MYSTICISM: Proverbs Of Hell, by William Blake

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
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Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
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The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
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Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
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He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
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A cut worm forgives the plow.
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Dip him in the river who loves water.
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A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
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He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
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Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
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The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
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The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.
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All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
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Bring out number, weight, & measure in a year of dearth.
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No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
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A dead body revenges not injuries.
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The most sublime act is to set another before you.
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If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
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Folly is the cloak of knavery.
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Shame is Pride’s cloak.
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Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
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The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
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The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
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The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
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The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
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Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
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The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity, too great for the eye of man.
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The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
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Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
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Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
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The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
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The selfish, smiling fool, & the sullen, frowning fool shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
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What is now proved was once only imagin’d.
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The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots; the lion, the tiger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits.
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The cistern contains: the fountain overflows.
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One thought fills immensity.
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Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
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Everything possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
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The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.
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The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
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Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
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He who has suffer’d you to impose on him, knows you.
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As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
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The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
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Expect poison from the standing water.
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You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
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Listen to the fool’s reproach! it is a kingly title!
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The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.
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The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
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The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.
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The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
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If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
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The soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.
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When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius; lift up thy head!
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As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
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To create a little flower is the labor of ages.
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Damn braces: Bless relaxes.
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The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
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Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!
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Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!
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The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.
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As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
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The crow wish’d everything was black, the owl that everything was white.
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Exuberance is Beauty.
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If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.
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Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without Improvement are roads of Genius.
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Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
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Where man is not, nature is barren.
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Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.
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Enough! or Too much.
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HEALING: Listen, or approaching unforgiveness

It was a direction that came during my evening contemplative prayer.  The time of prayer in my day that I had been dedicating to “working” on an unresolved anguish.

Listen, he said.

The directive did not come from the God, the Father, as is most usual for me.  Instead, it came from his son, Jesus.

I felt, almost immediately, how different a command from Jesus was from one from his glorious father.  I trusted it more, if that is the right word.  Trusted it in terms of feeling that it would be “easier” to follow; not yet another offering of inscrutability that would take years, if not decades, to unravel.  The command, listen, from God, the Father, could very well end up meaning, sing the Alleluia chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  After roaming about in a maze, walking into walls, tripping over my feet, only to wind up at start at the very end of the process.

With Jesus, however, I felt as though what I heard was what I got.  Not that I’ve had much experience with being led by Jesus through a vision.

In truth, I had never received a command from Jesus until this one.

Listen, he said.

Although I will admit, right off, that I did expect to hear something.

(I just love being human.)

And so the process began.

One night.

In my imagination, I sat in a dark, closed closet with Jesus and a few other props.  I curled my knees up to my chest and held them tightly against me.  I wanted to make sure that I not only heard what Jesus was going to say, but that I was going to do my best to focus on it so that I actually began to understand it.

No words came.

I had been told to listen, and here I was stretching my ears to the best of my ability, and catching nothing.

And then, the first thing to happen was a sensual experience.  I felt these little bubble-like things, tiny, really, begin to hit me.  They came up from the bottom of the closet and closed in on me.  It was like sitting in an enormous glass of champagne, and being assaulted by its effervescence.  Perhaps not assaulted, exactly.  Crowded.  Teased.  Demanded.

I found the experience extremely annoying.  I felt great irritation and impatience at this supposed exercise in listening.  And yet, as it went on, I could see that in my irritation and impatience, my feelings about that which I believed I could never forgive were being broken out of the rock of my heart that they had been set in.  Like jewels.  The bubbles were knocking away the hardness that had kept these feelings safe all these years.

Somehow, in someway that I don’t understand, I recognized this process.  Something in me acknowledged that this type of healing had taken place before in my life, fully unconsciously, perhaps, but I began to recognize the results.  And I thought of other incidents in my life that at the time made me feel incapable of approaching the unforgiveness that had been presented to me.

