Deliver Us From Evil

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We are familiar with this invocation  from the  Lord’s prayer.   It is also the major theme of an encyclical   by St Pope Paul VI in 1975.  Paul VI says: “What are the  Church’s greatest needs at the present time? Don’t be surprised at our answer and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil”.  On another occasion he candidly admitted that ‘from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God’.

St. Paul calls Satan the ‘god of this world,’  and advises us to  ‘put on the whole armor of God, so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’. ‘For our struggle  is not against enemies of  flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,  against the spiritual  forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph 6: 11-12). If Satan, the  god of this world  is successful in  infiltrating the  Church  through some fissure, it calls for  greater  vigil  and prayer from the Church to  ward it off. 

This is an article about the  dark entity called Satan who always places  himself as an obstacle to the  fulfilment of  God’s plan for  humanity.  He is the arch-enemy of  God and by extension God’s  children too. He is powerless against God, but  can  do a great lot of  harm to us mortals. 

Often  we see people doubting the  very existence of Satan. This is the biggest deception  Satan  employs on  men. He wants to hide his  real self and  operate from behind. Like an artful thief, he  gives the impression that he doesn’t exist. If we do not  believe in his existence,  it is easy for him to  execute his plans.  As for his victims, since they do not  acknowledge his existence, they fail in taking the necessary precautions and the result is that  they easily fall into his snares. 

The Gospel tells us that we are dealing with not just one Devil, but with many (Lk. 11:21, Mk 5:9) the principal one  being  Satan, which means the adversary, the enemy. He has his cohorts   to get things done according to his plans.  It is a whole mysterious world, where a most unfortunate drama  is being  played out without  us ever knowing  anything about it, but as victims destined to face its earthly manifestations in our  daily life.

Nowadays, it has become fashionable  to   depict the devil as something – not someone- that symbolises evil. They try to convince us that  Satan is a non- entity, rather it is the  collective name  used to refer to the  forces of evil which are   innate or  engraved in human nature. With such a simplistic  view about one of the  cardinal themes of our relation with God, we are  surely risking our  eternal life. 

So let us start  from the basics.  There is an entity called Satan. It is  not a  mere idea, but the  personification of  all evil. The Church teaches that  he was originally created as  a beautiful  angel but later was thrown out of  heaven for his  unwillingness to submit himself to the  Almighty God. The Scripture gives us innumerable  instances  where  the Holy Spirit talks about the  dark force of  evil as personified in Satan. We know and believe that  ‘all Scripture is  inspired by God’ (2 Tim 3:16).  If that is the case, the true author of the Bible is  the Holy Spirit. It means  the Bible is a  single book with  seventy three parts, starting  from  Genesis and concluding with  Revelation.  Like any  other book,  we need to read the introduction of the Bible to get a brief idea about  its  contents. And  how the author  summarises its theme is described in its   conclusion.

The first three chapters of   the Book of Genesis can be treated as an   introduction to the BIble.  Here we see  creation of the  universe in the first chapter.  In the second chapter we read about the Garden of Eden, the  epitome  of the    state of bliss that  God  had gifted to  man.   In the third  chapter  we find another character  entering this  sacred place and  defiling its  inmates by sheer lies.  He was  the serpent, another  name  given to  Satan. We read: ‘Now the  serpent was  more  crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God made’ (Gen 3:1). The one and only  enmity  that  God  had created   is between ‘the serpent and the  woman, and between his offspring and  hers’ (Gen 3:15). As for the offspring of the woman, God intended that  he should  strike the head of the serpent, even though the  serpent  would  strike his heel.  

Starting with this introduction, the  Bible progresses by  describing  the  step by step fulfilment  of  God’s  plan to   redeem  His  children from the poison with which Satan afflicted them. Throughout the  Bible we can see the  unceasing  enmity  between  God’s people and  God’s enemies.  In fact the Bible is  the history of  the great battle between God and Satan where God’s victory is predestined. 

Just like the   first three chapters serving as an  introduction  to  this great book, its last three chapters  can be described as its  conclusion.  In Revelation 20:2-3,  we read about  an angel  seizing the  ‘dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the  Devil and Satan’, and binding him  for a thousand years, and  locking and  sealing him  in a pit. Then we read about the  ultimate  defeat  of Satan. ‘And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into  the lake of fire  and sulfur, where the beast and the  false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (Rev.20:10). This is the  retribution  given to  Satan who   once deceived  man to disobey  God, his creator and since then has been tempting him to  repeat the same  sin every time, everywhere.

