a ramble about exorcism

I have too good an opinion of your brain to take you for a skeptic. You have an open mind…which means that you can neither be skeptic nor credulous. Both the Skeptic and the credulous have warped minds; they work from a foregone conclusion, the first that they must believe nothing they hear, the second everyting.” (Dr Zodiac in Strange Daughter by Louis de Wohl)

I have to admit I think exorcsim is quite interesting. It is a much neglected and over sensionalised part of the Church’s charism of healing.  I haven’t much personal experience with exorcsim and I haven’t read enough about it to know the whole story but I know some basics and there are some common sense things about avoiding the whole shabang.

A long time ago when I was on retreat it turned out that the priest co-leading it was the exorcist for the diocese. I think in the Catholic Church it is considered good practice to have at least one exorcist per diocese. Anyway he got called away and when he returned we wanted to know what he had been up to. Without breaking any confidentialities he told us he had been asked to do a house cleaning. Some girls had called needing their apparently haunted house dealing with. He went to check the situation out, and sure enough all sorts of unpleasant things were happening. But he didn’t do so much as a blessing for them. Why not? Because they had a house full of “invitations”. He instructed them to clear out the ouja board, books on witchcraft, magic, tarot cards and other kookiness and see if the visitors left of their own accord. If after truly cleaning up their house and act things remained he would do a blessing.

This priest didn’t say so, but I wonder if he was a bit irritated that people who wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a church are ringing his home as soon as their silly choices get them into trouble.

My only other brush with this sort of thing was with a patient. In all my years of nursing I only ever once came across anyone who may have had more than mental health problems to worry about. This man really put the wind up one of the interpreters who confessed to me he thought there was something demonic going on; and I must admit I wondered if he was right. The man died in colourful circumstances and I pray all is well now for him.

I was watching CSI last night and as is usual with these stories there was one about an exorcism gone wrong. Of course the media loves to make a sensationalist hash of this subject but I have to say I thought the program last night was quite good and it raised some good questions. For a start they had the exorcist as an independant one man band minister of some kind of Christianity that wasn’t explained in the story. He obviously had no spiritual director and no training in mental health or exorcism. He was out to find his own salvation and unfortunately went about it all in a very bad way.

I was a bit irritated that the family who had called on his services were apparently “foreign” and had stuff in their home that indicated they were Catholic eg. Sacred Heart picture on the wall. No Catholic would need to go to some kooky independant unordained minister if they thought they needed an exorisim. Why would they?

The most famous story is the film The Exorist which I am too chicken to ever watch. The priest who did the real exorcism that Hollywood based this film on has rolled his eyes a few times I believe over the massive sensationalism of the story and he along with other exorsists have said that they don’t like the way Hollywood and the MSM always seem to give the devil far more than his due. God is much much stronger than the film directors would like to admit. But then of course the special effects are always so much more important than the story. I read that the real ending of The Exorsist is the child did really well and has grown to be a happy and healthy adult.

In Scripture the apostles get a bit hot under the collar when they find people casting out demons in Christ’s name but without their say so and Jesus doesn’t seem that fussed about it. He does however give some start warnings about people who do evil, including the much forgotten one about it being better to have a millstone around your neck and be tossed into the sea than to cause scandal to a child. However Christ also made sure that authority was laid with the Church and part of that was the authority to carry out the ministry of healing with its Sacraments and sacramentals. Exorcism is part of that but needs to be handled with care. It is not a road for power hungry pseudo-Christians to make themselves feel better.

The Church, (and from what I’ve read about the Church of England they have a similar set up); has very strict rules about who can do an exorcism and in what cicumstances.The exorsist is specially trained.  The checks and balances with pychiatrists and social workers are there to prevent the horrible mistakes that get shown in fiction media like CSI.  One of the things that Catholic exorsists tend to make sure of is that they have a good prayer source behind them too. I would think a good enclosed order praying all day for them and the people they have to work with would be jolly useful.

I’ve not read many books on this subject; only Gabriel Armorth’s first one actually and I have to admit I found his style a bit difficult. But I have listened to a few interviews with exorsists and from my interest in mental health I find the subject fascinating. It is good to hear them reiterate that mental illness is not possession. The men I have heard interviewed come across are ordinary, humble people, following the vocation they are called to.

They all give the same advice; don’t make the invitations. Leave the ouja boards, tarot and magic stuff alone. Don’t get involved with stuff that is rooted in evil like some of the drug world (Fr John Corapi has testified to some of that from his cocaine days) and messing around with cultish stuff-it’s not always harmless.

Sometimes we get uninvited guests through no fault of our own of course- but that usually means we are in proximity to someone making the invitations. Prayer is good.

When you put Hollywood aside and listen to the real stories the thing that stands out is God’s love and hope-andthat  there is healing.

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3 responses to “a ramble about exorcism

  1. Steve P in La Crosse, Wis.

    When you’re looking for a movie sometime, try “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”. It’s based on a true story but only somewhat Hollywoodized.

    The Catholic Church’s official rite of exorcism has been published in Latin, but so far as I know, an English translation hasn’t been made/approved/published yet.

    • That’s a film I have wondered about watching. Reviews were mixed but there was a general sense that the film had tried to stay close to the real story-which makes a refreshing change.

      I knew a new Rite had been written, but I haven’t gotten around to looking for it. Apparently a couple of the newer books like the one by Fr Euteneuer are supposed to have some info on it. Have you read his book? “Exorcism and the Church Militant”. I have heard him interviewed a few times and he seems a good man. I was wondering about getting his book at some point.

  2. Interesting post.

    I do wonder if exorcism should be more common than it is? After all, in the old rite, exorcist is one of the minor orders so all priests should/can perform them. I’m not talking about exorcism for total diabolical possession, that does have very strict protocol, but there are cases of diabolical interference/pestering that need a firm consecrated hand.

    Our old PP got a knock on the door and a family stood there pleading with him to go to their house and “sort it out”, they apologised for not being Catholic but they’d been to the local vicar and in their words “he was rubbish”. Father chuckled at this, but he wasn’t chuckling when he returned, he was exhausted.

    I have also seen the effects of an exorcism on someone with a chronic drug problem. A very charismatic renewal type priest heard about the problems and performed one (un asked for). Whilst the person did not instantly give up, their demeanor changed and they were able to fight their battles much more clearly. Deanery big wigs would not have been impressed, but it had tremendous value and allowed the person to embrace their faith once more.

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