Matt Baglio follows the training and formation of American priest Fr. Gary Thomas who has been sent to Rome to learn the art of exorcism. It comes across as a very straight forward non-sensationalist account of the events and in that, some reviewers have been disappointed. For me this was rather refreshing. The subject matter is difficult enough and must be very difficult for those who suffer from oppression or possession and those who know and love them.
Fr. Gary begins his training with no interpreter and struggling to find his feet in the college and with senior exorcists when he had so little Italian. Any Catholic who has been part of the Church and her workings will smile at the usual chaos. Apparently there’s a bumper sticker which says “I hate organised religion” to which the only reply must be “so be a Catholic.”
ehem. I digress
Finally, Fr. Gary gets to apprentice with a very hard working priest, who has much God given stamina and who is the local exorcist with just enough English to communicate and Fr. Gary picks up just enough Italian that they can work in some middle pigeon ground.
The book is somewhat let down by its skirting over some aspects of possession, such as the different types and differences between hauntings, oppression and possession. He also says far too little on how people get into this pickle in the first place although the usual suspects are mentioned; dabbling in the occult and getting into superstitious practices.
He does mention curses, but doesn’t go unto detail about how these work and how they might fit into God’s permissive will.
Baglio describes some of the mental illnesses that must be assessed first before a consideration of possession can take place. This is a good solid overview but again is let down by Baglio’s own obvious lack of knowledge of psychiatry. He talks about somatisation as though this can be a valid diagnoses. There is no scientific or medical evidence that somatisation or as some call it conversion disorder actually exists. It falls under the same shadowy made-up dx as Munchausen and borderline personality disorder. There’s not real evidence for any of these labels. I think when trying to seek the truth about a person who presents with serious health problems it is important to seek the truth, about what is happening. Sadly I was left wondering how many people with spiritual problems were left with pseudo-diagnosis to palm them off.
After observing some exorcisms Fr. Gary recalls his own lack of personal experience of serious pain until he fell off a mountain and was severely injured. He remembered that it was the depression that came as a result of his injuries that was far more painful that the physical pain he felt. This reminiscence came shortly after the heart rending exorcism of a nun called Sr. Janica.
If you ever thought exoricism was just about being scary and weird and that you would never feel deep sorrow for a possessed person, her short story of longstanding suffering will change your mind.
In Fr Gary’s on painful experience he remembers how the Sacraments of the Sick and healing Masses helped him so much. This is something I truly wish the Church in the UK and elsewhere would take seriously. Far too many sick people are left without the healing ministry of the Church because it is simply not made available to us. It is hardly surprising in those situations that so many Catholics and other Christians turn to more dodgy ministries that in themselves have lead some people to require an exorsist when there is so little at parish level.
There are a number of questions that must be asked, and answered, which I think the book skips over too lightly. Why does God allow a person to be cursed so that they end up with some form of demonic possession having done nothing themselves to invite it? I assume there’s some answer along the same lines as why God allows innocent people to be harmed or even killed by evil people.
The other question I had was on why some exorcisms took so long and why some people couldn’t be healed at all?
Overall the book is a good insight into one man’s training and how exorcists can and do work. It’s clear on many points and approaches it all very sensibly.Not all my questions were answered, but it was a good solid introduction to the subject.