are permitted to use more elaborate imprecatory prayer found in the Manual of Minor Exorcisms, priests are not to go beyond the commands therein. They are not to ask questions or to demand names or signs from demons.
  3. Only appointed exorcists, delegated by the bishop, may or should inquire of the names and numbers of demons, their time of entry, why they possessed the individual, their rank, and so forth. The rite makes clear that only necessary questions should be asked. Other impertinent information is both unnecessary and harmful.
  4. Within the formal Rite of Exorcism, an exorcist does well to stick to the formulas, expressions, and norms of the rite. Banter, insulting language, and toe-to-toe debate are to be avoided. Good exorcists indicate that returning to the prayers of the rite is essential when demons seek to engage in debate, ridicule, and diversionary talk. Obmutesce pater mendacii (Be silent, father of lies) is a quick command from the rite to order the demons to be silent, and it is a good way to refuse to enter into pointless conversation or ridicule.

Scripture attests to the need to refrain from reviling demons:

For Even Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a reviling judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9)

Further, hate and ridicule of any person (angelic or human) whom God has created is an ungodly attitude. Scripture says,

For you O Lord love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate (Wisdom 11:24).

Therefore anyone who confronts demons or suffers their oppression is warned that hatred and unjust anger, reviling and ridiculing, is no way to fight them, for if we do so we become like them.

That said, exorcists and priests must often use strong language approved by the minor and major prayers of exorcism, most of which are drawn from Scripture or Sacred Tradition.

Consider, for example, the following rebuke of Satan from Scripture:

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the lake of fire (Is 14:12-15).

These verses speak truth. They do not revile; they say what happened and they point to Lucifer’s prideful fall.

The Rite of Exorcism has collected many descriptions from Scripture and Tradition. They are not intended to ridicule or revile, but rather to remind Satan of who and what he has chosen to become. They remind him of his pride, his destruction by God’s justice, his ultimate fate, and the many ways he seeks to harm us. Consider, then, some of the “titles” and descriptions of Satan drawn from both the old and new rites of exorcism:

Enemy of the faith

Foe of the human race

Carrier of death

Robber of life

Shirker of justice

Root of evil

Fomenter of vice

Seducer of men

Traitor of the nations

Instigator of envy

Font of avarice

Source of discord

Exciter of sorrows

Transgressor

Seducer full of deceit and lies

Enemy of virtue

Persecutor of the innocent

Horrible dragon

Prince of accursed murder

Author of incest

Leader of sacrilege

Teacher of all negative action

Teacher of heretics

Inventor of every obscenity

Hateful one

Scourge

Unclean spirit

Every satanic power  

Every assault of the infernal adversary  

Legions congregations and diabolical sects

Evil dragon

Diabolical legion

Inventor and teacher of every lie

Enemy of man’s salvation

Prince of this world

Deceiver of the human race

Ancient foe of mankind

Father of lies

Evil dragon

Cunning serpent 

All you powers of darkness

Get thee gone, Satan! 

I have compiled a pdf of these in both Latin and English here: Titles of Satan from the Rite of Exorcism.

Thus, whether driving out Satan in a major exorcism or seeking to expel his oppression in a minor exorcism, all are cautioned not to stray from the understandings and descriptions of Satan that the Church provides in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Again, the reason for this is that Satan seeks to draw us into his world of hatred and revilement. Do not go there in your thoughts and surely not in your heart.

It may be hard to accept, but God does not hate Satan. God does not hate even the worst of sinners. Surely justice requires God to recognize the final disposition of a person (angelic or human). Some are justly permitted to live apart from God’s kingdom in a hellacious parallel universe; that is their choice. But God does not hate fallen angels or fallen humans. God is Love and Love does not hate—and neither should we.

We ought to be sober about what sin has done to demons, fallen angels who were once glorious. But now, through the ugly disfigurement of sin, they are in darkness and are horribly contrary to the glory for which they were made. They are to be pitied and kept at a distance. They will not change (for angels choose once and for all). Their lies are to be resisted. Though they can still appear as lightsome, it is only for a time and then their terrifying state of horror and darkness roars forth.

Do not be deceived. But do not hate, either. Be sober, watchful, and distant from the once-glorious fallen angels we rightly call demons.

Exorcism or Deliverance? Some Pastoral Reflections on Assisting the Faithful who are Tormented by Demons

020713There is wide interest today in the topic of exorcism. The publication a couple of years of the The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio, and the subsequent movie and interviews with Fr. Gary Thomas have sparked some of this interest. Prior to this other books such as An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriel Amorth and other such books had paved the way for the renewed interest.

But frankly, another reason is that, as our world becomes more secular, families disintegrate and the outright celebration of sinful practices spreads, bondage to sinful drives, psychological trauma, and openness to demonic influence is also on the increase.

Sadly a whole generation of priests were often taught to distrust traditional understandings of trauma and dysfunction that gave significant weight to spiritual causes. These priests were often trained to see most such things as merely psychological in nature and, thus the only recommended course was psychotherapy. Parishioners were sent, often without even a prayer being said.

Gratefully the tide is turning back to a more balanced approach and Catholics are right asking for spiritual help, along with other helpful approaches such as psychotherapy and the use of psychtropic medicines.

But with the renewed emphasis on exorcism in the news and other sources, it must be said that some of the increased requests for the formal Rite of Exorcism, often manifests and misunderstanding of that rite, and also a lack of information on other avenues for healing.

