Father John Abberton
We all know that without Our Lord Jesus Christ we can do nothing, and it may seem unnecessary to say that “Jesus is THE exorcist”, but meditating on this truth, reminding ourselves of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and reminding ourselves of some of the most powerful prayers of deliverance may encourage us in our faith. Above all, when faced with the power of evil, we need FAITH.
For some time now, in exercising the ministry of deliverance, I have been using this passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians;
“In your minds you must be the same a Christ Jesus:
His state was divine, Yet he did not cling,
To His equality with God,
But emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave,
And became as men are;
And being as all men are,
He was humbler yet,
Even to accepting death,
Death on a cross.
But God raised Him high
And gave Him the name which is above all other names
So that all beings
In the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
Should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
And every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.” (2: 5 – 11)
To encourage the afflicted person who has come to me for help and to stir up my own faith, I usually repeat some of these phrases, slowly and, perhaps, more than once;
In the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
Should bend the knee at the name of Jesus”
I usually speak to the person inviting them to place their trust in the Lord Jesus. I speak about the power of the name of Jesus and remind the person that we are praying in the power of that Holy Name.
Faith is necessary for both exorcism and deliverance. The officially appointed exorcist has the great consolation of knowing that he comes against evil not so much in his own name as in the name of his bishop. This gives strength to the exorcist because he is not alone. The Rite of exorcism is approved by Church authority and contains mention of the sacraments, and the holiness of the Church. Incorporated in the Church are those in heaven – the “Church in triumph” – the Mother of Christ and the saints, as well as the choirs of angels who are continually praising God. The exorcist is encouraged to pray against evil with great confidence, aware of the power placed at his disposal.
The minister of deliverance, if he or she is not a priest, does not have the same guarantee of spiritual support, but, nevertheless, through baptism and through the power of Christ, a lay person engaged in the ministry of deliverance can be very effective. Anyone engaged in deliverance needs to be a person of strong faith. St. Peter tells us to resist the devil “in faith”.
Some years ago a statement from the Vatican warned lay people not to confront evil spirits directly, saying that direct commands should only be used by priest-exorcists (and not even by priests who are not exorcists). This has been challenged and it is clear that the Holy Spirit does call some people to stand against evil spirits, in faith, with the power of God. These people are given special charisms by the Spirit who chooses whoever He wishes to do this work. Those who believe they are called to the deliverance ministry need to speak to an exorcist and, perhaps, in some case, the local bishop. No one should take up this work without the acceptance and support of those who have authority and experience.
Although the exorcist has the confidence of knowing that he has the support of the Church through his bishop, he still needs a strong faith. This is made clear in the introduction to the official Rite of Exorcism. For formal exorcism, when someone is actually possessed, the exorcist needs explicit permission to act in each individual case. Possession is still rare, but may become more common in the future (for a number of reasons, including the fact that many people are no longer baptised). However, exorcists are usually more taken up with cases requiring deliverance. Some of these cases can be severe and, sometimes, there may be some doubt as to whether we are dealing with the need for deliverance or the need for exorcism. It is often not so clear cut, and the exorcist or minister of deliverance needs to exercise the discipline or gift of discernment.
In all of this, faith is paramount, and that faith is given through and built on Christ. We can never forget that Christ is the real exorcist. I want to say some more about this so that we can be clear what we mean when we talk about the power of Christ.
First of all, the power through which Jesus cast out devils is the power of the Holy Spirit. This same Spirit is given to us, but given ONLY through Christ, and in His Name. It is Christ Himself who gives us His Spirit.
In St. John’s Gospel, speaking of the second meeting of the Risen Christ with the Apostles, we read;
“….He breathed on them and said,
‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained’ “
At the end of St. Mark’s Gospel Jesus speaks to His Apostles about them and all believers;
“These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover” (16: 17 & 18)
In St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples that they will do greater works than His because of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit only comes because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and, through the Spirit, it is Jesus Himself who acts in and through His Body the Church.
