Recently, Msgr. John Esseff was counseling me on a book that I’m writing on the subject of reclaiming our families and homes from diabolical spirits. First, for those unfamiliar with Monsignor, he is a spiritual son of Padre Pio; for years he was the spiritual director of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and is the co-founder of the Pope Leo XIII Institute that trains priest-exorcists. He is an experienced exorcist and we worked together since the start of the Institute, over a dozen years ago.
Monsignor advised me,
“Remind readers that spiritual combat is not of equals; God is the initiator of salvation. He saves creatures out of love. It is love that God is interested in. So much has been said and written about how horrible is our Enemy. Give the devil his due, but not an ounce more. Encourage people to pay attention to sins; even the littlest ones. Emphasize the power and might of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Again, the battle is not of equals.”
I’m sharing this nugget of wisdom ahead of the book because it is vitally relevant. Today there is a big upswing in the number of people (Catholics and non-Catholics) who request, from the Church, prayers for liberation from evil.
First, a comment regarding Monsignor’s advice to pay attention to one’s sins—even the littles ones. “Someone who sees his own sin is greater than someone who raises the dead,” the Desert Fathers taught (Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, pg. 100). Pray for self-knowledge. Awareness of personal sin and vice allows you to cultivate the virtue to overcome it.
Sometimes a person (or family) suffering from genuine diabolical attacks becomes pre-occupied with learning about diabolical activity. Indeed, it is vital that we are vigilant and aware. Discernment of spirits is necessary: the human, the diabolical or the Holy Spirit? We are called to be warriors against the wiles of the devil. St. Paul exhorts us to do no less than remain in the full armor of God (Ephs. 6). God’s armor, is available by grace. However, God does not forcibly dress us in His armor. The Lord lovingly allows us freedom to dress ourselves in that armor, or not. In spiritual combat, a Christian’s weapons are essentially the theological virtues: faith, hope, love. “They are key in the spiritual life because here, our freedom and God’s grace cooperate” (Fr. Jacques Philippe). Is your faith, hope, or love waning? If so, address it. Seek spiritual direction, go on a retreat, pray more, not less. Consider your hierarchy of values. What or who displaced God from the first place?
Now so much emphasis is being given to diabolical activity all around us, that I fear, while our eyes are on evil, while we focus on the diabolical, we take our focus off of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We can cease to be fed with the Christ-life if we are unbalanced, have a preoccupation with the workings of the world, the flesh and the devil. For example, some people declare that daily they spend several hours listening to YouTube videos presented by popular exorcists. Others declare that they read every book by an exorcist or demonologist. When the priest inquires how many hours they are communing with God, attending Mass, Adoration, praying the Rosary and other devotions, there is a big discrepancy—so the devil receives more attention than the Lord!
A true soldier for Christ, should be well rooted in knowledge of his or her King, Captain, Commander. We are not the leader in spiritual combat. We move behind our Divine Captain, and beside legions of good angels. Let us be schooled in the daily promptings of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. Let us be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s nature—the infinite power of divine love well-articulated by the Psalmists and Evangelists. Let us be protected by our Father’s blessing which imparts knowledge of our true identity as sons and daughters of God. Let us become acquainted with the angelic world; the role of the good angels—an army led by St. Michael the Archangel, the brilliant angelic light that destroys darkness. When we warn young people about diabolical activity, let us emphasize Christ’s power.
Sometimes when a person arrives for the deliverance or exorcism appointment, they are tempted to believe they are more knowledgeable than the mandated exorcist. The spiritual “authority” granted to the mandated priest distinguishes him. That the priest prays with the authority of the entire Church is missed by some. This authority is no small thing to legalistic demons. Those experienced in deliverance ministry consider themselves pupils, not experts. In this ministry we are dealing with mystery; completely reliant on Christ.
We often remind people that the devil is an attention grabber. The bottom line of diabolical oppression, obsession, or possession is to break a person’s relationship with our Triune God. Demons seek to usurp our relationship with the Divine Lover of souls. Why? It is our relationship with Christ that equips us to fight the good fight to win. More importantly, intimacy with the Trinity is the fulfillment of our desire.
Let us not be surprised at the depth of evil in the Satanic realm. Demons are true to their nature—they will be as evil as evil can be. Unfortunately, in the present culture there is a massive calculated movement toward normalizing Satan. Too many young people, (often, very young), are fascinated, curious, and willing to dive into inebriating occult environments, games, music, drugs, sex, and networks that plunge then into evil that may be initially intriguing, and eventually, disastrous. Adults also may become intoxicated with the world of darkness especially when they seek novelty, experience love- lessness, abuse, desolation in faith, cease to pray or receive Sacraments, and disconnect from themselves and God. The spiritual void is a vacuum that is readily filled by eager demons.
The reorientation of a person’s will and heart to Christ is necessary. Any liaison with the demon is broken when the priest reclaims the baptized soul for Christ. Liberation is much like the Exodus journey from slavery to freedom. Exodus has less to do with Pharaoh than it does with God’s providence and omnipotence. Deliverance has less to do with the devil than it does with God’s power to “make all things new” (Rev 21:5); and to rescue a person from the pit.
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
This scriptural principle is key—God is glorified in the victory that He procures. We know that God was glorified when the Red Sea swallowed the Egyptian army. Also, we know that, after their liberation from slavery, the Israelites grumbled. The adjustment from slavery to freedom is difficult; it requires sacrifice, long suffering, patience, perseverance, hope, and faith. The support of Godly people is invaluable.
Unfortunately, once a person is entangled with the diabolical, there is no quick fix of which I’m aware. A plunge into the darkness is usually the result of a series of agreements with devil, combined with a series of “no” to God. There are few exceptions. The point is that dire situations develop over time. And healing requires time; it is a multifaceted process. For example, once an evil spirit is cast out, if there are medical or mental health issues, they may remain. The proper attention must be given to these for the healing of the whole person, physical and spiritual. While the exorcist casts out the evil spirit, it is the individual’s responsibility to cultivate an intentional spiritual life. The good news is that God makes your fall and rise, a lesson in love. The cross can be very heavy. However, in Christ’s unfathomable mercy, He carries the greatest weight. How sweet is the moment when we realize that we have been carried by Divine Love.
Let us recall the advice of our exorcist friend, “Spiritual combat is not of equals”. Your Savior is victorious; the devil is a clever coward; the Savior of the world fights for you! His love is all; the all that we need. Give the Lord His due, and let’s not feed the devil’s gluttony for attention-getting drama. In the world, the devil may have his hour, but the Lord has endless days of glory! Our trials pass. Victory in Christ is eternal. “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4). Have you internalized this?
A final thought. We need more priests like Msgr. John Esseff, a model of St. John Vianney. To that end, please visit www.foundationforpriests.org and join the mission of interceding for the priests that we need to save our families and Church.
image: Temptation of Jesus fresco in Basilica di San Abbondio (1315 – 1324) via Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com.