For the truth is, outright 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 possessed by the devil or demons. There may be lesser forms of trouble such as obsession, oppression or torment at work, along with psychological trauma, and other more natural sources of struggle.

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

What is deliverance? Deliverance is prayer and on-going ministry that uses numerous approaches to bring healing and wholeness to those who, in some way after baptism, have come to struggle significantly with bondage to sin, the influence of demons, sinful drives, or the effects of significant 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 the 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 where 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.

This fundamentally is a description of the ongoing work of deliverance that 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. It is to bring people to, or restore them to, their true identity as sons and daughters of God.

For, even after baptism, it is possible that we open doors to Satan, and he is able to gain some degree of access to our hearts and minds. When this is the case, a Christian, working with others, 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 also the flawed thinking which often infects our minds. It involves coming to know and name these tactics of the evil one, and these 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; in other words, 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 and close fellowship with other believers, through personal prayer, through psychotherapy where necessary, and through what might be called a deliverance ministry that often involves both clergy and lay people praying together with those who struggle, and offering support, and encouragement.

Here is therefore, the description of a wider ministry of deliverance that looks past exorcism, alone, (and which only applies rather rare circumstances of possession). Deliverance ministry seeks to broaden healing to the large number of people, (to some extent all of us a 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 more particularly those among us who go through intense crises and need special and focused ministry. This ministry may occasionally involve formal exorcism, but it usually involves a more general need that we would call a need for deliverance. And this deliverance should be a multidisciplinary approach as described just above.

My own experience with the need for deliverance ministry, is quite personal. For I myself, at a critical point in my life, needed deliverance. The specific area where I needed deliverance concerned grave, and increasingly debilitating bouts with severe anxiety.

This significant torment had begun for me, at an early age. As early as age 10, I began to experience long periods of sleeplessness due to extreme worry. At the time in my family there were many crises underway, related to my sister’s severe mental illness and my parents’ struggle with alcohol. These bouts of extreme anxiety I began to endure, usually lasting for months at a time, were sporadic at first, coming in going somewhat mysteriously.

Through my teenage years these episodes of extreme anxiety became more frequent, and troublesome enough that my parents placed me in outpatient psychotherapeutic counseling and I was prescribed psychotropic medicines. Some benefits were attained hereby, and my college and seminary years were largely serene.

But for me a major crisis ensued in my 33rd year, when, as a young priest, I was asked to take a very challenging assignment. While I initially agreed to the assignment, I was soon assailed by extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, frequent panic attacks, 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.

But my crisis only deepened into post traumatic stress syndrome and into deeper and darker depression. I also began to experience a demonic presence. Even on sunny days my peripheral vision was shrouded in a palpable darkness and I experienced demonic presence in my bedroom, a brooding dark presence, which 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 the children of God. Deliverance was needed, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Eighteen years later, I want to tell you I have been delivered, Thank you Jesus! I rarely worry about anything now.

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

The elements of my deliverance and healing included daily Mass, daily prayer and the reading of Scripture, spiritual direction, psychotherapy, group therapy, weekly Alanon meetings, weekly confession, deliverance prayers, and walking in fellowship with the people of God. Slowly, through all these means, the dark moments grew briefer the light grew brighter. My priestly ministry also grew richer and 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 strategies had been to carve out small areas in my life that I could strictly control. For example I kept my room very clean, and often kept it locked when I was away from the house. There were many other such things that I did, and the little areas of life I could control gave me some sense of safety.

But as I grew older and my responsibilities increased, I took this attitude of control into those areas and often insisted unreasonably in being in control of things that cannot reasonably be controlled. Finally, I was given a challenging assignment, and realizing I could never possibly keep everything under control, I went into great crisis.

Ultimately I needed to repent of my strong drive to control and see it for the pride that it was. I needed to learn to rely on God more. But striving to rely on someone other than myself, even God, was frankly terrifying. It took lots of repentance, growing self-knowledge, and learning the moves of pride and control, as well as developing better and more reasonable strrategies that accepted the fact that there are many things I cannot control.

And through it all, there were great battles with Satan who did not want to easily relax his grip. Thanks be to God I had many helpers, many counselors and people who were praying for me. Deliverance did come. It came slowly at first, but with increasing speed.

This is deliverance ministry. And yes it takes time, and many helpers from many disciplines. Sacraments are essential and fundamental, as is prayer, and the Word of God. But deliverance, in most cases also requires psycho-therapeutic and medical interventions as well. This was my journey to deliverance.

In my years as a priest I have had also had to walk 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, frankly, it takes time. It is a journey and God proceeds very delicately in these matters, often waiting till we are ready. For, healing takes courage, and God often waits till we are ready.

So, while recent interest in exorcism is encouraging, it is also necessary to have care that we not focus too much on what is rare, even exotic, and thereby overlook what is often more necessary and applicable to most cases: deliverance prayer and ministry.

A few resources to recommend to you.

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 and I others in this work often prayer with the faithful and encourage them to pray with others: Deliverance prayers

Here is a minor exorcism prayer that Pope Leo XIII made available for priests to say. Please note, this is not from the prayers of formal exorcism that only an exorcist authorized by the Bishop may pray. This is a minor exorcism prayer that assists priests in vigorously denouncing the presence and incursions of demons in a general sort of way and it should not be confused with a solemn exorcism performed on an individual whom the Church has deemed likely to be possessed :

To be said by a priest: Prayer Against Satan and the Rebellious Angels For a Priest to Say

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