Recently, in Rome, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy hosted the tenth annual weeklong course on exorcisms for 170 clergy, religious and laity, including doctors and psychologists.
The program organizer, Fr. Pedro Barrajon, told Thomas D. Williams that actual demonic possession has particular hallmarks, such as “aversion for sacred objects, the sudden ability to speak languages that the person has never studied or had contact with, the movement of objects with no physical cause, sharp changes in mood that are not attributable to psychological reasons.” Fr. Barrajon, added, however, that Satan acts mainly through temptation, not possession, and that is “something we all experience.”
Also recently in Rome, exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth said that “ISIS is Satan”. Beyond personal possession, the demonic is introduced into larger populations, Fr. Amorth explained, “because evil is disguised in various ways: political, religious, cultural, and it has one source of inspiration: the devil.”
Part of the fascination of trying to understand the father of lies is that there is distinct pattern to evil, just as there is distinct pattern to holiness, seen both in individuals and entire populations. While possession is rare, the whispers of temptation are universal.
A laundry list of the previously unthinkable issues that have gained currency in the world over the last century can be studied to see how, once the right message was hit upon, entire populations fell hard for Satan’s subterfuge. The message may not even be the same from one country or community to the next as to what changes the tide of popular culture on a particular issue.
For example, one can imagine, in Screwtape Letter’s fashion, a different sort of annual conference taking place now somewhere in the depths of Hell: “Marketing Murder Through Suicide.”
Screwtape: “So Wormwood, how are our numbers this year?”
Wormwood: “Well, pretty good. Loads of suicides that featured massive casualties are really up. ISIS and Co. have been a great investment.”
Screwtape: “Yeah, they keep falling for that 5000 virgins thing you came up with awhile back. Let’s continue that program. You know I was against it at first, but it really is working. Go figure. What else you got?”
Wormwood: “The Dutch are not disappointing us either. You know we convinced them that the most compassionate thing we could do is to let those who want to die die – and they took to that like fish in water. Well, we have added a second tier to that program and now they are killing off those they think should die – the mentally ill, terminal patients, etc…”
Screwtape: “Excellent. Is this catching on anywhere else?”
Wormwood: “We have to start slowly, and get suicide normalized first, but there are big gains in North America. That Brittany Maynard case was huge for us. One people believe that life is theirs to keep or destroy, anything is possible. Won’t be long before we can roll out the second phase, particularly now that health costs are going up and no one wants to pay for vegetables.”
Screwtape: “I was a genius to come up with that ‘death with dignity’ line. It works every time, you know.”
Wormwood: “Yes, and western mortals also really like the ‘physician-assisted suicide’ tag. Makes suicide sound clinical and legit.”
Wormwood: “I have to say, that frightening Fulton Sheen [shudders] had this figured out in the 1940s, when he called it ‘suicidism’ and said it was ‘symptomatic of a spiritual disintegration’ and ‘a plunge into the irrational and the meaningless self-destruction’. Thankfully, few noticed then and even fewer care now. Ooh, but I do love a good explosion of meaningless self-destruction—it makes me smile!”
Screwtape: “There, there; calm yourself. We must not let our delight in death distract us from further opportunities. What other notable advances can we claim?”
Wormwood: “My honorable mention of the year is Andreas Lubitz, pilot of GermanWings Flight 4U 9525. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of, which is a dream come true for us. Of course, we had our best guys on it for years, but we finally hit pay dirt. The promise of fame, in the end, was just too much and Lubitz did all the heavy lifting – and locking – for us. I think we should use this as our model for the year. Groundbreaking stuff.”
Of course, all of this is tragically tongue-in-cheek, but the grand conspirator knows how to reach us.
The Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has given us the tools to combat the shrewd cunning of Satan. Two thousand years of watching civilizations rise and fall has imparted much wisdom that even today, as outdated as talk of the devil seems, reminds us to always “stay awake and be vigilant.”
St. Michael, Pray for us.
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