Exorcists encounter evil up close—sometimes in bizarre, hair-raising ways. They are in the person of Christ, in humble obedience to their Bishop and with access to the power of God and his Church to drive out demons. Their courage comes from certainty that God is the ultimate power. Exorcists warn lay people not to take up ghost busting or deliverance on their own, yet we have access to the same courage through our faith and a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Reasons not to Fear
In an interview with Msgr. John Esseff, an exorcist for the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania for over 40 years, he said people should always remember that spiritual warfare is not a fight between equals. The devil hates us, according to him, but what is more important is that God loves us.
“Don’t be surprised when you put on a uniform that you get shot at,” Msgr. Esseff said. “We [Christians] wear the military armor of Christ. Pray for a canopy of angels around you, below you and beside you to protect you.” According to him, one-third of the angels rebelled and were thrown into hell. “Humans also have that same opportunity to obey or disobey,” he explained. “We are on trial and we who are praising and honoring God have no reason to fear.”
Msgr. Esseff lamented that we have heard very little from the Catholic pulpit about the devil in the last 50 years, so people often don’t take evil seriously anymore. “The need for exorcism has become epidemic because people have stopped going to confession,” he said. “The absolute evil is sin and the devil is the one that promotes that. Sin is what we should fear because it opens the door to Satan.”
The remedy, Msgr. Esseff said, is the sacrament of confession. “One confession is worth a hundred exorcisms.” Sacraments breathes life and divine protection into a soul, he explained, while an exorcism is a blessing that predisposes a person to receive the sacraments again.
Msgr. Esseff suggested that people pray for spiritual protection especially the St. Michael the Archangel prayer and St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer. He encouraged everyone lead a sacramental life and to access all the gifts of the Catholic Church.
It’s Not our Fight
We’ve been called into the fight between good and evil, but it is ultimately God’s battle, according to Fr. Patrick, (not his real name, since he is a parish priest and his work in exorcism is not publicized). He explained that if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear.
“ If a person is living a good faith life, they already have a great deal of protection from our Lord,” Fr. Patrick said. “It’s a matter of trust. Increasing that trust is a function of their relationship with God. If they are a foxhole type of pray-er, they are probably going to be frightened,” he said. “But if they have a relationship with God, they are going to see God at work in their life and feel his presence.”
Fr. Patrick pointed out that even if we experience being afraid at times, that does not mean we don’t trust in God. “If I was going to say, I’m never afraid, that’s presumptuous,” he said. “What is important is to trust in the Lord and keep journeying with him.”
Fr. Patrick stressed that we should never look for trouble by dabbling in the occult. He told of a time he received a call from a college student who had been in the church youth group 6 years earlier. “He was playing with a Ouija board and was waking up to scratch marks on this body,” Fr. Patrick said. “I told him: You opened a door and need to get yourself to Reconciliation. Maybe because his mother prays for him all the time, instead of having a demon follow him all his life, he experienced the manifestation so he would do something about it.”
The manifestations can be seen as good in this way, Fr. Patrick explained. “By recognizing there is a battle, we can call on God and fight back,” he said. “But if someone has turned their life completely over to evil, there isn’t going to be a battle.”
A Member of the Deliverance Team
Janet, (not her real name) a lay member of Fr. Patrick’s deliverance team, has accompanied him into homes where people feel harassed by a demonic presence.
“For me, it’s about being protected and knowing that it [demonic harassment] is just going to be a moment.” At one house, she explained she felt a rope was strangling her. Since she did not want to alarm the homeowner with whom they were praying, she kept silent.
“When we left the house, there was a red mark on my neck,” Janet said.” We went back to the church and prayed and it went away.” During her work on the deliverance team, Janet said she always feels safe. “Father prays for protection around us,” she said. “I hide behind God and the priest represents God, so it’s his responsibility to protect us.”
At home, if Janet has to go into the basement, which has always been a “creepy” place for her or if she hears noises or something startles her, she prays prayers of protection. She will call Fr. Patrick if she feels the need for additional support. Janet said she also does a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament and sleeps with a blessed rosary in her hand, and trusts that God is going to protect her.