Most of us can sense when something is working against us as we persevere to grow in faith and strive to live the Gospel in communion with Christ. Sometimes, quite suddenly our peace of soul or joy in the Lord is oppressed by heaviness and negativity. Many people experience situations when strife arises, friendships abruptly break down, misunderstandings in families or groups cause division, odd accidents happen, strange twists occur and pathways are blocked. It is imprudent to always assume these are due to diabolical influences but often the devil is in mix. When a person becomes a threat to the demonic realm due to their love for God and/or some good work that builds up the Church, the devil reacts to the degree that God allows. Human messiness is due to our foibles and sin but there can be a diabolical influence. All men experience temptation and most also experience diabolical oppression at some level.
Christ allowed himself to be confronted by the devil to teach us how to resist him. It is sometimes necessary that we personally repeat the words of our Lord, “Be gone Satan”(Matt 4:10). Scripture should readily be on our lips in defense of our dignity and vocation. Sacramental baptism confers authority upon us as children of God so that in the name of Jesus Christ we effectively pray against demonic attacks.
Exorcist priests will look for natural causes and if there is no apparent natural cause—the reality may be that a spirit not of God is asserting oppression upon persons and situations. The devil harasses and tempts us to betray God, others and ourselves. What then? Whether such situations are due to human weakness, sin or diabolical influence, the solution is the same. We are to bind ourselves to Christ all the more sacramentally and with increased prayer, persevere by grace that is always sufficient.
Parents protect their children by praying for and with them, claiming them for Christ alone. Spouses can do the same for one another. To break free from ordinary demonic tactics we immediately reinforce our relationship with Christ through the sacraments and prayer. We can count on Mary, angels and saints who provide real spiritual defense on our behalf.
Ordinary Demonic Tactics can include the following. When there is natural cause for these, the devil often exacerbates it.
- Distance: from home, family, fragmentation, isolation, loneliness, love
- Deception: reality inverted, false promises, lies
- Division: divided self, family, home, work, country, church
- Diversion: delay, distract, relativism, exacerbating addictions or infirmities
- Discouragement: acedia (Greek meaning “I don’t care”), lethargy about self, others or about the interior life, tiredness, overwhelm
- Draining spirit: drains energy from you, extreme physical fatigue without cause, leads to waste of time, less energy, less prayer and devotion
- Doubt: subtle to intense doubts about self, others or God undermining faith, hope and love
During his Angelus address on Sunday, 17 February 2002, commenting on the readings of the first Sunday of Lent (the temptation of Christ in the desert), Pope John Paul II said, “The Messiah’s resolute attitude is an example and an invitation for us to follow him with courageous determination. The devil, the “prince of this world” (John 12,31), even today continues his deceitful action. Every man, over and above his own concupiscence and the bad example of others, is also tempted by the devil, and the more so when he is least aware of it. How many times he easily gives in to the false flattery of the flesh and the evil one, and then experiences bitter delusions. One must stay on guard to react quickly to the onslaught of temptation. The Church, expert teacher of humanity and holiness, shows us ancient and ever new instruments for the daily combat against evil suggestions: prayer, the sacraments, penance, careful attention to the Word of God, vigilance and fasting.”
The power of prayer
From the vantage point of a person assisting priests and exorcists who work on the frontlines of spiritual warfare, I attest to the power of prayer to banish demons. The spiritual weapons used by an exorcist and his team is available to all the faithful with the one exception, The Rite of Exorcism. The Rite is a sacramental reserved for a designated priest only. The other sacramentals used in exorcism are available to everyone and these include the crucifix, holy water, the Bible, blessed objects such as rosaries and saint relics.
What occurs during a formal Rite of Exorcism? Prayer! The priest and his team ardently offer continuous prayers that include the litany of saints, the Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary, the holy Rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We see their effect when the demon is forced to leave the poor victim because he can’t stand the force of the prayer. Prayer releases spiritual power. Sometimes I think the demons are more aware of the spiritual power of prayer than many of us. The evil one would rather vacate than remain in the presence of faith-filled prayer.
One thing that we are keenly aware of during healing and deliverance prayer is that the battle is the Lord’s. He is always the Chief Exorcist acting in and through his priests who are prayer warriors supported by a team of more prayer warriors. We pray, pray, pray! The devil may mock us for a while, but with more prayer, he is weaker. He becomes tormented by the continuous power of prayer until he would rather leave than stay. Perseverance in faith-filled prayer is key to proclaiming the victory of Jesus Christ.
The power of the Sacraments
St. Peter reminds us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12-14). And “be sober and vigilant; your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour; resist him, firm in your faith knowing that your fellow believers around the world undergo the same sufferings” (1 Peter 5:6-11).
No matter what level of diabolical harassment we may be experiencing—whether we suffer ordinary temptations that are common to all; or oppression that is prevalent but considered ordinary demonic activity; or obsession that is considered a spiritual disorder wherein a person needs deliverance prayer and conversion; or possession which is extremely rare and requires the Rite of Exorcism; the sacraments are vital medicine for healing. The sacraments are perpetual reservoirs of life giving, healing grace. We can ask Christ to release the power of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Matrimony or Holy Orders to strengthen and heal us.
The Power of the Word of God
Often during deliverance or exorcism prayers, the priest asks a member of the team to proclaim the Word of God aloud. We read a scripture passage and it becomes evident that the devil is tormented by the living Word of God. We know the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit that severs from evil.
St. Paul tells us in Romans, “We are more than conquerors in Christ” (Rom 8:37). An acronym for conqueror may be helpful in recalling the weapons of engagement for the “good fight”.
- C for Christ’s name (the name of Jesus Christ proclaims His victory)
- O for obedience (obedience to God confounds the disobedient one)
- N for not mine, but God’s will (our yes to God releases grace)
- Q for Queen Mother (Mary crushes the head of the serpent)
- U for union with Christ (Holy Communion binds us to Christ)
- E for evangelical poverty (renunciation of honor, riches, sensual pleasure)
- R for reconciliation (healing mercy)
- O for ordered life (life ordered to Christ becomes spiritual armor)
- R for reject Satan (resist the devil and he will flee)
Vigilance and Fasting
Carelessness, presumption, denial, self-indulgence and independence lead us to fall. Christ calls us to be vigilant and aware of demonic tactics that test us as Job was tested. One proven method that helps sharpen our spiritual vision, discernment, prayer and vigilance is the ancient art of fasting. Everyone can fast from something in order to discipline our selves for the greater joy of being a fit soldier for Christ.
God the Father taught St. Catherine of Siena, “…No one should fear any battle or temptation of the devil that may come to him, because I have made My creatures strong, and have given them strength of will, fortified in the Blood of My Son, which will, neither devil nor creature can move, because it is yours, given by Me.” (Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, Treatise on Discretion, 27)
While we are diligent to resist Satan with God’s grace, we should also be aware that many people are summoning him so that the cult of Satan worshippers is growing especially among young people. This is one reason there is an urgent need for the New Evangelization. Let us not only defend ourselves in the spiritual battle but also intercede for those who on the frontlines of the “good fight”—the priests.
image: Catholic Church of St. Simon and St. Helena on Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus / Shutterstock