A Homily by
Dcn. Wayland Moncrief
In the beginning God created Adam and Eve. They were perfect human beings: everything that a human being was intended to be. They were immortal, free of illness and suffering, and they lived in full communion with God.
Then, they disobeyed God and evil entered the world. For the first time they knew sin. They knew guilt, shame, and fear, and they hid from God. Along with their evil came toil, suffering, and death. They did not become gods as Satan promised. Instead their sin brought irreparable damage to the souls of all mankind.
This scriptural account expresses an important theological principle held not only by the Israelite's but by other ancient cultures as well. The principle is: sin is the root cause of all illness, suffering, and death.
To the Jews, throughout their history and at the time of Jesus' public ministry, all illness was seen as a punishment from God and evidence of demonic possession. The entire ancient world, believed in demons and devils. There were many demons: demons of blindness, demons of leprosy, heart-disease, and many other disorders, and these demons could transfer their malignant afflictions to men. 1
There were also many spiritualists and exorcists offering various remedies. One such procedure was called trepanation. It involved drilling a small hole into the skull of the possessed. The hole was believed to create a pathway so the demon could be expelled. The wide-spread use of this technique has been confirmed by archaeological evidence. 2
Against this background of various incantations, spells, and surgeries, Jesus stands in stark contrast. Jesus spoke with authority. Demons were cast out with a single command.
We certainly have a different view of mental and physical illness, demons, and demonic possession today. Actually, the beginning of a change in view is seen in the gospels. In this chapter of Mark, and other gospel passages, we read, "[Jesus] cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons." 3 Note that curing the sick and driving out demons are listed separately – as two different maladies. One noted biblical scholar states "the gospel writers were very careful to differentiate illness from demonic possession." 4
Though, we have a very different view of demonic possession from these ancient cultures, the theological principle still applies. The Catholic Church, like the Jewish and other traditions, teaches that sin is the root cause of all suffering and death, thus all illness has a spiritual component.
These ancient cultures also understood that sin is communal - that there is no such thing as a private or victim-less sin. Every sin has an impact on others. We are, in more ways than we realize, 'our brothers keeper'.
The effects of alcoholism and drug addiction, particularly their effects on children, torment generations of descendants. The sins of abortion, pornography, prostitution, and promiscuity, though done in secret, adversely affect marriages and the heath, safety, well-being of society. The sin of sexual abuse is commonly accompanied not only by psychological trauma but by various physical illnesses throughout the victim's lifetime. These ancient cultures understood that sin is not strictly a moral issue – it has demonstratively physical manifestations.
It is not fashionable in today's post-modern culture to speak of Satan, demons, or demonic possession. Many, including some scripture scholars, believe that we are too scientifically and medically sophisticated to hold such "superstitious" beliefs. They claim these afflictions are really physical or mental illnesses and that demons and demonic possession are absurd - unscientific and irrational.
To their point of view, spiritual illnesses and other afflictions are not mutually exclusive. What they fail to realize is that scientific analysis is inadequate in spiritual matters. Spiritual illness and satanic activity are not measurable physical phenomena. In fact, spiritual illness is often the cause of the mental, physical, or psychological affliction.
Let me say emphatically that demons, demonic possessions, and other spiritual illnesses do exist. The documentation of physicians, exorcists, psychologists, and the testimony of a vast number of witnesses is so overwhelming that it cannot be denied by any person who is willing to look at the evidence objectively. Let me further say that these activities of Satan are rare. One prominent exorcist states that of the cases referred to him by other priests or the diocesan bishop, less than one in a hundred have a legitimate demonic origin.
Demons are spiritual beings possessing intelligence, initiative, and freedom: They are angels who have chosen to be apostles of Satan. Denying the existence of demons denies the teaching of Christ who performed many exorcisms and spoke repeated about Satan and his works. Who could better identify demons than the Son of God?
Evidence of demonic possession is seen in speaking foreign or ancient languages of which the possessed has no prior knowledge; supernatural abilities and strength; knowledge of hidden or remote things which the possessed has no way of knowing; an aversion to anything holy; profuse blasphemy and sacrilege, and a complete absence of guilt.
Since the third century the Church has had a minor Order of Exorcists to minister to those afflicted. Only priests who have specific training and approved by the Bishop can perform the full Rite of Exorcism, although all priests can perform exorcisms through blessings, prayers for deliverance, and the sacraments.
Fr. Amorth, former chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, relates two specific encounters. He says, "During one exorcism I saw a child of eleven held down by four strong men. The child threw the men aside with ease." And, "I was there when a boy of ten lifted a huge, heavy table. Afterwards I felt the muscles in the boy's arms. He could not have done it on his own. He had the strength of the Devil inside him" 5 In all these Satan may take control of the body but he cannot take our souls. Despite the possession and affliction we retain our free will. 6
Demonic Possession, in which Satan takes control of the body and acts and speaks without the cooperation of the possessed, is only one form of Satan's extraordinary activity. Others forms include, Diabolic Obsession, Diabolic Oppression, Pain Inflicted by Satan, Diabolic Infestation, and Diabolic Subjugation. Descriptions of these forms can be found in Fr. Amorth's book, An Exorcist Tells His Story.
