From the Pastor: Battling Demons
The diocese recently offered priests and deacons an opportunity to learn a little about the proper procedure for expelling demons from people and places. It was quite helpful to get clarity on some of the “whats” “whys” and “hows” of demonic obsession, oppression, and possession. Most of the time the priests, deacons, and, I would dare to guess, bishops, have had absolutely no training in any of this and so we just have to wing it when needed. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it can even make a bad situation worse because the demons know the limits of our authority to command them. If we even inadvertently overstep the boundaries of our authority, they cease obeying us.
One memorable time when a couple of priests and lay people, in a massive crowd of others who were already deep in prayer, had to “wing it” on the spot took place during a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France in the fall of 2010. The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes just happens to be next Sunday, so I thought that pulling out an old article I wrote about it at the time might be interesting to you today.
Last week I told you of the gift of prayer time which our stop at Lourdes afforded us. The Torchlight Marian Procession showed us in a very vivid manner why this time of intense prayer was so essential. Nighttime at Lourdes brings about a very inspirational gathering of all the pilgrims down at the Grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette. Pilgrims carrying lit candles are invited to join the procession as a statue of Our Lady is carried along the path leading to the Basilica. The night we first went down to join in this prayer there were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of pilgrims present. There were so many people, in fact, that joining the procession was completely out of the question.
We could not even get halfway into the square in front of the Basilica, let alone get anywhere near the Grotto, before we became part of the pack of pilgrims forced to simply stand in one place, pray, and wait for the procession to come to us. Off to our right in the distance, a stage was set up with huge speakers that broadcast the Rosary prayers. Large screens showed videos of some sort every once in a while which I guessed were meditations on the particular mystery upon which we were meditating. Trees were blocking my view so I never got a good look at the stage or screen but I didn’t bother vying for a better spot since I was not there for “movie night.” And, as it turned out, the place I was standing was where I was most needed.
Huge gatherings of people reverently praying often bring out evil along with the good. Mentally unbalanced people, looking for attention and knowing pilgrims will treat them with love and compassion, often act out in strange ways. Demons, who cannot tolerate this prayerful love of God and neighbor, also manifest themselves as they attempt to either escape this “torment” or at least disrupt it and discourage people to the extent of their wicked abilities. We were witness to one such case that night. A woman came running through the crowd, which parted much as the Red Sea at the touch of Moses’ staff, wailing, flailing, spitting, cursing, and retching. For no apparent reason, she stopped very near to where we were standing. It seemed that the strength we garnered in prayer was going to be put to the test.
I asked the Blessed Mother and St. Bernadette to use the prayers of all of us gathered to help this poor woman. As I extended my right hand in prayer over her, I closed my eyes to try to block out all distractions and began exorcism prayers. It was next to impossible to determine if this woman was mentally unbalanced or truly possessed but either way, she needed our help. I prayed for her deliverance from this spiritual or mental evil that was afflicting her and I could hear several women in our group continually praying the St. Michael prayer.
For a long time, she acted like a wild animal in a cage as the hand of God kept her planted in this one place so that we could pray over her. But eventually and quite suddenly she became calm, as if demons had been expelled and she was finally at peace. Less than a minute later the police arrived to find, not a wild, out-of-control troubled woman in danger of hurting herself and others, but rather a rational, peaceful woman at least seemingly joining the crowd in prayer. After determining that there was nothing they could or needed to do, the police quietly left and the woman remained with us and “with it” for the duration of the Rosary.
Had she been possessed and was now free of demons? Had she been cured of mental illness? Or was she simply acting and knew when to stop the act so that she wouldn’t be arrested? Though we may never know for sure, without our prior time of prayer the first two of these possibilities may have been impossible to accomplish.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka