The Devil and All His Works
On Demons, Deliverance, and Celebrity Exorcists
Hi Friends! We have just eight spots left on my family’s pilgrimage to Italy next summer, and I would love for you to pray about taking one (or more) of those spots. Also, I announced on Instagram last week that my cousin, Father Adam Stimpson, will be joining us as the trip’s spiritual director. Father Adam is a pastor and Newman Center chaplain in the diocese of Peoria, a fellow Franciscan University alum, and just an incredible, holy, healthy priest. I am so happy he will be joining us, and hope you will too.
Also, today’s essay is on the longer side. So, if it’s easier for you to find the time to listen rather than read, don’t forget that all full subscribers always have access to an audio version of these monthly essays.
My dad just died, my husband has Lyme Disease, and the first week of school was an all-around disaster. So, naturally, I thought this would be a great time to write about the devil. Or, more specifically, about why you should not give him (and the exorcists talking frequently and publicly about him) too much attention.
A few weeks back, my friends at The Pillar shared their concern over Catholics’ growing preoccupation with exorcists and demons (see episode 127 of the podcast). On Instagram, I offered a strong “Amen” to their thoughts and encouraged folks to go have a listen. If you haven’t yet, you should. At the time, a good number of people asked me to write more about the topic. Which I promised to do. But a few hours after I shared the podcast, we got the call that my dad was in kidney failure. So, we packed up the kids, raced out the door, and began two of the hardest weeks of my life.
Now that we’re home, I want to make good on my promise to share why I have such strong reservations about anyone—exorcist or not—sharing too much about demons and deliverance work. Before I do that, however, I need to make a few things clear.
The Reality of Evil
First, make no mistake, the devil is real. So are his demons. Satan is not a folk tale, superstitious nonsense, or the personification of humanity’s baser instincts. He is an angelic person, who led a rebellion against God and was cast out of Heaven along with half the heavenly hosts. Since that day, he has worked tirelessly to destroy you and me and every person in existence. Scripture and Tradition speak unequivocally on this.
The Church dogmatically states that Satan is “not an abstraction,” but rather “a person . . . the angel who opposes God” (CCC 2851). She also teaches that he was an instrumental part of man’s primordial fall, as outlined in the book of Genesis (CCC 397). The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, as well as the Book of Revelation, the Second Letter of Peter, and every single Gospel affirm Satan’s existence and the existence of other fallen angels, who stood with Satan when he rebelled against God. Jesus Himself, in the Gospel of John, says, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies,” (John 8:44).
Scripture and Tradition are also clear that all around us an unseen war rages between the powers of darkness and the powers of light (Revelation 11-12). Satan has already lost that war. Victory, in the end, will go to Christ. But Satan is determined to go down fighting. He lingers in this world, striving to inflict maximum collateral damage by waging his own guerilla style warfare campaign and picking off souls one by one, in whatever ways he can.
Sometimes, those ways are Ouija boards and crystals, Reiki and tarot cards, Wicca and fortune tellers, Magic 8 balls and seances. Those things are doorways to darkness and should you dare to dabble in them, you will pay a price. A high price. Do not do it. Demonic oppression, possession, and infestation are as real as you and me, and dabbling in the occult or New Age spirituality can be a one-way ticket to experiencing all three. If you have a history with these things, get yourself to a trusted priest right quick to talk about the ongoing healing you may need because of these experiences. Exorcism and deliverance work, when done by a properly trained priest, can be a powerful help for those who truly need it.
But for the rest of us, it is important to remember that Satan does not ordinarily corrupt people through Ouija Boards. Nor does he typically need to possess us to destroy us. Those are extraordinary means and extraordinary manifestations. The reason they are extraordinary is because most of the time they are unnecessary. Satan has far subtler and more effective tools at his disposal. Namely, he has us and our own fallen natures, which he can play like a fiddle if we let him. Which we do. Again and again and again. We let him play on our pride, our vanity, our wrath, our gluttony, our sloth, our greed, and our lust.
We also let him play on the age old vice of curiositas—curiosity—when we let him tempt us to gaze into the darkness and fixate on him.
“Equal and Opposite Errors”
In the preface to his book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
For years, many Catholics fell into the former trap. Modernism and post-modernism tempted us to make a metaphor of the father of lies. We did not see him as real. We did not take spiritual warfare seriously. We did not prepare ourselves or our children to defend ourselves in the battle for our souls.
But now, as is so often the case, we are overcorrecting. A growing number of Catholics (and Protestants) are tilting wildly in the opposite direction, developing an unhealthy and spiritually dangerous interest in the world of demons and deliverance. In Catholic circles, that interest is being fed by a small number of exorcists who, unlike most of their fellow exorcists, are willing to speak publicly about their work—work that is dangerous to talk about and even more dangerous to do.
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