Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Light and The Occult

I am out of town for a few days, so I will not be giving a homily this weekend. However, many have asked that I write something on the nature of the occult. This won't be a systematic treatment; more of a few reflections from my experiences as a young priest. This topic always generates the most conversation and question. There is a fascination in it-- seen most clearly in the proliferation of TV shows dealing with this-- that I find rather unhealthy. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be quick to leave hornets' nests alone and be quick to cling to the Almighty-- Almighty!-- God.

There are many reasons why I believe that the Catholic Church is true. But recently I have come to another reason—and from an unexpected place.

I was standing in the checkout line at Kohl’s, buying what priests buy at Kohl’s: black pants and black socks. My turn came to check out and, as I handed the clerk my items, I could tell he was visibly taken aback at the sight of me. With a kind of surprise in his voice, he stammered: “Are you a priest?” I sure am. “You do exorcisms, right?” Um, sure, kind of. Why? “Because there is something dark in my apartment and I’ve tried everything. I think I need a priest.”

Now, I’m at Kohl’s. Kohl’s. There are other people around me. And here we are, talking about exorcisms. Not about whether or not I want 10% off my purchase by signing up for a free Kohl’s charge account. We’re talking about exorcisms.

I’m not quite sure what to say. After all, I just came in for black socks. So, I ask him if he is a Catholic. “No, I’m a Baptist. But I know that you guys can take care of things like this.”

Ok, sure. Yeah. Um, ok. I pull out my business card—which does not have the word “exorcist” anywhere on it—and I hand it to the clerk. Call me and we’ll talk about it. He thanks me and I exit stage left.

Now, this encounter alone provided me much material about which to think. And it would have been enough. But this has happened to me several times. A phone call to my office from a non-denominational believer, talking about things that you would only see in horror movies: an unknown blackness in the house, doors forcibly closing and inexplicably locking shut, pictures moving. And I’d get another phone call and another. A random conversation at a youth sporting event. Time and time again, people saying, “You’re a priest, right? Certainly, you can help me…”

And so, the reason—another reason—why I am convinced of the Catholic faith: when push comes to shove, where do people go for help? The Catholic priest.

Catholics, non-denoms, Baptists, agnostics—when they are face to face with the reality of such darkness, they may try neo-Christian and New Age remedies, but without fail they come (and often with embarrassment for not having come sooner) to the Catholic priest. And I wonder: Isn’t that odd? They turn towards the Catholic priest.

I have found it the case, many times in fact, that a person might not believe in God or Jesus or religion, but so often they do believe that there is a devil. And I’ve also found that it really scares them. Usually, it’s a joke at first—a picture moving or a feeling of something being haunted—but then it’s not a joke anymore. And they want out. They want to be done with whatever it was that has been causing this whatever-you-want-to-call-it. And so I get the phone call.

When I get a phone call, I ask a series of questions—about family history, history of the place, mental state, actions that may or may not have been done. Now, I am not an exorcist, but I was told in the seminary to ask some basic triage questions and, if the situation was beyond my knowledge and ability, to seek out a more senior priest. But the triage questions would alert us to a basic understanding and give us an ability to accurately evaluate.

This is because behind the questions there are themes, patterns – doors, if you will—that exorcists have time and time again witnessed that, when such doors are opened, almost always lead to some serious problems. These have been confirmed again and again in my confessional when people come with all of the hallmarks of demonic influence and I ask them if they have opened any one of these doors. 100% of the time—yes, 100%-- they have opened at least one of these doors. And 100% of the time, they had no clue that opening the door would lead them to the point now where they are a mess in my confessional. For most people, they thought that what they were doing was just a game, just funny stuff that kids, teenagers, or 20-somethings do. But in the confessional, they aren’t laughing anymore. It wasn’t a game. It was real. Really real.

So, what I am about to say is not intended to scare you, nor to glorify evil. But I do want to let you know some of the biggest pitfalls out there with the hope that you will inform yourself and others and thus steer clear of some really nasty stuff. There are some who, in arrogance or in disbelief, will dismiss all of this. My experiences—and the experiences of many priests and also the possessed—testify that such disbelieving positions are not only naïve, but dangerous.

I say dangerous because when we are dealing with spiritual things, we are dealing with powers greater than us—angels and demons (ie, fallen angels) are both stronger than humans and should never be trifled with as like a game or a toy poodle. There is a reason why Jesus Himself tells us to pray: “Deliver us from evil.”

All of this does have a positive consequence: if we agree that the demonic has power, then so too—and to a greater extent—does the godly. The demonic is a perversion of the godly—an attempt to sell what seems godly (secret knowledge, power, riches) at the expense of the real thing.

That said, I am going to describe three doors and my experiences of them—and provide what it is that these doors try to pervert.