Examples of these types of Satan's activity are numerous. St. Padre Pio, for example, had visible wounds where he were beaten and flogged by demons. Job suffered the wrath of the Devil when all he had was taken, his body was covered with sores, and life became a complete misery. Others have been forced to live in a perpetual state of prostration or desperation where multiple attempts at suicide are common. Satan can also act in homes, buildings, houses or animals. Examples of this are found in scripture where Pharaoh's magicians turned their staffs into serpents and turned water into blood. And, of course, Satan possesses those who voluntarily consecrate themselves to him through satanic worship, blood pacts, black masses, and other occult activities.
The more common realm of influence is classified as Satan's Ordinary Activity. This is the area of Satan's influence that should be of the most concern since it is something we all experience. The devil's principle weapon is deception. He manipulates our selfish tendencies with lies and half-truths, and tempts us to deny our sinfulness and the authority and validity of Christian institutions, teachings, and morals.
The primary method employed is temptation. Although our response to temptation is voluntary, exposure to occult satanic domains and habitual sinfulness present an open invitation for Satan to take control. Habitual sin fosters a permissive attitude, diminishes our resolve, and Satan capitalizes on our indifference.
As mentioned previously, Satan and his demons are intelligent and inventive. They are experts ay camouflaging their purpose and presence. Where we develop a resistance to a specific evil, Satan will search for and exploit another weakness. What we often fail to realize, especially on a day-to-day basis, is that we are engaged in a great spiritual battle, a vast spiritual war, not only for our own soul but for the souls of all mankind. Our life on earth is a trial - a test of our faithfulness to God - and the consequences of indifference are fatal.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all soldiers in this war. We cannot avoid being involved. Satan is trying to enslave us – to rob us of our freedom and salvation. We need to recognize the tactics of the enemy, be vigilant, and combat Satan and the forces of evil in our lives. And, we need to continually seek the fortification of grace.
It's also important not to become frozen by fear by overestimating Satan's power. Satan is a fallen angel. His power, as an angel, is infinitely inferior to God who sent His son into the world to defeat the forces of darkness and free us from the slavery of sin. Jesus confronted the realm of darkness and won. Victory is ours. Through His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, salvation is possible. However, the battle for our individual souls and the souls of others continues.
Pope Saint John Paul II, who was also an exorcist, said, "The battle against the devil, which is the principle task of Saint Michael the Archangel, is still being fought today, because the Devil is still alive and active in the world. The evil which surrounds us today, the disorders that plague our society, man's inconsistency and brokenness, are not only the results of original sin, but also the results of Satan's pervasive and dark action." 7
One day Fr. Candido, a Master Exorcist, spiritual director, confessor, and mentor of Fr. Amorth, was expelling a demon. Toward the end of the exorcism, he turned to the evil spirit and sarcastically told him, 'Get out of here! The Lord has provided a well heated house for you!' At this the demon answered, "You don't know anything. It wasn't God that made Hell. It was us."
On another occasion Fr. Amorth, asked a demon if he had contributed to the creation of Hell, the demon replied, "All of us cooperated." 8
Satan is clever and cunning. From the dawn of time he has tried to seduce and destroy mankind. We may not even be aware of Satan's pervasive and dark action in our lives. While we may not suffer any of Satan's extra-ordinary ills, we are all subject to temptation. It's important to examine our attitudes and behaviors, determine if there are ways in which we are cooperating with Satan's minions, and take definitive steps to protect our souls. Here are a few steps you may want to consider:
Attend mass as often as possible. Allow yourselves to become fully immersed in meditation of the Scripture, the homily, and the musical and liturgical prayers. Receive communion with a conscious and deep reverence.
Receive the sacraments frequently, especially the Sacrament of Penance. Fr. Amorth states that confession is actually more powerful than an exorcism.
Fortify yourself in knowledge and grace. Remember that we are soldiers for Christ in this war against evil. Soldiers are always at a state of preparedness. Preparedness requires study and knowledge. Do not allow yourselves to be deceived. Strengthen yourself in God's Word and the teaching of the Church.
Commit yourself to prayer. Ask for guidance from your guardian angel. Prayer is communion with God. The Catechism of the Catholic church states, "Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned." 9 Prayer transforms our minds and hearts.
And, protect your spirit. Guard your souls like the precious gems that they are. Jesus said, "... where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." 10 There is safety in numbers. Surround yourself with devoted people who practice the faith, and avoid persons and circumstances where you are likely to be tempted.
In today's gospel, with a single command, Jesus frees a soul from its captivity to Satan. "This is reason for great hope. Even though there is real evil in the world, the power of Christ and the love of Christ is infinitely greater than the power of the devil and his demons. No matter how much evil there seems to be, at the sound of the Lord's voice it is swept away like dust. For that we can truly rejoice." 11
Angel sent by God to guide me,
Be my light and walk beside me,
Be guardian and protect me,
On the paths of life direct me.