Below is an older Mercedes Benz commercial. In it, Satan promises a young man the pleasures of the world if he will just sign on the dotted line. Not only will he get a free Mercedes Benz but all the things supposedly go with it: beautiful women, fame, money, popularity, and excitement.
The man weighs paying the price of the Mercedes against entering into a partnership with the Devil and chooses the former. Do not miss the meaning of the names “Mercedes” (mercy) and “Benz” (brave). Mercy is worth more than anything else, no matter how fleetingly pleasurable; for the mercy of the Lord endures forever while the trinkets of the Devil are but for a time. In financial terms, you might say that mercy has positive leverage while the Devil’s payouts have diminishing returns. If the Devil gives you a payout, you’ll watch it diminish with each passing day, but God’s grace and mercy grow to yield an abundant harvest. There may be the cross and the deferral of pleasure, but just wait until you see the harvest! One must bravely (“benz”) reach out for mercy (“mercedes”).
In the commercial the man considers all of Satan’s trinkets compared to the glories of mercy and chooses mercy. He knows the cost but considers it acceptable if he can but have mercy for himself without the Devil as partner. How about you?
There is a final detail worth noting in the commercial: At the bottom of Satan’s proffered contract are a backward Chi Rho (the Greek abbreviation for “Christ”) and the Latin inscription Sigilla posuere magisterdiabolus et daemones (master seal of the devil and demons). The backward letters recall an image of the anti-Christ, and the Latin text more literally means “A seal to set the devil and demons (as) master.”
In the end, that is the choice. You will have the master you choose, and the Lord reminds us that we can choose only one:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matt 6:24).
Whose coins are in your pocket? Whose seal is on them? The choice is yours. You are free to choose, but you are not free not to choose. You can have it all now, or bravely store it up for later:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).
Why not be Benz (brave) and choose Mercedes (mercy)?
In the end, Scripture is fulfilled for the young man: Resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:2).
In the car commercial below every imaginable attack is waged on the driver by various nefarious figures, but the driver just keeps on driving. Similarly, we must just keep on preaching and teaching no matter what foolish or evil things assail us, no matter the obstacles. St. Paul reminds us,
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
I’m not quite sure what to make of the woman at the end of the commercial. Let’s just call her Mother Church. Christ and His bride will win! The wicked will wage their war, but in the end, they will turn on one another. Evil cannot endure. Jesus and His bride win! Viva Cristo Rey!
In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus models four aspects of powerful and effective preaching.
In using the word “preaching” we ought to be careful not to limit it to what takes place in a church. All Catholic parents should learn from Jesus’ example here for they have the church of their home in which to preach; they have the pulpit of the dining room table, the living room couch, and even the family car. We all must learn from Jesus’ model of powerful preaching and teaching. Note, then, four basic qualities of Jesus as preacher and teacher:
I. PERSONAL – The text says, Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
(The picture at the upper right is one of me and fellow parishioners standing in the ruins of the synagogue mentioned in this passage. It is quite moving to stand atop the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached both this sermon and the Bread of Life discourse. Some of the ruins are from later than Jesus’ era, but the foundations are clearly from that time. It’s amazing.)
Note that the text says that Jesus spoke “with authority.” The Greek word translated here as “authority” is ἐξουσίαν (exousia), whose root meaning is “to (speak) out of one’s being or substance.” In other words, one speaks of what one knows by experience. Jesus is not simply quoting what others have said nor is He merely quoting slogans or common sayings.
In this, Jesus is distinguished from the scribes, who were famous for quoting only one another and other reputable, safe sources. Quoting other sources is fine, but if it merely stops there, how is listening to a preacher any better than staying home and reading a book?
Too many Christians, including Catholic preachers, are content to live and preach by inference rather than experience. Too many are content to repeat what others have said rather than to speak out of what they know, have seen, and have experienced.
To preach with authority means to be able to proclaim the Word of God with personal knowledge and experience. It means to be able to say this: “What the Lord and the Church have always proclaimed, I know personally, for I have tested and experienced the Word of God in the laboratory of my own life and found it to be true. And now I speak to you not merely of what others have said but what I know and experience to be true. Out of the substance of my own being I announce this truth to you.”
This is what it means to preach personally and with authority. Jesus did not simply quote what others said; He said what He personally knew.