The séance and the Ouija board. My first experience where I realized that a séance was not a game came when I was in high school. A good friend of mine was going to have a séance at his house. It was in good fun and in experimentation. A lot of things happened during it—some things about death, which the guys joked about and simply dismissed. After the séance, however, one of the participants was in a car accident on the ride home that could only be described as a “freak accident.” I myself have witnessed things being spelled out, secret knowledge being made known, and things like Ouija boards unable to be burned. During my questions to those who deal with demonic problems, this is one of the most prolific doors being opened—often because it is seen as just a game or something sensationalized by TV but something portrayed as not really real. They wonder where this "tired weight" or "clinging dread" has come from, or why they slowly became unhappy or turned to drugs-- This was often at the start.

I was horrified when, just this week, I was alerted to a séance being done by some local high school students as part of a party. A religious sister found out that it was going to happen and gave one of the parents holy water to pass on. The sister was right to do this, but the reality is that holy water doesn’t help when a door like this is being opened. Once this door has been opened, it's open. Anything can come through and often does. Those who have used Ouija boards or participated in séances need to see a priest immediately so that the door can be closed and the wounds healed.

What does this attempt to pervert? Prayer and the Intercession of the Saints.

A second door: Horror movies, violent video games, and pornography. The fact is that some things cannot be un-watched. The mind is to be filled with and contemplate the True, Good, and the Beautiful. Horror and porn do precisely the opposite. Study after scientific study is showing how these things alter the brain. Exorcist after holy exorcist keep on telling how these things also affect the soul’s perception of reality and ability to love. Constant contact with the dark makes the soul dark. Once again, I cannot even begin to tell you about how much damage this causes. It is the sin most confessed and the sin most regretted: for the destruction to marriage, to the family, to the person’s livelihood, for the destruction to their imagination, to their ability to love, to their ability to hope and to think and to see beauty. It opens the soul to so many other terrifying problems. To walk through this door—even casually—is to step out on a precipice from which a fall would mean a slavery worse than Pharoah's and quite possibly the destruction of the soul. Seek out a priest for help immediately!

This door attempts to pervert Holy Adoration, The Cross, and Nuptial Love

A third door: tarot cards, curses, Masonic involvement, witchcraft, horoscopes. Two of my absolute worst cases came from those who used tarot cards and whose relatives were performing witchcraft. There is a whole culture here and the stuff that I encountered was horrifying—it was so frightening that I immediately contacted the holiest and most seasoned priest I knew. Second to this was those who were involved in Masonic lodges and, more, those involved in their rituals. St. Maximillian Kolbe, a great martyr saint of the 20th century, witnessed firsthand what the lodges were really about; he tells how when they marched against the Catholic Church in Rome, they would carry banners where Lucifer stood with a sword over St. Michael the Archangel. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical letter, Humanum Genus (On Freemasonry), diagnosis the issue quite clearly when he says that such things establish their own religion against God. To do so—effectively separating oneself from the power of God—leaves a person naked and vulnerable to whatever vile thing may come. This is tough to remedy for it is the very religion of God that has been spurned. What, therefore, will save the soul? Souls that realize their error here should run immediately to a priest.

This door attempts to pervert the Power and Providence of God, Obedience to Him, and the Power of Blessings.

Much more can be said, but this is the major stuff.

I cannot underscore enough, therefore, the need to go to confession if one has been involved in any of this stuff. Go before the wound gets worse!—before it actually starts to hurt!-- before it is incurable! You may need to renew your baptismal promises (wherein you reject Satan, etc). I once had a person so involved in the occult that while she knew she was hurting from it, she literally could not renew her baptismal promises. She had dabbled in the occult as merely a game, and here she was unable to reject the devil! She was the nearest I have been to a full blown demonic possession.

After confession, the use of blessed salt and the St. Benedict medal is huge. Both involve an exorcism and a prayer specifically for protection against evil. I always encourage having a crucifix at hand—a rosary in the pocket or a crucifix on the bedside table. The Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel is a powerful weapon. The Rosary and Our Blessed Mother is crucial—she who crushes the head of the serpent. The Name of Jesus—just saying “Jesus” over and over—has won for me an incredible number of victories.

Remember: the power of God is more powerful than the devil! How powerful a blessing is over a curse! Two gathered in God's name in prayer is greater than a seance! Adoration over a movie! Jesus over all! 

Stay in a state of grace. Receive absolution often and the Most Blessed Sacrament worthily. Be diligent. Don’t be foolish. This is not child’s play. If it were, why would St. Paul tell you to put on spiritual armor? (see Ephesians 6) or to receive the Eucharist worthily since we "drink judgment" on ourselves? (1 Corinthians 11) There is a battle going on. Don’t be a casualty of war. Don’t go AWOL. Stay close. Get healed. Win.

So, there are some of my experiences. Some may call this sheer lunacy or fanatical. But these are experiences that I know that other priests have had too-- holier and smarter ones than me.

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