Sin infects the soul and the usual remedy is the sacrament of confession. But if the devil is making his presence known and his grip is not loosened in this ordinary way, the help of an exorcist may be called for. Besides possession — which is extremely rare — there is vexation. In Father Gabriele Amorth’s book An Exorcist Explains the Demonic, he wrote that “vexations are true and actual aggression, physical or psychological attacks that the demon works against a person. At times they result in scratches, burns, bruises, or, in the most serious cases, broken bones.”
When people complaining of demonic harassment come to Father Theophilus (not his real name), an exorcist of five years from the Mountain West, he begins with a prescription for prayer. It is the first phase of a four-part program he calls Liber Christo, or “Freedom Through Christ,” that has been developed by experienced exorcists and their diocesan teams.
The first phase is 30 days of prayer, specific to each individual. “This is where they must buy in,” Father Theophilus explained. “The liberation comes through cooperating with God’s grace. Otherwise, it’s not going to leave or it’s going to come back because we have not addressed the roots of this issue. Most people are not praying daily. “
If a person does not complete a day, they must start over. “It may take them 90 days or eight months,” he said, “but during that time, the person learns discipline and matures in their faith, coming to know and love God and to see their need for him.”
Here is an example of a prayer prescription:
- Angelus at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. “Regardless of a person’s denomination,” Father Theophilus said, “we are delivered because Jesus Christ incarnated himself through the Blessed Virgin Mary—the word became flesh and dwelt among us. We need to get into the incarnation realities which help to understand how we are to be delivered,”
- Auxilium Christianorum, daily spiritual warfare prayers three times a day. This is a group for priests and lay people involved in the deliverance ministry which suggests a list of daily prayers.
- The Confiteor, which is said at the beginning of every Mass, and Our Lady Help of Christians, which implores the perpetual help of Our Blessed Mother.
“It’s amazing how much protection and consolation comes when they start praying daily,” Father Theophilus said. “Grace works in a very specific way. Some people think we just anoint someone with oil, and it will take care of it. No it won’t.” That is why, he explained, that the first part of anointing of the sick is reconciliation to remove sin.
“Satan has told me himself in numerous sessions with different people, ‘I have no power over them unless they sin,’” Father Theophilus said. “Sin is the only thing that gives the enemy authority over us. He can tempt, he can mock, he can scratch, he can bite, but he has no power over us unless we sin. Trying to address deliverance with people in a very dysfunctional life, we need to first get them into prayer.”
Perfection is not expected, Father Theophilus explained, but humility and discipline accomplishes incredible things. “Right prayer is acknowledging, ‘I’m a sinner in need of grace; I can’t save myself,’” he said. “It’s amazing how much protection and consolation comes when praying regularly.”
Often, people just want the priest to take care of things with no expectations on them. “As one of my mentors explained, ‘You behaved yourself into this, you will have to behave yourself out of it,’” Father Theophilus said. “Some are victims, but they still have behaviors and responses that need to be addressed. This is about helping people mature in their relationship with Christ’s Church.”
Part of this first phase includes making sure a person is connected to a parish or church for right order, because Father Theophilus said he cannot usurp their relationship with their pastor.
The next phase goes into catechesis. At this time, the prayer prescription is modified as they focus on conversion, spiritual formation, renunciation and ordering the sacramental life. “People start to realize weaknesses and things out of order in their life,” Father Theophilus said. “They accept grace and pursue virtue and learn that God’s strength is sufficient. There is also renunciation of past sins and spiritual connections.
“Most people are delivered in the first two phases — about 80%,” he said. “We are ordering them through the ordinary means of deliverance and liberation that are present from the Church — sacraments and rightly-ordered prayers. That is what delivers people. We have eliminated the obstacles — the “obexes” of grace — that can come from sin or from the effects of a curse. That’s how someone ends up enslaved or possessed — they have obstacles to grace.”
At this phase they are identifying obstacles and learning virtuous behavior. “Virtue is behavior we choose to pursue,” Father Theophilus said. “We seek to choose to love and forgive and be merciful versus to hold on to resentments. We seek to lose sleep so we can go to church and adore God at the early Mass on Sunday. We choose to be aware of what we allow into our senses and not allow material [in] that is hurting our relationship with God.
“Virtue is the armor, “ he said. “It is the grace that has come alive within us.”
For those still experiencing problems, the third phase is a formal intake. At this point, the first two phases will have helped. “We are going to begin to see what is natural and what is supernatural,” Father Theophilus said. “We begin to see what is physical in terms of medical needs, psychological or spiritual. Everything starts to react proper to its nature. In this way, we can give them good care. Some need psychological work or counseling from just the trauma they’ve had. Instead of being victims to the psychological trauma, they learn how to address that and receive the tools from the sciences or receive the medicine they need and spiritual tools to start clearing things up.”
If it’s possession, at this stage, the person is going to start to get worse, according to Father Theophilus. “They will suffer more and get attacked more, but there’s going to be regularity to it,” he said. “These demons have specific missions; things that bother them, things that trigger them. We start to find out clearly what their issues are just by tracking the behavior.”
This is the point then that leads to the fourth phase, formal exorcism. By having gone through the three previous phases, Father Theophilus explained that there will be greater understanding of how to approach the exorcism, and to know which demons are at work and how to help the person get better.
When a person is harassed by the devil, it’s only because God is allowing it, according to Father Theophilus — but in the end, the person has to be the one to seek God and work at it. Not everyone is willing.
“Half of the people who come to me for help end up walking away,” he said. “Our culture runs from suffering. When it comes to deliverance, it’s going to involve some suffering. I’ve had to learn as a priest that I can’t hover over them. I love them enough to give them proper care and this is what gets the skin in the game.”