Saturday, April 08, 2006
Freedom from the devil and freedom from sin  

I recently came across an interview of a priest in the German magazine Die Welt. The interview is from the December 2, 2005 issue, and it is extremely interesting because the priest presents the Catholic Church's teaching on evil, hell, and exorcisms. He also provides a fascinating comment regarding demonic reaction to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The questions were fielded by Father Pedro Barrajon who is a professor of theological anthropology at the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He is also a member of the Legionaires of Christ.
How could God permit evil in the first place?

For our freedom! Evil is linked implicitly to the gift of freedom. God made man free. In choosing whether to ban evil or give the gift of freedom, God opted for freedom. Without the possibility to choose between good or evil, there would be no freedom. That means that God values freedom more than all our sins. Animals are not evil - but they are also never free. With freedom, God elevated us above animals.


Where are demons at home? Hell?

Yes. Hell was made for them, not for people.

So Hell was made too?

Yes. Angels were created, thus fallen angels and thus hell. It is no self-creation. Hell is not a place, it's a state. It's the state in which demons can be themselves, united in their hatred of God. It's the state of the negation of love. God is love. Hell is anti-love, it's hatred. Hell is a notion of the state of these spirits. Hell is the state of an eternal anti-love. It's also the eternal refusal to accept the love of God.
Then there is a long series of questions and answers about exorcisms which closes out the article. Naturally, we are all curious as to what an exorcism is like. Fr. Barrajon helps us understand.
Are there objective criteria that can be used to determine if a person has been possessed by a demon?

The new ordinance on exorcism summarizes the criteria for the event of possession very well. The clearest for me as a priest is the deep aversion to holy objects such as the cross, the rosary or the sign of the cross. Also an aversion to the word God - when it is spoken, such people get very nervous. Less significant indications are the supernatural capabilities that these people can suddenly develop. They can speak foreign languages that they've never learned. They can levitate; they can float, they can overcome gravity. Sometimes they become inexplicably strong and violent. But it's not that easy to diagnose cases of possession. I usually suggest that people see a neurologist or a psychiatrist before I get involved in their case. If I am advised by these experts that they can't help, then I can begin a spiritual treatment. As a rule, I would say that of ten people who request an exorcism, one is truly possessed.

Are there reasons for possession?

We don't know them. Nor can we say why one person gets cancer and another doesn't. We have no explanation for that either. We only know that God's power and love is greater when it comes to our physical and spiritual illnesses. That's how possession has to be seen.

How does an exorcism work?

The church demands from a priest who is undertaking such an "expulsion" the moral certainty that it is indeed a case of possession. But there is no absolute certainty. So it is very important that an exorcist be a man of prayer and fasting.

And then?

The exorcism is a major official prayer in which the power of the church is very present. That's the main thing. Sometimes holy water is used or incense, and there is always a crucifix in the priest's hands. Several people should be present, in addition to the priest, in the event that the possessed person gets violent. People can be transformed by the expulsion of the devil. They don't remain the same. During this rite, the demon exposes himself, given the presence of God and the many people praying together. It often becomes violent, because it knows that it has been defeated in a way. The voice of the possessed person usually changes and becomes very unpleasant.

Also frightening?

Not at all. In such moments, I only feel sorry for the possessed person because he's suffering and you see that he's suffering. But at the same time you're happy because you know that the exorcism will free him from this anguish. Every exorcism begins with the invocation of the trinity: the father, the son and the holy ghost. Then there's a reading of excerpts from the Bible, before a kind of dialogue between the exorcist and the possessed person begins, in which the exorcist asks for the name of the demon. That's always a difficult moment. Evil never wants to reveal itself. It often lies.

Why doesn't he want to reveal his name?

The name discloses his being. Franz Rosenzweig once said the name is not "sound and smoke", as Goethe says, but "word and fire". The name Jesus means "God saves". Isaac, Jacob, all these names have a particular meaning. And it always discloses the person's being. When I say my name, I'm also saying: I am here. No Demon ever wants to say its name.

And once it's said it?

At the end, the priest says to the demon, "Go away! Disappear!" The demon usually answers, "No, I don't want to." It rebels and revolts. Sometimes it says "You have no power over me. You are nothing to me." But after a while, its resistance weakens. This usually happens after the invocation of the Holy Mother, she's very important for that. No demon ever dares to insult her during an exorcism. Never.

Does he have more respect for Mary than for God himself?

Apparently. Otherwise no holds are barred, and everyone is insulted: the priests, everyone present, the bishops, the Pope, even Jesus Christ. But never the Virgin Mary. It's an enigma.

And then?

An exorcism can last up to one hour - and it ends with prayers. It's advisable not to let it last too long because this battle is very difficult and stressful for all those present - also for the person being exorcised. After the exorcism, everyone feels enormously relieved, as though they can breathe again. But in many cases a new exorcism is necessary. I know of cases in which people were only truly free to begin a new life after several exorcisms. They often say it's like being born again.

There is so much evil in the world. Look at all the wars, all the massacres, the tyrants and murderers. Is it not strange that the devil still plays his games with lonely and poor people, taking them over? Couldn't he do better, or rather worse? Isn't he busy enough already?

That is truly a mystery. Cases of possession seem to me to be the evil flip-side of miracles, which are equally inexplicable, but which we can also observe. The devil is present everywhere that evil things happen within the normal laws of nature. In anyone who says: I don't accept love, the love of my brothers and sisters, the love of God. And in many places, in all massacres, in every murder, in physical catastrophes, in every concentration camp, in all evil. Sometimes he shows himself, strangely, but also in cases of possession. But he's much more dangerous where he doesn't let himself be seen, where he can't be done away with through exorcism. No question.
I was struck by two things in particular from the answers that Fr. Barrajon gave. First, was the enigma, as he described it, that the demons will not insult the Mother of God, although they are willing to insult everyone else including God Himself. This reminds me of an account recorded by St. Louis De Montfort. He describes an exorcism by St. Dominic in which the demons made it clear that the Blessed Virgin Mary is more feared than all the other saints combined. One reason they give is that her intercession is so powerful that many souls, who would otherwise be damned, are saved by her powerful intercession.

Second, the way that Fr. Barrajon described the demonic possession and exorcism reminded me of our efforts to overcome our attachment to sin. For instance, he indicates that the priest performing the exorcism should be a man of prayer and fasting. These are two practices that the Church, backed up by the experience of the saints, insists are part of freeing ourselves from sin. In addition, similar to the demon's struggle to retain possession, there is always a fight, even a very violent one, as we struggle to overcome the particular sin in our lives. Our flesh often wants to cling to the sin, although our will knows we must let it go. Also, the naming of the sin is similar to determining the name of the demon. As even psychology has come to understand, we must name our problem or properly understand what the issue is in order to successfully address it. Then, Fr. Barrajon made the point that instead of being frightening, he saw the suffering that the possessed person was undergoing. This is the same as the deep suffering we know when we are caught up in a sin, and we simply cannot become detached from it. Often, we do not know how much we are suffering until we have been freed from the attachment to that sin. And more often that not, it takes our having experienced much suffering before we realize our need to change. Fr. Barrajon noted the importance of Scripture and how the crucifix must be present. It is through God's word and Christ crucified that we can be transformed. Particularly, this captures the absolute truth that it is only through Christ's Holy Sacrifice that we are able to overcome any sin in our lives. Through the cross, grace is poured out for use which enables us to triumph over evil. And, as Fr. Barrajon, noted, a person who is freed from demonic possession will change. Similarly, when we allow God to heal us of sin, we will change, perhaps even as dramatically.

Posted by David at 8:41 AM  |  Comments (0)  | Link


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