Demonic possessions may thrill horror movie audiences and intrigue the curious, but one of the oldest exorcists in the country says it’s sin, not possession we should concern ourselves with.
“Possession is very rare,” Msgr. John Esseff of Scranton, Pennsylvania explained. He has been an exorcist for over 40 years and was a spiritual director of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. “The usual work of the devil is temptation,” he said. “And temptation is something we encounter every day.”
So rather than thinking the devil has nothing to do with us or being overly concerned about his power which is infinitely less than the power of God, we should simply foster our relationship with Jesus. The Church offers us everything we need. It is up to us to access that, particularly by attending Mass, receiving the Eucharist and regularly having our sins forgiven in Confession. Seeking friendship with Jesus and not just going through the motions will take us the rest of the way.
Nothing is worth improving more than our spiritual life, and nothing is worth protecting more than our souls. That is why I included a chapter on Spiritual protection with advice from four exorcists in the book Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Life and Get to Heaven.
Exorcists chalk up the dramatic stories where the devil makes himself known to “smoke and mirrors” to distract and scare. It is in the ordinary that we can prevent getting into trouble to begin with, according to them.
“I bring the authority of Jesus Christ, but most of the time, people treat exorcists like magicians,” one exorcist explained. “They want us to fix the problem, but they don’t want to put any skin in the game. They have to be willing to pray and draw closer to God.”
In possessions, he has seen eyes rolled back in the head, throwing out obscenities, bodily contortions, foul odors, temperatures drop in the room, and someone levitating. Actual demonic possession, however, is rare, but there are also infestation, vexation, and obsession. Demonic infestation involves things moving and loud noises. In vexation, a person is physically attacked and might have marks such as bruises, bites, or scratches. Demonic obsession involves mental attacks, such as persistent thoughts of evil racing through one’s mind.
Here is a brief excerpt from the chapter on basic spiritual protection.
- Avoid evil and have nothing to do with the occult.
- Keep your mind on God and his angels and saints. If you are stressing about evil, you are probably not spending enough time and energy on God.
- Frequent the sacraments, which strengthen your soul with grace.
- If you are in the state of mortal sin, run to confession. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is worth more than a hundred exorcisms; one imparts sacramental grace, and the other is a blessing to help move a person back to the sacraments.”
- Be aware that sin is the greatest evil. “Sin is a far greater danger than the devil. The devil is outside of us. Even in a possession, he cannot possess our soul.”
- Have a relationship with Jesus and go to Mass on Sundays. “The devil is already on the run if you are going to church and especially if you are receiving Communion.”
- Forgive others. Don’t let anger and resentment open you to evil influences.
- Keep in mind that demonic retaliation is a good sign that you are doing the right thing. Take away the drama. It’s not the worst thing in your life. Evil spirits don’t like being kicked out, but the Lord has something to say about it.
- Pray the Rosary. The enmity between the Blessed Mother and Satan — proclaimed solemnly by God in Genesis (Genesis 3:15) — makes her the number-one enemy of demons. In Fr. Gabriel Amorth’s book An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, he said of the Blessed Mother, “The demon is terrified of her. In order to be very clear, I wish to cite an episode at which I personally assisted many years ago. During an exorcism, Father Candido asked the devil a question: ‘Why are you more afraid when I invoke Mary than when I implore God Himself?’ He responded: ‘I feel more humiliated being conquered by a simple creature than by God Himself.’”
- Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy especially at 3:00 PM, the hour of mercy. God’s mercy is greater than any evil, so that we can call upon him with trust.
- If you fear something more is going on that you cannot handle through ordinary means, talk with a priest.
Copyright 2019 Patti Maguire Armstrong