Theological Insights From a Day in the Life of an American Exorcist

Editor’s note: The following are excerpts from Msgr. Rossetti’s book, Diary of an American Exorcist: Demons, Possession, and the Modern-Day Battle Against Ancient Evil. The first details a common and eerie experience from his diary. Following that are further theological reflections from Msgr. Rosetti.

Bad Connection or Demonic Activity?

A priest in need of consultation tried to call me this morning. He had a thorny case of someone who, he believed, had a real demonic problem. As I would find out later, he had just used his cell phone in that same spot a few minutes earlier and it had worked fine. At that time, I was also at a good spot with good reception. All other calls that day went through fine. But this priest and I tried to call each other at least a dozen times. We would begin to speak, and then the line would immediately go dead.

Something was afoot. After many dropped calls, I got the priest on the phone again, and before we were disconnected, I quickly said, “Let’s say a prayer.” We prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael, asking for their intercession to keep the phone lines open. Our prayers were answered. No dropped call that time. We had a good chat. And it turned out that he really did have someone who was in strong need of deliverance from demons.

Quite often, I find that possessed people will have great prob­lems connecting on the phone to their pastor, spiritual director, or exorcist. I’ve heard from many of the people I have helped over the years that they often cannot get through to me on the phone.

We see a clear pattern of demonic interference in trying to stop these troubled people from getting help. The demons do whatever they can to isolate their targets. Staying in touch with a priest is the last thing the demons want. And, believe it or not, demons love to mess with gadgets!

Solution? Pray over the phone lines to keep them clear.2 Also, we typically have a backup way to stay in touch as well. We may use Skype or some other app. Sometimes there are disruptions this way too. So we may contact a close friend or family member who then contacts the afflicted person on our behalf. It is more an annoyance than anything else. We eventually find a way to get through to the person in need.

The demons can slow us down. But with a little perseverance and prayer, we get through. This is typical of demonic harassment. They can stall, harass, and try to make things difficult, but in the end, God always triumphs!

Theological Reflection: What Is Demonic Possession?

Demons are fallen angels. And, like all angels (and hu­mans too), they were created to be in a loving unity with creation, with one another, and with God. We were all built for relationships. Unfortunately, the fallen angels, or demons, as they are called, rejected God and thus rejected all that God is.

God is first and foremost a loving Trinitarian rela­tionship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s loving Trinitarian union is offered to all of us, which is fully realized in the life of Heaven.

Because of their radical sin, demons cannot build and enter into such loving relationships. There are no friendships in Hell. The demons’ primal urge for union remains, but it is now distorted, and instead of engag­ing in free, loving relationships, demons try to control, dominate, and possess.

This is true of dysfunctional, distorted human rela­tionships as well. Human beings are called to free, loving relationships with others. But, as a result of sin, some hu­man relationships are characterized by attempts to control and possess. This is not of God.

When given an opening, demons will therefore try to enter and possess. They can possess an object, such as a cursed occult artifact. They can also possess a place, especially if sinful or occult behavior has occurred there. A house, an apartment, or another building can be “in­fested” with demons if someone invites them in, even unknowingly. Or sometimes it can be a person who has an “open door” to the demonic.

Oftentimes the demonic possession remains hidden. But there are times when the demons’ presence becomes manifest. For example, a possessed person who undergoes a conversion and starts practicing the Faith may begin to manifest the possession. Going into a church, praying, or any such religious practice can be the occasion for hid­den demons to react strongly in the possessed person’s body. Possessed people can have great difficulty entering a church. They may struggle to recite prayers. When sprinkled with cold holy water, they may say that it burns. Or they may avert their eyes from a crucifix or a holy painting. This is all because of the presence of demons, who cannot stand such holy objects or prayers.

In cases of full possession, at times the demons will take over complete control of the person’s body. The demonic personality may even manifest on the person’s face. The person’s voice will change, and it will no lon­ger be the human person speaking but the demons. In such cases, the demons are controlling the person’s body, and thus the person becomes what is called “possessed” by demons.

Can Humans Be Attacked by Demons?

There is a long history of people being attacked by de­mons, especially the great saints. We call this Satan’s “extraordinary” activity. His “ordinary” activity against all humanity is to tempt us to sin. But sometimes Satan is allowed to attack people directly. It is important to note that this is not common.

Many saints have reported being physically beaten up by demons. God allows this for the sanctification of the saint and also as a participation in the Cross of Je­sus. As the afflicted person willingly accepts the attacks and overcomes them with God’s grace, it can become a source of grace for many others. This is because these sufferings are offered in union with the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Possessed people, too, are not uncommonly the subject of extraordinary demonic attacks. Demons are allowed to attack possessed people in a variety of ways. For example, possessed people sometimes have unex­plained scratches and bruises. In fact, we have seen such scratches and bruises appear on the body of a possessed person in the midst of a session. Demons can afflict pos­sessed people in many other direct, and very distressing, ways. As noted previously, it is not uncommon that demons will choke possessed people.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of these demonic temp­tations and attacks when he writes,

“The wicked angels assail men . . . by instigating them to sin, and thus they are not sent by God to assail us, but are sometimes per­mitted to do so according to God’s just judgments. . . . In order that the conditions of the fight be not unequal, there is for man the promised recompense, to be gained principally through the grace of God, and secondarily through the guardianship of the angels.”

ST, I, q. 114, art. 1.

As mentioned earlier, demons are inherently more powerful than human beings in their nature. Thus, God restricts what demons can do and gives human beings the necessary graces and protection to overcome de­monic harassment. Those attacked by Satan should trust in God and pray for deliverance, confident that in God these attacks will be overcome.

This article is adapted from Msgr Rosetti’s new book, Diary of an American Exorcist: Demons, Possession, and the Modern-Day Battle Against Ancient Evil. It is available as a hardback or ebook from your favorite bookseller or online through Sophia Institute Press.

image: A painting by Francisco Goya, of Saint Francis Borgia, SJ performing an exorcism in Valencia Cathedral / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

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Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, Ph.D., is the President of the St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal and a research associate professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A licensed psychologist and the author of several books, Msgr. Rossetti has participated in hundreds of exorcisms. During his journey to priesthood, he experienced a spiritual episode in which, “in two seconds I learned 80 percent of what an exorcist needs to know.”

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