It had formed a belief in me – those incidents that had happened, that had caused great pain, but could not be sorted out for any number of reasons – that I was just stuck with that incident for life.  And yet, sitting in the bubbles, really, really wishing it would be over now, I felt around and found no trace of those incidents.  And I “saw” that they had been bubbled away, pushed up and out of my heart, without any real effort on my part.

A grace from God.

The second night I approached this in my evening contemplative prayer (I had to wait a week to go back to this, to release the sense of discomfort from the bubbles experience), I again curled up, scrunching up my will power in order to listen to Jesus.

Yet again.

But there were no bubbles this night.  Instead, the bits of feelings that had been freed by the bubbles came together to form a recognizable grief that was fear.  And it formed a kind of press on my chest.  I was lying down now in my mind.  A board of terror flattened me to the floor.  I could not move.  I could not think.  All I could do was feel.  And there I was, like a book in the process of being bound, being flattened.

And all for the glory of learning that a first, most important step to forgiveness is to feel the fear that the sin against you had caused you.

The third night, again a week away from the last encounter with Jesus, my unforgiveness, and the command, listen, found me “prepared.”  I was in the closet this time, but when I curled my knees to my chest, I wrapped my arms around them and buried my head down against my chest, hiding my face.  I became my own little box.  And the closet around me closed in so that I was tightly tucked into that box around me.

All I could experience in this tucking away of my whole being was my overwhelming need to protect myself.  First there was irritation and impatience at having to sit still and experience what was happening to me; then there was the self-leveling feeling of fear; and now I was being forced to acknowledge how solid was the citadel that I had built around this harm against me.  And how closed a space that citadel really was.

I also had the realization that listening means to acknowledge that someone else has something to say to you.  And that sitting curled up in the binding of self-protection didn’t really allow for that.

I was, to say the least, confounded by this whole process.

But one morning, while reading from scripture, keeping this whole intention to listen with me through my days and nights, I was stunned by the line:

And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it. (Isaiah 30:21a)

And I thought, Ah, ha!  It’s coming from behind me!

Whatever it was.

So there I was, all eager for my prayer to begin, to listen and hear something from behind me that will tell me the way for me to go.  (I love things like that – being told where by go by God.)

And so I sat down.  I lit my candle.  I set my timer.

I was off.

Alert.

Curious.

Ready to try.

Silence.

All I could focus on was the command, listen.  And think about something coming up to me from behind.  And I understood that listening really takes the emphasis away from all your other senses.  And that you couldn’t put it away like the others.  You couldn’t withdraw it, like touch from a fire.  Or turn your head around so that you won’t see what is in front of you.

In front of you.

I saw how oriented I was to always scanning what was in front of me.

The idea that I was waiting for something from behind really unsettled me.  Unnerving, it was.

It went against the whole construct of protecting myself.

Openness.

Listen.

I surrendered to this whole fun-house expression of what I thought was a simple concept, to listen.  So I prayed every night.  I had taken down the walls of my citadel, felt my fear, and cursed the process of having the whole past incident wakened.

It would come.  From God.

Whatever it was.

And so, back in the closet with Jesus and the multi-colored notebooks.

Listen to the words of the notebooks.

I couldn’t imagine doing anything more horrible than that.

And, yet, there it was.  The instruction.

If anything, I am obedient.

Most of the time.

So the words came.

Like bullets from a firing squad: sharp, violating, penetrating.

My tears became, in time, their own emotion.  Wash, might be a good name for it.

And I heard, there in the closet with Jesus, that no matter what the sin is that someone commits against you, the words of it are always the same: I hate you.

And when something painful happens to you, there is no way to get away from listening to these words being hurled at you.

Night after night, the words of hatred.

Eventually they became an ocean that I was immersed in.  Not really swimming.  Not really drowning.  Just existing.  In the water, but having no real relation to it.  A prisoner of the words, the fear, the fierce need to protect myself from them.

And they never stop.

I hate you.

Then, through no effort of my own, there was a raft that caught me and lifted me up to the surface of the ocean.