What of you and me? Are you able to speak with authority? Well, do you know what the Lord is doing in your life? Have you personally experienced the truth of what the Scriptures and the Church have always announced? Or are you just quoting slogans, passages, and what others have said? Of course the Scriptures and the authoritative teachings of the Church are the essential foundation of what we know, but do you personally know it to be true? How? Do you speak to your children of what you know or do you merely say, “The Church says … “? Certainly you should say what the Church says, but teaching with authority means knowing and having experienced the truth of what the Church says. It means being able to attest to it personally. This is the basis of preaching and teaching with authority.
II. PROVOCATIVE – To say that something is “provocative” is to say that it elicits a response. When Jesus preached His words did not leave His listeners unmoved. His preaching called forth a response, whether it made people mad, sad, or glad.
The text pointed out that many were glad, but there was one man who was mad. The text describes his reaction: In the synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Every experienced, authentic preacher knows that if he preaches effectively, a response will be forthcoming from his listeners. While it is natural to want a positive response, every preacher must be willing to accept that his word may incite anger or ridicule. The Church announces good news but she is also a sign of contradiction to a sinful world. Thus every preacher faithful to the Gospel must expect some degree of negativity and even persecution, ridicule, and anger.
Jesus’ Word angers a demon-possessed man in the congregation and he confronts Jesus, blaming Him with being hateful and causing hurt, saying that Jesus wants to destroy him. (Similarly, many today react with anger and call the Church hateful, bigoted, intolerant, and hurtful—even claiming that she destroys lives.) As we shall see, Jesus does not back down.
The problem in the synagogue is not the Word that Jesus proclaims; it is the man’s inner condition. When the authentic Gospel is proclaimed, the wrath that sometimes follows does not bespeak a problem with God’s Word but with the listener’s inner condition. Note that the man is demon-possessed. That is, his heart and mind are under the influence of Satan and the sin he inspires. The greatest obstacle to our being able to appreciate and understand the Word of God is our sin; the greatest help is a docile and humble spirit, granted by the grace of God.
A powerful preacher, priest or parent, preaches in order to provoke a response, whether one of joy and consolation or of repentance and godly sorrow. While no authentic preacher intends to incite a hostile response, he must be willing to accept such a reaction. When someone is accustomed to the darkness, he finds the light harsh, and calls it such. Anyone who preaches the Gospel authentically will both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; he will both console and confront (where necessary); he will reassure but also awaken the need for healing. He will speak the truth in love.
Good preaching provokes a response and one who hears the Gospel preached with authority cannot come away unchanged.
III. PRODUCING – Powerful and effective preaching brings results. As Jesus preaches, a man is set free. The text says, Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The aim or point of the Word of God is not merely to inform but to transform. It’s not enough for the Word of God to be attractive, informative, or entertaining. Its full purpose is to, in power, drive out demons and bring God’s grace. Good preaching works to drive out the demons of ignorance, sorrow, rebellion, and sin. It works to give godly sorrow, joy, hope, confidence, knowledge, courage, and conviction. Good preaching changes people’s lives.
IV. PERSEVERING – Note that Jesus did not immediately back down in the face of opposition. He persevered with the opposing man and, by His Word, drove out the demons that were afflicting him. We see the man go through three stages:
He is mad, for he confronts Jesus.
He is sad, for he struggles and convulses as Jesus works to free him by His Word.
He is glad, for he is set free and is able to rejoice with the others.
Every preacher, every parent, and every prophet must persevere, not giving up easily; it is often the case that people must go through these stages.
In my own life there was a time when, afflicted by the demons of ignorance and youthful rebellion, I would cross my arms and listen angrily to the priest. I was mad. I would often scoff at the “silly priest” who was trying to tell me what to do. After some years of hearing the preaching of the Church, however, I gradually understood that I had to change. Change does not come easily, though, and thus came the stage of sad; it was a time of struggle, learning new virtues, and forsaking old vices. Now I can truthfully say that I am glad, for the Lord has brought me a mighty long way. His preached Word is powerful. When effectively preached, it has the power to transform. I have experienced transformation personally.
I am glad that the Church persevered, that my parents persevered, that good priests and religious persevered in preaching to me and teaching me. I am glad that my parishioners continue to persevere in witnessing to me and preaching by their lives.
Here is reenactment of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (on a different occasion).
One of the more puzzling aspects of demonology is the freedom that Satan and demons appear to have in roaming the earth, causing trouble. If the condemned are consigned to Hell for all eternity, why is Satan allowed to wander about outside of Hell? Isn’t he supposed to be suffering in Hell along with his minions and the other condemned? Further, it doesn’t seem that he is suffering one bit, but rather having a grand time wreaking havoc on the earth. How do we answer such questions?
