Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.
—1 Peter 5:8
In my Singaporean Catholic all-girls’ primary school, the teachers trusted us to not be namby-pambies. We were shown a film on the reality of abortion – my non-Catholic schoolmates remain pro-life to this day – and we listened to a Redemptorist speak of diabolical possession and infestations.
In South-East Asia, as in Africa and Latin America, black magic remains a real threat, although it is no longer very visible in modernised and Westernised areas like Singapore. It is nowadays seen as superstitious and laughable, as in the case of the Malaysian bomoh or shaman who tried using coconuts to locate a missing plane.
However, we know that demons exist. Throughout the Scriptures, Christ performed exorcisms on people possessed by devils. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained, reason demands angels. We know from Holy Writ that there are spiritual beings around us who work incessantly either for our good or for our downfall.
The secular New York Post recently published an article titled “The world desperately needs more exorcists”, reporting that drug dealers use voodoo incantations to bind their customers. Their interviewee Fr. Marcos Quinones also cautioned against keeping talismans bought as souvenirs from the Caribbean – something echoed by Singaporean exorcist Fr. James Yeo, who received complaints by parishioners who had bought keepsakes from Indonesia.1 Stories of diabolical activity have been reported elsewhere in the secular press (1, 2).
“A fellow priest who was involved in it made me see that fighting the Evil One was an obligation. He said to me, ‘You have to enter into this by the command of the Lord.’ The three mandates are to carry the word of God, heal the sick and cast out demons. All three are in valid in the Church.”
—Fr. Francisco Lopez, Mexico
“Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old-fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century.’ But look out, because the devil is present! The devil is here … even in the 21st century. And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”
—Bishop James Conley, quoted in “What Does the Church Teach About the Devil?”
The late exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth taught that there are 6 forms of extraordinary demonic activity.
Exorcism is a sacramental, while Confession is a sacrament. Sacramentals may be used during the conferral of sacraments — holy water and the rite of exorcism are sacramentals used during the rite of Baptism. Sacramentals are aids to holiness, but they are not essential as sacraments are. Demonic possession, obsession or oppression may affect one bodily but one always retains free will. One can be possessed but in a state of grace, and the latter is far more important. Confession unbinds the soul from the effects of sin, while exorcism unbinds the body.
One of my favorite stories is of St. Gregory the Wonder-Worker:
When returning from the wilderness, Gregory had to seek shelter from a sudden and violent storm. The only structure nearby was a pagan temple. Gregory made the sign of the cross to purify the place, then spent the night there in prayer, waiting out the storm. The next morning, the pagan priest arrived to receive his morning oracles. The demons who had been masquerading as pagan gods advised him that they could not stay in the purified temple or near the holy man. The priest threatened to summon the anti-Christian authorities to arrest Gregory. The bishop wrote out a note reading “Gregory to Satan: Enter”. With this “permission slip” in hand, the pagan priest was able to summon his demons again. The same pagan priest, realizing that his gods unquestioningly obeyed Gregory’s single God, found the bishop and asked how it was done…
—“Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus”
Exorcism is simply spiritual pest control. Satan has already been defeated by Christ and he knows it. He may try his best to affright and distract us with all sorts of phenomena, but God is always in control. Instead of being unduly fascinated by demonic activity, or too embarrassed to tackle it due to rationalistic reservations, we should simply deal with it in a matter-of-fact manner, as with an infestation of termites or cockroaches, or someone’s childish tantrum, and refocus on the really important tasks, of loving God and our neighbor, and tending to our souls.
Remember that the devil has only one door by which to enter the soul: the will. There are no secret or hidden doors.
Temptations, discouragement, and unrest are the wares offered by the enemy. Remember this: if the devil makes noise, it is a sign that he is still outside and not yet within. That which must terrify us is his peace and concord within the human soul.
—Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.
Satan is like a vicious dog on a short leash. As long as you don’t get too close to him, there is absolutely nothing that he can do to you. It’s when you open the door, even just a crack, that you put yourself at high spiritual risk and give him the welcome that he is looking for. So slam the door in his face and keep Mary close by.
—Margo, “Diabolic Infestation”
1 Rev. James Yeo, Uncovering Satan.