Is there a special reason why Jesus of Nazareth was so powerful against the evil spirits? Of course we will say “He is the Son of God”. This is how He was recognised by the “legion” of devils possessing the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8: 26ff). When Jesus approached them they said;
“What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I implore you, do not torture me”
But it will help us to go further. Jesus was recognised in His humanity as “The Son of God”, and it is in His humanity that He cast out devils. It was a human hand that was raised, a human voice that commanded. Jesus is both God and man but we must not downplay His humanity as though it was just a cloak or a mask. As the perfectly obedient Son of God, Jesus is also the “New Adam” and, in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul 11 (and the Second Vatican Council), it is Jesus who “reveals man to himself”. Our true humanity is found only in Him. He is the Saviour of the world precisely because He is the God-man. We need to meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation to gain a proper respect for His power over evil in this world. Jesus spoke with an authority that was unusual – it was remarked upon;
“He gives commands to evil spirits and they obey Him” etc
It is because Jesus overcame evil in his humanity that we can overcome evil. In the Apocalypse of St. John, the Book of Revelation, when the rebel angels are thrown out of heaven, they come down to earth, and they attack us from earth and not only from hell. They wage war against humanity and it is because of the two sinless humans who came into the world, Jesus and His Holy Mother, that we can claim the victory over evil. Humanity has triumphed through Jesus the Messiah, and Mary stands with Him in His victory, and with Mary are all her sons and daughters given to her from the Cross. With Jesus and His Mother we stand victorious over our enemy – the one who came down to wage war against the whole of humanity. Our banner is the Cross, the name of the victor is Jesus Christ the leader of the victorious army is the Mother of God who, herself, is the Great Sign of God’s victory. We need to see ourselves as members of an invincible army, although sometimes seriously battle-scarred and struggling in the heat of the conflict. We do not trust in ourselves but in Christ. Even if we die in the battle we have already won because even death has been defeated. It is in the knowledge of this victory that we can confront evil spirits and even the devil himself knowing that Christ is with us.
I recently witnessed the truth of all this when I was praying with an elderly lady who had been troubled by evil spirits for nearly 40 years. She is a woman of great faith, and someone who has suffered greatly in her life. As we prayed together she was given the gift of interior visions and was able to tell me what was happening as we tried to dismiss the evil spirits. Because it was the month of July which is devoted to the Precious Blood, I began by using a long and beautiful prayer in honour of the Blood of Christ and I prayed in the name and in the honour of the Blood of Jesus. I also called on the help of Mary and the Saints (including her patron saint). Towards the end of the session she told me that she could see the Sacred Heart who was pushing the demon out of her. This was a reminder to me to say in her ear, as if speaking to the demon, “Jesus is the exorcist”. She told me that He continued to push the demon out of her. He had already, on a previous occasion, removed an evil spirit. As the “tail” of the demon left her, she told me that the Sacred Heart smiled at her. She was totally delivered and had a tremendous sense of peace.
Holiness of life is our great defence, but that holiness is not something we achieve by our own efforts. True holiness comes from trying to live in union with Christ. We need to say with St. Paul, “I live no longer; Christ Jesus lives in me”. This kind of holiness is often enough to dispatch demons. St. John Vianney, the Cure D’Ars, was not an official exorcist, but the demons could not bear being in his presence when someone who was possessed or who needed deliverance asked for his help. This holiness is given through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ. We must always remember that we can do nothing without Jesus and so our main priority, whether we are engaged in spiritual warfare or not, is to seek union with Christ. He has invited us to begin by living in His company. As He continually asks us, “We, Us”? Yes, Lord, wherever we are, whatever danger we encounter, in the face of the devil himself, it is “We, Us”. As we used to say in the Cursillo Movement, “Christ and I are an absolute majority” and, as we know, to accent the positive, there is nothing I cannot do in Christ Jesus my Lord. As St. Paul also said, “Nothing can come between us and the Love of Christ…..Neither death nor life, no angel (hear this!), no prince (not even the prince of devils!), nothing that exists (nothing in heaven, on earth or in the underworld!), nothing still to come, not any power (!), or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 35) AMEN