In ch. 21 of the  Book of Revelation, we are introduced  to the  New  Heaven and the New Earth. The  Old dwelling of man, the Garden of Eden was  defiled  by sin and  only a complete renovation  could  make it  inhabitable again for the   new man  who was redeemed by   the  precious blood  of Jesus Christ.  In the Garden of Eden, God  walked with  Adam and Eve. About the   New Jerusalem it is written; ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will  dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them’ (Rev 21:3). As far as Satan is concerned,  this New Jerusalem is inviolable, because it is written; ‘Nothing unclean will  enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only  those who are  written in the  Lamb’s  book of  life’ (Rev 21.27). Satan being the personification  for  falsehood and abomination, cannot  enter the  New  Jerusalem that God  had  designed for His  beloved children.  In the Garden of  Eden, there were  surely some loopholes – or some fissure-  that  made the entry of  Satan  possible. In the  New City of God, these loopholes too are   plugged, meaning Satan has been  debarred from this  holy place  for  all eternity. Henceforth he cannot deceive its inmates. This is the way in which our God restores the original splendor, glory and beauty of   His  creation.

Coming to the final chapter  of the Bible, it describes the   river of the  water of  life, bright as  crystal.  The tree of life is also depicted with  its twelve kinds of  fruits and  its leaves   given for the  healing of the nations.  This is the very same  tree of life  that was forbidden to  man when he  was  thrown  out  of the Garden of Eden. With the  presentation  of the  New Heaven and  the New Earth  for the elect, comes the  end of history as we know it.  God wins decisively and  the ‘dragon, the ancient serpent, who is  the Devil and Satan’  and his associates  go down wailing  and gnashing their  teeth at the thought of the eternal bliss of the elect to which they will never be admitted.

We cannot study the Bible, nor can we   claim to be practising  Christians, unless we give due importance to  the  concept of Satan as a  person, rather than as an idea or symbol.  Being a liar and father of lies, Satan  takes pleasure in denying his own existence. On the other hand  our God  introduced himself as ‘ I AM WHO I AM’ to Moses. Often our God repeats that He is  the God of Abraham, the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob. On the other  hand,  what Satan tells us through  his minions and  false prophets is that  he is one who  does not exist! 

The Church is  deeply  concerned  about the  Devil and  the influence he can exert on individuals as well as on communities,  or events. Unfortunately  it is given little attention  these days. Whenever somebody under demonic influence or demonic possession is presented, the general tendency  is to   view it from a psychoanalytic   or  psychiatric angle.  One who fails in  diagnosis is sure to fail in treatment also.  One who fails to diagnose  the demonic influence in a person cannot help him out of it.

The Church  has no doubt that  if there is a kingdom of God, there definitely should be a  kingdom of   Satan as well.  The battle  in which the Church is  engaged from day one and which should continue through the  last day,  is nothing  but  delivering the  souls  of men from the clutches of Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church   teaches: ‘The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which, with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him’ (CCC 395). 

It is in the fitness  of things that   being conscious about the existence  of Satan and the ways  in  which  he  attacks us, the  Church  has  instituted  the  ministry of deliverance   and  entrusted it  to anointed priests, who in communion with the apostolic  authority of the Church  carry on this vital  ministry. Ideally there should be at least one priest in every diocese  specially  authorised by the bishop to  perform  exorcism and   carry out  the ministry of  deliverance. Again, we should admit that  this is one area grossly neglected in  practice, though there is no dearth of    teachings  in the  Church doctrines.

Any meaningful discussion about  the  ministry of  deliverance  should  start from  what Jesus Christ, the one anointed to  strike the  head of the  serpent, did on earth. We read that  Jesus cast out  demons from a number of persons  and  in one case  we   read that the  person was   possessed by not one, but a legion of  evil spirits.  On another occasion Jesus  tells about the possibilities of  an unclean  spirit once gone out of a person returning  with  seven  other spirits  more evil than itself  and making the person’s last state worse than the first.  What we gather from these  incidents is that  evil spirits have separate identities and they can  be numbered.  The Bible is  inviting  an unbelieving  generation to  understand that  Satan is a person and his  associates are  many, with  distinct identities. And the Church is  inviting the   faithful to   make use of the  valuable treasury of  power and anointing    given to it  by God to ward off demonic  influences and  to cast out   demons  from them. Blessed are those who  respond to this  call and get delivered from evil, rather than  continuing under  the influence of the vilest enemy of mankind, without ever knowing the pitiful state in which they are.

How did Jesus cast out  demons?  We get the  answer from  the  gospel of Mathew. ‘But if it is  by the  Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you’ (Mt 12:28). Though it was the Holy  Spirit that  did the  actual work of   exorcism, Jesus had  indeed prepared  himself for this  important ministry. It is no wonder that the Holy Spirit  led  Jesus  straight to the  wilderness after his baptism in  Jordan. We know that  Jesus was full of Spirit  after  baptism, but  he was not allowed to   commence his  preaching ministry  immediately. God the Father willed  that his beloved son should  conquer the   devil  as a precondition to be sent   on the   mission of evangelization.

While in  the wilderness,  Jesus did only two things. He spent those forty days fasting  and praying. This preparation  helped  Jesus to   face the  devil head on. Devil’s  craftly framed  temptations were not enough to  overpower  Jesus. He   replied  to Satan in  three simple sentences. Though simple, they were powerful, because  they were the  words of  God.

