An exorcist talks about the spiritual battle with the devil and what the strategy of the devil is to conquer our souls — and what we should do in response
Catholics once recited, after every Mass, Pope Leo XIII’s Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, which asked protection from “the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
In the latter years of the 20th century, the practice — along with concern about the devil — dwindled. Unfortunately, according to the growing corps of exorcists, the activity of the devil and his agents has not.
In fact, the need for exorcism and spiritual deliverance from the demonic is today becoming an “emergency,” says psychiatrist and spokesperson for the International Association of Exorcists, Dr. Walter Cascioli.
He said increasing numbers of people are turning to the occult and Satanism, people who come from a culture of superficiality, secularism, individualism, and a general lack of faith.
“This worries us,” he says, as it translates into “an increase in the amount of demonic activity, especially harassments, obsessions and especially possessions” people are experiencing.
To meet this increasing need, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy sponsored a tenth annual course on “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” (April 13-18, 2015, in Rome). A group of 170, mostly clergy but about 25% lay people, attended the week-long course, organized by the Sacerdos Institute, an organization for priestly support and formation.
The course was aimed at giving priests, doctors, psychologists, teachers, and pastoral workers the instruments they need to recognize and deal with cases of demonic possession and distinguish them from disturbances of a psychological or medical nature.
Father Pedro Barrajon, the organizer of the program, noted that years ago the action of Satan was downplayed so much that few bothered even to speak of demonic activity.
For a while, he said, it was typical to explain away the many accounts of demonic possession in the Gospels as well as the episodes of Jesus driving out demons, “attributing them to the ignorance of the age and a readiness to recur to supernatural causes to explain diseases like epilepsy or psychological disorders.”
While that may be true in certain cases, Fr. Barrajon said, “it certainly doesn’t eliminate the clear references to the activity of the devil throughout the Gospels,” something that “is generally recognized now by scholars.”
“Jesus obviously believed in the devil,” he said.
Pope Francis has spoken of the devil repeatedly, calling him “a liar, the father of lies.”
“The devil exists,” the Pope has said, “and we have to fight him.”
Fr. Barrajon noted, however, that the way most human beings are acted upon by the devil is not in possession, but in “something we all experience” — temptation. “The devil is the sworn enemy of God, and his major concern is to separate us from God and His commandments, and to make us doubt God’s goodness,” said Fr. Barrajon.
Dr. Cascioli, too, laments the fact that “temptation is not taken into consideration by those of lukewarm faith” as originating from the devil, and he “urges greater vigilance” among the faithful in recognizing and resisting it.
Nevertheless, various degrees of demonic possession occur –- sometimes as the result of explicitly Satanic practices, but often at the unwitting invitation of the victim, who may dabble in the occult or seemingly harmless diversions like ouija boards or séances. To distinguish the action of the devil or demons from simple psychic disorders, Fr. Barrajon said that experience, and also a deep life of prayer, are especially important.
“Traditionally there are certain signs that often accompany true cases of possession,” the priest says, “things that are difficult if not impossible to explain otherwise,” such as aversion for sacred objects, sudden fluency in previously unknown languages, unexplainable movement of objects, and sharp mood changes not attributable to mental health reasons. Fr. Barrajon also noted that exorcists often team up with psychologists, psychiatrists and medical doctors to examine all the possible factors influencing a person’s suspected demonic affliction.
Pope Francis has praised the work of exorcists, who “manifest the Church’s love and acceptance of those who suffer because of the devil’s works.”