Some texts in Scripture do speak of Satan and the fallen angels as being cast into Hell:
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [likely a reference to the age of the Church and the going forth of the Gospel to all the nations] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. (Rev 20:1-3).
Yet other texts speak of the fallen angels (demons) as being cast down to the earth:
But the dragon was not strong enough, and no longer was any place found in heaven for him and his angels. And the great dragon was hurled down—the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:8-9).
The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).
Thus, though consigned to Hell, it would seem that some or all of the demons have the ability to roam the earth as well. Demons, however, do not have bodies and thus do not “roam the earth” the way we do. Their “roaming” is more an indication of their capacity to influence than their ability to move from one place to another. Further, Satan and demons are described as being “chained,” “in prison,” or “in darkness.” This is likely a way of indicating that their power to influence or “roam” is limited in some way. This does not say that they do not wield considerable power, just that it is not unbounded. If you think it is bad now, just imagine what it will be like when their power is unchained!
Near the end of the world, Scripture says that Satan will be wholly loosed and will come forth to deceive the nations for a while; after this brief period, he and the other fallen angels will be definitively cast into the lake of fire and their influence forever ended.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, … their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:7-10).
So for now, demons do have influence, but it is limited. At the end, their full fury will be unleashed, but this is only to bring about their final, complete defeat, after which they will be forever sequestered in the lake of fire.
Why God permits some demons the freedom to wander about the earth is mysterious. We know that God permits evil as a “necessary” condition of freedom for the rational creatures He has created. Angels and humans have free, rational souls; if our freedom is to mean anything, God must allow that some abuse it, even becoming sources of evil and temptation to others.
For us, this life amounts to a kind of test: God permits some degree of evil to flourish yet at the same time offers us the grace to overcome it. Further, there is the tradition implied in Scripture that for every angel that fell there were two who did not (Rev 12:4). Thus, we live not merely under the influence of demons, but also under the influence and care of angels.
On account of temptations and trials, our “yes” to God has greater dignity and merit than it would if we lived in a sin-free paradise.
As to Satan having “a good time” wreaking havoc, it would be too strong say that demons and Satan do not suffer at all. Demons, like human beings, suffer both victories and defeats; there are outcomes that delight them and those that disappoint and anger them.
Anyone who has ever attended an exorcism can attest that demons do suffer great deal, especially when the faithful pray and make pious use of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., holy water, relics, blessed medals, rosaries). Faith and love are deeply disturbing to demons.
We all do well in the current dispensation to remember St. John Vianney’s teaching that Satan is like a chained dog: He may bark loudly and froth menacingly, but he can only bite us if we get too close. Keep your distance!
While these videos are light-hearted, their message is serious:
What is temptation? It is the work of Satan to drag you to Hell. He can read you like a book, play you like piano. Do not exaggerate his power—but do not underestimate it either.
Some of Satan’s subtlest work is done in the area of religious observance. There, he can cloak himself in the lamb’s clothing of piety, but, wolf that he is, distort it through excess or defect, thereby destroying you with what is good. Beware what some spiritual writers call the “traps of the pious.” Consider some examples:
He can discourage you in prayer, saying, “If only you would pray just a little longer, then God will give you what you seek.” The deception is that if we could pray a little longer, then we can never have prayed enough. Thus, though we pray, we still feel guilty and inadequate. And since we can never have prayed “enough,” prayer increasingly turns into a burdensome task. In this satanic deception, God becomes a cruel taskmaster demanding longer and more precise prayers, or prayer becomes a superstitious endeavor whose outcome we somehow control by the length and type of our prayers. Jesus counsels us that the Father knows what we need and that we should not think that merely multiple words and pious actions are necessary. We may need to persevere in prayer over time, but God is not a cruel tyrant demanding endless incantations.
Satan can take the beautiful practices of praying the rosary, attending daily Mass, or other devotions and use them to incite in us a feeling of smug superiority, elitism, or pride. Gradually, we being to think of others as less devout because they do not do or observe these things that are encouraged but not required.
A most extreme form of this comes from those who take the beautiful and powerful devotion to our Lady of Fatima and allow Satan to set them against the world’s bishops and even the Pope, claiming that they have failed (ineptly or willfully) to “properly” consecrate Russia. Never mind that Our Lady did not prescribe the exact wording of the consecration; still, somehow, they have failed. In this way, one of our most beautiful and informative apparitions can engender in some people distrust of the Church, disunity from multiple popes, and even disunity from Sister Lucia herself. It is an astonishingly crafty work of the evil one to take what is good and religious and corrupt it in the minds of some people.