Exorcism is an important ministry  assigned  by  Jesus to his  disciples.  They were  given the power to cast out demons by using the name of  Jesus.  Mathew and Luke  mention  that   the  disciples were  given power and authority  over all demons when they  were  sent to preach. Mark mentions this  along with the  parting  message of   Jesus before ascension.

Now we are  coming to the  most crucial point. Do  exorcisms happen  these days? The answer is yes and  no because it depends on the place and  person.   As we know, every priest  is given the power to  cast out  demons. But not everyone  uses it.  Even among those who are specifically entrusted with  this  duty by their bishops  some shy away from  venturing into it, perhaps due to   the  fear  of the unknown. But for this, they are familiar with every  other kind of priestly ministries as they are  related to either  God or man. But this thing called deliverance  is  connected to  the devil, who is invisible, though not invincible.  Second  reason is that an  exorcism or attempt to  cast out  demons  demands  a high level of  personal sanctity from the celebrant. The priest who does  exorcism should also be a  man of  prayer.  It is a settled   fact that  faith and  holiness  of the  celebrant  are the most  crucial  factors affecting the  outcome of  a deliverance service. If  Jesus cast  out demons  in a particular way we should also  use the  same way. It is  prayer, fasting,  and seeking the  help of  the  Holy Spirit. When a priest so  equipped says the words of  deliverance in the  name of  Jesus Christ,  the Devil has to flee.  He cannot stand before the word of  God. He will  leave the person whom he possessed till then.

Many priests from different countries take exorcism seriously and devote their time in its performance, thereby helping people overcome  diabolical  infestations and  demonic possessions. Among   exorcists the name of  Fr Gabriele Amorth should never be missed. He  was the   official  exorcist of  the Catholic Church.   The International Association of Exorcists (IAE), was founded in Italy in 1991  by Father Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016) and  Father René Chenessau, who was exorcist for the diocese of Pontoise (Paris). Now IAE is the umbrella organisation of   exorcists from  across the globe.  The association  regularly conducts training  courses and  international  conferences with a view to  share  ideas among  exorcists and also to bring more and more  priests to this field. It is a sad fact  that  while  diabolical infestations and   satanic attacks are on the rise,  the  number  of  priests performing exorcism is on the wane.  

Works of the  devil   in  a person can   be manifested in  many ways. They include diabolical possession, diabolical vexation (physical or psychological attacks by a demon), disturbances or hallucinations initiated by a demon and demonic infestation (demonic  disturbances inflicted  on houses, objects   or animals). Of these, satanic possession  is the gravest but rare in  number when compared to other  demonic attacks.

It  should not be   difficult to  find a  priest  performing  exorcism in your  diocese. In case of difficulty, you can always  contact the  diocesan centre to know  the  name of the priest  who is    officially assigned with this ministry and approach him. Apart from that  you can also   avail the services of   Catholic Retreat Centres. Many such centres were conducting  special prayers and  deliverance   services  on a regular basis till the  onslaught of  Covid-19 placed restrictions on religious services and    gatherings.  Nevertheless you can   contact them  over telephone or email and seek  their guidance. You can also attend online retreats, where deliverance prayer is an integral  part.

We started  with a reference to the Lord’s prayer.  It is  one of the best  deliverance prayers that can be used by  any person at  any time.  Prayer is  one thing  Satan   fears the most. When we  ask our Father to deliver  us from  evil, the devil has no doubt that  this prayer will be  answered.  Similarly  when we recite  the Creed,  Satan knows that  we are re-affirming our faith in the  Almighty God, who through his   son saved the  world.  Many of the priests  recommend the repeated recital of  the Creed during   deliverance services.  Another simple but  effective prayer is ‘Hail Mary’.  The devil knows that   the ‘Woman’ will  crush his head one day.  Every time he  hears the name of  Mary from the  lips of  her children, the devil flees  from them.  Simply reciting the  word of God is another  effective weapon to  cast out demons, because  Jesus   defeated the devil using  the Word.

There are many other prayers  that  could be used  against  satanic  infestations and demonic attacks. Of them  the prayer to  Michael the Archangel occupies an important place.  This prayer was written by Pope Leo XIII after he  was  permitted to  have a vision of  Archangel Michael  coming to the help of God’s children when demonic  forces  started  attacking the Church. The prayer in its original  form is  lengthy. However a shorter form as given below was prescribed to be said everyday after  Holy Mass which practice was  abruptly and without  any  valid reason, stopped  during the 1960s. 

‘Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen’.   

After  a century  has passed  since the vision of Leo XIII, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the  need to seek the help of  St Michael in our  battle against the  devil in these words: “The battle against the devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the Archangel, is still being fought today, because the devil is still alive and active in the world.”

In a world where  we have to  face  the  devil who is ‘still alive and active’  we should  be alive to this truth  and  actively work for casting out satanic influences from our life. In the  present context, being active  means taking up the whole armor of God  and resisting the  devil. Let us  make  use of the   avenues  of deliverance services  granted to  us through the  apostolic  anointing of the   Holy Church. 

Let us pray: Lord, deliver us from  evil.

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