And what I could hear, what I could listen to was just the clean sounds of the wind.  The incredible sweetness of the cessation of the ocean’s oppression.

God.

In the absence of the words of hatred, there was God.

In his silence.

The sound of love.

Amen.

HELL: Something Good About Hell, by Jon M. Sweeney

From Almost Catholic

Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
(John Milton, Paradise Lost)

Lucifer loved his new digs in hell, according to Milton.  But he’s probably the only one.  I’m not going there, and neither are any of my friends.  In fact, no one I know or have ever met is headed there.  Or at least that’s how I like to think about it.  Is hell a literal place?  I don’t know for sure, and Catholics are divided on that question.

But I believe I have known people who are in a very real way in hell right now.  How else do you explain the way that people seem to sometimes die on the inside?  Both sin and circumstance – without consciousness of grace and forgiveness – lead to hardening of hearts and the darkening of souls.  I have seen souls slowly die.

Hell is the English translation of Sheol, the Hebrew name for the place of the departed.  Throughout most of human history, people have believed in some place at the center of the Earth to which certain souls enter upon death.  Hell has evolved in our imaginations since the later Middle Ages, when Dante brought it most vividly to life.

The Catechism of Christian Doctrine, a little instructional book that was popular in England and Ireland nearly two centuries ago (also called the Penny Catechism because it cost only a penny), posed Socratic-style questions and answers that raised millions of school-age children in the basic tenets of faith.  If you were raised on it, you probably remember the first three entries with precision:

1. Who made you?
God made me.

2. Why did God make you?
God made me to know him, love him, and serve him in
this world, and be happy with him forever in the next.

3. To whose image and likeness did God make you?
God made me to his own image and likeness.

Under “The Twelfth Article of the [Nicene] Creed,” the Penny Catechism offers:

130. What is the twelfth article of the Creed?
The twelfth article of the Creed is “life everlasting.”

131. What does “life everlasting” mean?
“Life everlasting” means that the good shall live forever
in the glory and happiness of Heaven.

132. What is the glory and happiness of Heaven?
The glory and happiness of Heaven is to see, love, and
enjoy God forever.

133. What does the Scripture say of the happiness of Heaven?
The Scripture says of the happiness of Heaven: “That
eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered
into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared
for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

134. Shall not the wicked also live forever?
The wicked also shall live and be punished forever in
the fire of hell.

It was not long ago when most Catholics believed that mortal sins such as deliberately missing Mass and telling a lie to one’s parents could send one to hell if they went unconfessed before death.  The existence of both Heaven and hell was assumed by nearly all Christians – Catholic or not – before the twentieth century.  But today hell has gone the way of the holy obligation and the unforgivable sin.  They no longer exist for the majority of the faithful.

As a place, hell has faded away.  It is no longer believed by most Christians to be a physical place where God punishes disbelief (even though we find it easier to believe in Heaven).  I certainly don’t believe that hell is final and irrevocable, as the book of Revelation and medieval theologians once taught.  And I don’t accept the vengeful and voluptuous images in verse and paint of people like Dante and Hieronymus Bosch who seemed to delight in imagining people they knew being tormented in that fiery place.

In his book Eschatology, Cardinal Joseph Ratziner (now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote a beautiful explanation of what Christ did when he descended into hell (as we proclaim in the Apostle’s Creed) after his crucifixion during the time known to tradition as Holy Saturday:

God himself suffered and died.  He himself entered into the distinctive freedom of sinners, but he went beyond it in that freedom of his own love which descended willingly into the Abyss.  It is a challenge to suffer in the dark night of faith, to experience communion with Christ in solidarity with his descent into the Night.  One draws near to the Lord’s radiance by sharing his darkness.

This would seem to suggest that we all belong in hell, if only for a time.  Certainly we all experience pain, separation from God, loneliness, a feeling of futility, and loss of self.  These are symptoms.  But most people who experience these things do not hold on to them in such a way that hell becomes the only place where they feel comfortable.  Most of us heal.  We get better.

