The battle rages on against “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). The devil’s main activity is tempting us to sin but that rarely rankles us. It’s when things go bump in the night that people are shaken up.
If the devil is making his presence felt, an exorcist is often called in. Cases of suspected possession first go through the bishop for a referral and an investigation, but they are rare. Demonic harassment, however, happens more frequently.
The Basics are the Best
Father Vincent Lampert, the designated exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is often visited by people needing help against attacks of evil. “I offer very basic stuff,” he explained in an interview for the Register. “If they are Catholic, I tell them to pray, and go to confession, and to Mass.”
It’s usually not what they were expecting from an exorcist. “They look at me like I’m crazy, but if I told them to swing a black cat by its tail over their head at midnight, they would do that,” Father Lampert said. “People think they have to do something extraordinary, but it is actually the very ordinary things that build up graces and offer protection. If a Catholic is praying, going to Mass, and receiving the sacraments, then the devil is already on the run.”
The problem for many people, according to Father Lampert, is that those things become so routine, people don’t believe they are effective. “But those are the things that are the most effective protection against evil,” he said.
Even in an exorcism, Father Lampert explained that the Church drives out the devil with the basic components of our faith. “The very things that they [the possessed] have usually rejected are the things that will defeat the devil,” he said. In an exorcism, the ordinary things are prayer, holy water, and a crucifix.
“Holy water reminds us of baptism and our new life in Christ,” Father Lampert said. “The crucifix represents what we believe.” He explained that is was at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross that the devil thought he had won. Instead, it was the moment of Satan’s defeat.
Faith or Nothing
Wearing a crucifix or blessed medals and using holy water and other Catholic sacramentals have power for protection, but that power is rooted in faith, not in the objects, Father Lampert said. Even when an object is blessed, he said that faith is what is important. “The blessing places objects in the realm of the sacred but without faith, not much is going to happen,” he said.
Father Lampert warns against treating objects like good luck charms. Once, he was getting into a car with someone who pointed to a guardian angel pin on the visor. “This is going to protect us,” the driver said.
“No, that piece of metal is not going to protect you,” Father Lampert told him. “It will if it reminds you of the angels God sends to protect you, but the piece of metal can’t do anything.”
Father Lampert pointed out that in the New Testament, when Jesus visited his hometown of Nazareth, he could not perform many miracles because people lacked faith in him. “Then think of all the accounts that Jesus healed people like the woman with the hemorrhage who touched his cloak, and the man in Scripture who said, ‘Lord I do believe, help my unbelief.’ Those healings were based on their faith in Jesus,” he said.
It was also faith, and not magic, Father Lampert said, that allowed the handkerchiefs and aprons touched to St. Paul to cure people. “…so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12).
Some Get Turned Away
Many of those who come to Father Lampert belong to non-Catholic denominations. “I will help them but I want them to come with someone from their own church,” he said. “ I need to know they are connected to a faith community and that someone will continue with them.”
If someone believes in God but is not Christian, Father Lampert will still help them. “I let them know, though, that the power will come from the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I don’t do this to proselytize, but hopefully people will see that they were afflicted and now they are not and that the help came through the name of Jesus Christ.”
It’s a matter of charity to help people, Father Lampert explained, but it is also a matter of charity to turn people away if they refuse to become a part of a faith community. In such a case, driving away a demon could ultimately cause more harm.
Father Lampert referred to the Gospel of St. Luke, where a demon was driven away but returned and found the house unoccupied [by faith]. “Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first" (Matthew 12:45).
“Half the people who come to me, have no faith life,” Father Lampert said. “They want the benefits of these practices but they don’t want the commitment to Christ.” Lampert explained the exorcism and deliverance ministry should be seen in the scope of pastoral care to help the person resume their faith or begin for the first time.
“This goes back to what we said in the beginning; the very thing that could help them is what is missing in their lives,” he said. “If they won’t invite the Holy Spirit into their lives and develop a relationship with Christ, the situation will get worse in the end,” he said. “In charity I have to turn them away.”
People frequently walk away from Father Lampert’s help rather than commit to Jesus Christ and a faith community. “They just want a Catholic bag of tricks and then to go back to what they were doing before,” he said. “People want to treat an exorcist like a magician, but our role is to help people see the face of God in their lives.”
Father Lampert compared the devil to a lion stalking its prey. “He goes for the weakest because it’s the easiest to overcome,” he said. “But the lion will also go after the strongest and fittest that wanders away from the herd.”
When people say they are spiritual but don’t go to church, Father Lampert said they are setting themselves up for trouble. “I can pray with people and help them to be strong.” he said, “but they need to be connected with other people of faith so that they can remain strong.”