Many often think of exorcism only in relation to driving out demons from possessed people using ancient prayers. But truth be told, we all have afflictions, oppressions, temptations and other negative thoughts and drives that are influenced by demons. Such influences may be direct and personal, but there are also sources of error and negativity that come from the world; and the world itself is often under the sway of the “prince of this world” — Satan — who spreads his lies and hate.
Among the Lord’s principal weapons in driving demons out is His word, given to us in the Scriptures and sacred teachings of the Church. In the desert, Jesus rebuked every temptation by recourse to Scripture. St. Michael is often depicted holding a sword against Satan. But this sword is not a physical sword of shiny steel, it is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:17)
One of the great purposes of the Lord’s word is to drive back the demons in our lives associated with ignorance, despair, presumption, sinfulness, worldliness and every other foolish and harmful thought or drive. In the sacred liturgy, the proclamation and preaching of the Word of God is not a mere conveying of information or the telling of ancient stories. The Word of God does not merely inform, it performs, and thereby transforms. In this way demons and their influence are driven back and there is built for us a bulwark of truth. If we faithfully attend Holy Mass and carefully listen to the proclaimed word of God, it has an exorcistic quality. How much more so, then, when we also receive the Word Made Flesh in holy Communion.
Consider, as a demonstration, a passage from the daily Mass on Tuesday of the 22nd week of the year. It describes Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching because He spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region. (Lk 4:31-37)
Note that Jesus’ authoritative proclamation as He taught them in the synagogue provoked and summoned a demon who stood forth. The authority of Jesus’ words so troubled the demon that he was forced to manifest his presence and admit the truth about Jesus. He now stands before Jesus and is driven out by His mere word.
See the picture here! As noted above, proper and orthodox preaching does this. It is endowed by the Lord’s grace and the power of his word. It summons the opportunistic demons forth who exploit human weaknesses such as ignorance, error, fear, past trauma, despair, doubt, stubbornness, hatred and so forth. While these are human struggles, demons often “pile on” by seeking these doorways, much as bacteria exploit cuts or wounds in our skin. God’s word helps to heal us and disempower demonic strongholds.
Of course, Jesus does all this in less than a minute. But the gospels often present deliverance and healing as compressed in time. For most of us, this deliverance, this casting out of negativity and the demons associated with it, is something that takes place over a longer period of time, even decades.
Steadily attending to God’s Word through our presence at holy Mass, devotional reading, prayer of the Divine Office and other things, such as going to parish Bible studies, go to work over time to cast out many evil spirits that assail and tempt us with sinful and worldly thought.
And in this way, God’s holy Word has an exorcistic quality. Of this I am a witness. For almost 40 years now, since my entrance into the seminary, I have daily read, prayed and studied God’s word. It, along with the reception of the sacraments, has changed me profoundly. Dark, despairing and sinful thoughts have been brought to light and been driven away, along with any demons associated with them. This work is ongoing, but the Lord has brought me a mighty long way.
How about you?
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.
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