Satan can also take what is required and turn it into a kind of religious minimalism, a way of keeping God at a distance. He tempts some souls with the notion that attending Sunday Mass, putting a little something in the collection plate, and reciting a few rushed prayers are the end of religion rather than the beginning of it. Such observances become a way of “checking off the God-box” so that we can be “done with God” for the week. These good practices become the whole of our observance rather than a foundation on which to build a beautiful and ever-deepening relationship of love with God.
Such minimal practices become a form of “God control” for those tempted in this way; it is as if to say, “I’ve done what I am supposed to do, now leave me be—but God needs to take care me now since I’ve done what I’m required to do.” In this way, the Church’s beautiful laws and the requirements describing the basic duties or foundation for a deepening relationship with God, become a kind of “separation agreement,” setting strict visiting hours and specifying who gets what.
Satan can take religious zeal and corrupt itinto harsh and uncharitable zealotry. He can take a love for the beauty of the liturgy (ancient or new) and turn it into a persnickety insistence on exactly the right ingredients at the expense of charity and unity. “Make sure you celebrate the liturgy the way I like it. Anyone who doesn’t like what I like is antiquarian, a knave, or an uncouth troglodyte who must obviously hate the Church that I love so beautifully.”
Satan can take the beautiful love for the poor and corrupt itinto an enslaving paternalism that locks them into dependency. It is a “love” that does not address their spiritual needs by speaking to them respectfully of their sins, does not seek to deepen their spiritual and family lives. In this way, the beautiful corporal works of mercy are either set at odds with the spiritual works of mercy or are considered adequate in themselves. Satan can send many to serve the poor, armed with half-truths and approaches that merely bandage external wounds, ignoring the deeper internal ones.
In a certain sense, any virtue will do; Satan can make use of any of them. He will seek to corrupt all of them, even the religious ones. He will just as surely go to work in the life of one in a church pew as one in a brothel or a gutter. No one is exempt from his work of temptation; his goal is to drag us to Hell.
What makes his work of corrupting virtue so insidious is the subtlety of his work, for he takes something that is intrinsically good and seeks to corrupt it, either by defect or by excess, turning it into some sort of caricature of itself.
Virtues, of course, are meant to work in combination with one another. For example, charity and truth should balance each other. Without charity, the truth can bludgeon; without truth, charity can become harmful, patronizing, and wickedly affirming. Charity and truth are meant to balance each other and to work alongside other virtues in a delicate interplay.
One of Satan’s tactics is to take one virtue and isolate it from others. Beware of these subtle tactics of Satan, who disguises himself well in the robes of virtue. He uses detached virtues, virtues out of balance and proportion.
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 understandingof 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:
The video at the bottom of this post is of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It is a fascinating excerpt from a longer presentation he did. In it, he analyzes the diabolic (anything of or relating to the Devil) from several different perspectives. Archbishop Sheen identifies three characteristics of the diabolic by examining the story of the Gerasene demoniac, which is presented in the synoptic Gospels. Here is the beginning of the story as it appears in the Gospel of Luke:
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time, this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him (Luke 8:26-30).
Following this, Jesus drove the demon(s) out the man and into the herd of swine.
From this story, and also based on an insight from Dr. Rollo May, a psychologist of his time (the talk was given in the mid-1970s), Archbishop Sheen sets forth these three characteristics of the diabolic:
Love of Nudity – For a long time this man had not worn clothes.
Violence – … though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains. The version of the story in Mark’s Gospel has more vivid detail: For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
Division (split personalities, disjointed minds) – … many demons had gone into him. In Mark’s version, the demoniac replies, My name is Legion, for we are many (Mk 5:9). All of the versions say that the demoniac lived apart from others or in solitary places.
It does not take much effort to recognize that these three characteristics of the diabolic are alive and flourishing in the modern world, at least in the West. Let’s examine the evidence we can see all around us today:
1. Love of Nudity – This is obvious in the modern world on several levels. First, there is the widespread tendency toward immodest dress. We have discussed modesty here before on this blog, noting that the words “modesty” and “moderation” come from the word “mode,” which refers to the most commonly occurring value in a set of data. Hence, while we want to avoid oppressively puritanical notions about dress that impose heavy burdens (especially on women) and regard the body as somewhat evil, we must also critique many modern forms of dress that are at the other extreme. These “fashions” reveal more than is reasonable and are generally intended to draw attention to aspects of the body that are private and reserved for sexual union within marriage. Too many in our culture see no problem with parading about in various stages of undress, wearing clothing that seems intended to call attention to, rather than conceal, the private areas of the body. This love of disclosure and titillation is surely an aspect of the Evil One’s love of nudity.
