Ouija boards, séances, tarot cards and energy healing all have one thing in common: They serve as entry points for demonic activity.
Wait. Demonic activity? Is that even a thing anymore?
“Satan is real. Trust me. I’ve met him many times,” said Fr. Jim Mattaliano, S.J., president of the Pope Leo XIII Institute and an Auxiliary of the International Association of Exorcists.
Fr. Mattaliano and Fr. John Clote, the vice president of the institute, recently led a four-hour workshop for priests from the Diocese of Phoenix. “Be Not Afraid: The Power of Your Priesthood to Heal the Afflicted,” drew priests from throughout the diocese for a day of training on how to recognize Satanic influence and manifestations.
“The devil wants priests to believe that he doesn’t exist because if he can get the shepherd the sheep become more vulnerable. As St. John Vianney famously said, ‘A priest goes to Heaven or a priest goes to Hell with a thousand people behind,’” Fr. Clote told a packed conference hall.
The primary concern of priests is the salvation of souls, Fr. Mattaliano reminded his brother priests. “Christ’s mandate to all of us includes liberation and freeing of souls from the devil’s influence. You have been ordained and empowered to do that.”
Unfortunately, most men don’t receive instruction and training in this area during their seminary years. In an interview with The Catholic Sun after the workshop, Fr. Clote zeroed in on the absence of this kind of instruction.
“For the last 60-plus years this material and training has been mostly absent from seminary and priestly formation,” Fr. Clote said, adding that his work with the Pope Leo XIII Institute has helped make him and Fr. Mattaliano better priests.
“It’s given us a real recognition of God’s power and the power that He’s given us in the priesthood to help people.”
The salvation of souls is the proper and predominant concern of the Roman Catholic priesthood and of each individual priest. That God-given help to liberate souls from the influence and power of Satan could be compared to a tool, Fr. Clote said. “If you don’t pick up the hammer and the nail and the level and the plane and the saw, the house won’t get built.”
Both Fr. Mattaliano and Fr. Clote pointed to Deuteronomy 18:9-12, the biblical prohibition against witchcraft, divination, and other occult practices. People open themselves up to Satan’s influence through involvement with these sorts of activities, but other entry points are more mundane: temptation and habitual sin, for example.
Fr. John Nahrgang, Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix, attended the workshop and concurred with that assessment.
“Repetitive sin, especially mortal sin, is one of the ways that sin wounds us. It extinguishes sanctifying grace in the heart. When we sin, it can drive the protective power of grace away,” Fr. Nahrgang said. “If you’re involved in serious sin, when that protective grace is taken away, you’re more vulnerable to cooperating with the enemy and you’re vulnerable to spiritual attacks.”
Then there are the less obvious entry points for the devil: unforgiveness and wounds like trauma and abuse.
“Forgiveness is much more powerful than we think and unforgiveness can be much more detrimental than we think to our spiritual life,” Fr. Clote said. When we refuse to forgive, we end up carrying the spiritual weight of unforgiveness.
“So many people carry around that unforgiveness, that resentment, that vengeance, that desire for that person to pay for that debt of justice, for that wound or abuse. We have to give that debt of justice to Our Lord.”
“When someone comes into the confessional and says, ‘Father, I have uncontrollable rage,’ I say, ‘Let’s talk about that.’ Or, ‘Father, I cannot stop this particular habitual sin. There seems to be a block.’ Are there times when people are just high-strung and have great passions? Of course. But what the devil does is, he’ll take those elements of personality structure and he will inflame those, he will exacerbate them, and he will pour gasoline on the fire of that passion to make it explode even more.”
One more way people may unwittingly open the door to the devil is through tattoos. As ubiquitous as tattoos are these days, that might seem like a stretch to some. They would be wrong.
“We don’t want to give the idea that every person walking around with a tattoo is cursed or something,” Fr. Clote said. Within the $2 billion-dollar-a-year tattoo industry, however, are practitioners who are involved with the occult and who curse their ink.
“When the person then has that tattoo on their body, they have a cursed item literally on their skin. They carry it around everywhere,” Fr. Clote said. There’s a process of decommissioning tattoos which involves specific prayers from the Roman Ritual.
Four kinds of demonic attacks
While one of Satan’s admittedly preferred tactics is spreading doubt that he even exists, there’s also a danger of perceiving a demon behind every bush. Some of the training during the workshop focused on helping priests discern which cases might be more related to a mental or physical health issue and which my truly be a case of the demonic.
What should you do if you suspect demonic involvement in your own life?
“Most people should handle this at the parish level with their pastor,” Fr. Clote told the priests. “Most of what you’re going to see is not possession. It’s going to be things that all of us in this room, with some training, will be able to handle just fine. The most important thing is that you have a pastor’s heart, you have a shepherd’s heart, because this is a soul that comes before you.”
There are four ways the devil manifests himself in extraordinary ways in people’s lives: Oppression, obsession, infestation, and possession.
“Oppression — these attacks really break a person down,” Fr. Mattaliano said. “It’s an overwhelming kind of series of negative events, physical illnesses … they are more common than you might realize.”
Obsession generally consists of excessive thoughts, images in the mind, imagination, or memory which the victim is not able to expel. “The person feels tormented by a fixed idea that he or she knows is not from them and they want to reject it but it’s very difficult because it’s so deeply imprinted in his or her mind or spirit,” Fr. Mattaliano said.
Infestation is a demonic attack that’s focused on property or objects and has to do with “experiencing all kinds of paranormal activities and disturbances.”
In the tougher cases — for example, possession — it’s time to enlist the help of the exorcist of the diocese.
According to Canon 1172 under the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon law, “No one can perform exorcisms legitimately upon the possessed unless he has obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary.” The Phoenix Diocese has an exorcist, Fr. Clote said, but for obvious reasons, his identity is not generally known.
“We often hear that possession is rare, but once you get to know a fair number of exorcists, you realize, it doesn’t seem as rare.”
“There’s a process whereby a person, knowingly or unknowingly, consents to a demonic relationship resulting in an internal infiltration by one or more demons who now have a legal right to that person to be there,” Fr. Mattaliano said.
“They get control of the mind and the body of the person, but not the soul. The will is what they’re fighting. And the stronger the possession, the least amount of the will they have left.”
The work that Fr. Mattaliano and Fr. Clote do to help free souls from Satan’s snare, they say, helps priests see the power of their priesthood and the power of prayer. It’s also a way God manifests his love and the truth of the Catholic religion. Fr. Clote said their aim is not to turn every priest into an exorcist, but rather to empower priests to do what they’ve already been consecrated to do.
“There are times I wish everybody could witness, at least once, what happens during the solemn rite of exorcism, because it can be very life-changing, in a good way. God sometimes allows this spiritual affliction as an act of mercy. He manifests His love and His attributes in this way, and as proof of the devil’s existence for the conversion of sinners.”