October 28, 2011

What an exorcist can teach an evangelist

By Joe Tremblay *

Evangelization and exorcisms are two kindred missions of the Church. After all, Church-approved exorcisms are but a dramatic expression of the titanic but often unperceived struggle between grace and sin in every individual. But good triumphing over evil depends on first knowing the truth about this conflict.

Take for instance, “The Rite,” “The Exorcist” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” These are movies that were inspired by true stories. Nevertheless, all three films were riddled with half-truths. In my opinion, none of them conveyed the clear sense that Christ won the battle. There lingered a kind of dreary overcast and a shadow at the end of each of these movies. From my vantage point, the victory of good over evil was neither decisive nor satisfying. The one rare exception to the rule is “The Haunting in Connecticut;” a well-done documentary by the Discovery Channel on a demon infested house that oppressed a family. These evil spirits were cast out by an Exorcism and a Mass in a convincing fashion. When the rite of exorcism was complete, it was as if light, peace and warmth permeated the house. Evil had been defeated. Christ had won just as he had in the Gospels so many times. And as for the family that had been oppressed for so many weeks, they had been finally liberated.

The Discovery documentary on the exorcism in Connecticut, as with any exorcism, is instructive for Catholic evangelists and teachers. Exorcism is a microcosm of how Christ restores what belongs to him in the Church’s day to day mission. Ushering in the kingdom of heaven quite often presupposes a conflict that involves causalities. After all, purging evil is offensive to both demons and men. St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that they are the aroma of Christ for those who are being saved but the odor of death for those who are perishing.

The exorcist, as well as the evangelist, must see through the hazards of the battle. To be sure, the reason is that with the eradication of evil there is opposition and resistance. But the failure to pull up evil from the roots is to endanger the seed of God from being firmly planted in the soil. Our Lord himself said to the Pharisees, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house…” Indeed, every rite of exorcism performed in his name is an act of plundering, tying up the strong man and casting him out. This must take place before the return of God’s peace and his grace either to a soul or to a house.

With every report of diabolic phenomenon, prudence must always accompany the discernment of its authenticity. It has been said that 80-90 percent of all cases that come before the Church have a natural explanation to it such as a psychological or physical disorder. But for approved exorcisms, one or more of follow criteria must be met: Bodily levitation, extraordinary strength, speaking foreign language or unfamiliar tongue or knowing things beyond the person’s natural capability, and demonstrating an aversion to sacramentals or to the name of Jesus and Mary. When a diabolic presence has been determined, an exorcist must approach the victim with a spirit of sacrifice and confidence. In fact, 1952 rite of exorcism gives the following instructions: “Let the priest pronounce the exorcism in a commanding and authoritative voice, and at the same time with great confidence, humility, and fervor…with his intention fixed on God, whom he should entreat with firm faith and in all humility. And if he is all the more grievously tormented, he ought to bear this patiently, never doubting the divine assistance.” Every exorcist knows that the demons or the evil spirits will not willingly vacate. As such, with every exorcism a real battle is anticipated. Needless to say, the priest who engages in spiritual warfare cannot flinch or retreat if the victim is to be liberated.

The fact that exorcisms and evangelization are kindred missions is not to suggest that evangelists and teachers should go around issuing commands or put on an air of militancy. But there is a general lesson to take away from exorcisms. And the lesson is that preaching the Gospel is a kind of exorcism in that evil is purged as God’s goodness is ushered in. In practical terms, it could mean the Church calling people to repentance before admitting them to the sacraments; or it could mean issuing a public reprimand or warning to politicians and other celebrities who publicly oppose Catholic principles; or it could mean for dioceses and parishes to get the right people on the bus (Catholics who embrace the fullness of Christ’s teachings) and getting the wrong people off of the bus (nominal Catholics). Keep in mind, the unity of minds, the uniformity of action and speaking with one voice depends on it!

With that said, many twenty-first century Catholics refuse to drive away demons and tie up the strong man both in their personal spiritual warfare and in their ministries. However, there are two problems with this: First, it is diametrically opposed to the Gospel. Second, it doesn’t work! It obviously doesn’t work with exorcisms. And it does not work with the Church’s pastoral practices and her mission to evangelize! In terms of the last five decades, the Church’s diminished influence on culture, of lower church attendance and of a fewer priestly and religious vocations seem to suggest this.

Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He was a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Joe is also married with five children. The views and opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily reflective of any organizations he works for.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.