Pornography, though nothing new in this fallen world, has surely reached epidemic proportions thanks to the Internet. Any psychotherapist, counselor, or priest will tell you that addiction to pornography is a huge problem today. Millions of Americans are viewing enormous amounts of pornography and the “industry” appears to be growing rapidly. What once required a visit to a hidden-away adult bookstore is now available in one’s home with just a click of the mouse. And the thought that browsing habits are easily discoverable matters little to the addicts of this latest form of slavery. Many are on a steep slope downward into ever-more-deviant forms of pornography. Some end up at illegal sites and before know what’s happened, the FBI is knocking on their door. Yes, Satan’s love of nudity has possessed many!
The overall sexualization of our culture also ties in to Satan’s love of nudity. We sexualize women in order to sell products. We even sexualize children. Our sitcoms feature endless immature chatter about sex. Collectively, we act like oversexed teenagers obsessed with something we don’t really understand. Yes, Satan loves nudity and everything that goes with it.
Then of course there is the utter confusion that celebrates homosexual activity. What Scripture calls gravely sinful, disordered, and contrary to nature (παρὰ φύσιν – para physin – Rom 1:26), is openly celebrated by many in our culture. Those afflicted with such desires openly and proudly identify themselves with what tempts them. Rather than lamenting the trials faced by those with such an affliction, and offering love, support, and the truth that they should live celibately (as all the unmarried are called to do), our sex-saturated culture, blinded and darkened by its own wild lust, affirms and even encourages them to indulge in what can only bring further harm to them and others. They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie … (Rom 1:25). It is no surprise that as a result of this celebration of darkness and confusion, the even more deeply confused notion of “transgenderism” has taken root.
Thus, the love of the nudity and the related obsession with (and confusion about) sex is manifest in our culture. It is surely a sign of the diabolic.
2. Violence – Collectively, have turned violence into a form of entertainment. Adventure movies and video games turn violent retribution into fun and death into a “solution.” Recent popes have warned us of the culture of death, a culture in which death is put forward as the solution to problems. Violence begins in the womb as the innocent are attacked as we defend “choice” and “rights.” The embrace of death continues to pervade the culture through contraception, gang activity, frequent recourse to war, and capital punishment. The past century was perhaps the bloodiest ever known on this planet: two world wars, hundreds of regional wars and conflicts, starvation campaigns, and genocides. Paul Johnson, in his book Modern Times estimates that over 100 million people died violently in just the first 50 years of the 20th century. With every death, Satan did his “Snoopy dance.” Satan loves violence; he loves to set fires and then watch us blame one another as we all burn.
3. Division – Satan loves to divide. Archbishop Sheen says that the word “diabolic” comes from two Greek words, dia and ballein, meaning “to tear apart.” Most literally, dia means “through” or “between” and ballein means “to throw or to cast.” Satan “casts things between us” in order to divide and distract us. Thus, we see our families, the Church, and our country divided. These divisions occur in almost every facet of our lives: race, sex, religion, politics, economics. We are divided on the basis of age, region, blue vs. red states, the coasts vs. the heartland, liturgy, music, language, and more trivialities.
Our families are broken. Divorce is rampant. Commitments of any sort are rejected as too difficult or even impossible. The Church is broken, divided into factions. Though we once we agreed on the essentials, now even appeals to shared truth are called intolerant.
Inwardly, we struggle with many divisive drives, with figurative and literal schizophrenia. We are drawn to what is good, true, and beautiful and yet at the same time to what is base, false, and evil. We know what is good, but desire what is evil; we seek love, but indulge in hate and revenge. We admire innocence but often revel in destroying it or at least in replacing it with cynicism.
Three characteristics of the diabolic: love of nudity, violence, and division. What do you think? Is the prince of this world working his agenda? Even more important, are we conniving with him? The first step in overcoming the enemy’s agenda is to recognize his tactics, name them, and then rebuke them in the name of Jesus.
Thank you, Archbishop Sheen. Your wisdom — God’s wisdom — never ages.
Pay attention to what the good archbishop has to say!