Many of us now chalk hell up as a sick medieval fantasy, a place where it was once convenient to posit your enemies.  The great architect of that awful place, Dante, did just that.  But in her terrific translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dorothy Sayers explains, “It is not a fairy-story, but a great Christian allegory, deriving its power from the terror and splendor of the Christian revelation.”  Terror and splendor indeed.  It is true.  Jesus taught his followers to believe in hell in ways that were uncommon for Jewish teachers of his time.

Read the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22.  Jesus tells the story of a king’s wedding feast for his son as a way to understand the kingdom of Heaven.  The preparations for the feast completed, the king instructs his servants to gather all of the invited guests.  No one appears.  Not wanting to embarrass his son, the king asks his servants to go to the crossroads and invite everyone they see to come to the feast.  Eventually, the hall is filled with guests, most of them, no doubt, confused even as to the name of the bride and groom.  At that point in the parable, Jesus says, “When the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding garment, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind his hand and foot and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’  For many are called, but few are chosen.”  When was the last time you heard someone preach a sermon on that passage?

The medievals were not far off when they decided that the Christ who sits in judgment is scary, while the Virgin Mary is the mother who always loves us and welcomes our entreaties.  One of the most popular images of God in Dante’s day was of Christ seated in Heaven, holding the Earth like a grapefruit in the palm of his hand.  Medieval penitents pleaded with Mary, asking her to convince Jesus to show mercy and not squish them all.

A Catholic spirituality believes that each human being has a soul, a free will to choose, and that every day is full of opportunities to accept or reject God.  In addition – and this is the kicker – only in death will we realize exactly how we have chosen.  The historian Eamon Duffy explained in Faith of Our Fathers:

We believe in hell, because we can imagine ourselves choosing it.  We cannot know the secrets of other people’s souls, but we know enough of our own to recognize something within us which shies away from God, something which wants to close our hearts to others.  There is no inevitability about our response to God or to other people: hate and fear, as well as love and trust, are close to hand.  Hell, in that sense, is a perpetual calling within us, from which only the loving mercy of God holds us back.  Hell remains a terrible possibility, the dark side of our freedom.  But the last word in all this belongs not with our freedom, but with God’s grace.

That’s just it: “We believe in hell, because we can imagine ourselves choosing it.  But the last word in all this belongs not with our freedom, but with God’s grace.”  That’s what I call something good about hell.  Hell reminds us of who we could be, without Christ.  And God reminds us of his grace in Christ, which is for us in spite of our freedom.

I believe what I pray.  At each Baptism in the Episcopal Church, the congregation prays:

LEADER: Deliver them, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.

PEOPLE: Lord, hear our prayer.

In the Nicene Creed, we say that we believe in “life everlasting.”  At the graveside, as we commit a dead friend or loved one to the ground, I believe it when I pray:

In the midst of life we are in death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty,
thou most worthy Judge eternal.
Suffer us not, at our last hour,
through any pains of death, to fall from thee.

Meister Eckhart once said that he would love Jesus Christ even if he was condemned to hell.  That seems to capture the essence of the Catholic spirit.  And Eckhart came from an era that believed in the existence of hell as a place of torment , unreservedly!

Heaven and hell are not geographic places so much as they are states of being.  It is for this reason that each state begins during our Earthly lives: we either grow to know our true selves, ending our lives with a measure of joy and love that deepens into God, or we lose sight of what is true and instead fashion a false self that leads into alienation, darkness, and pain beyond death.

Evil is not necessarily bad; sometimes it is exactly what we need to see clearly what is good – for us and for God.  This is what Saint Augustine meant when he exclaimed “Felix culpa!”  (“O happy fault!”)  On a more sober note, the poet John Donne wrote, memorably, wishing for punishment in the form of penitence:

O Savior, as thou hang;st upon the tree;
I turn my back to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till they mercies bid thee leave.
O think me worth thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.

Nevertheless, we rest in the promise of the disciple whom Jesus loved: “My little children I am writing this to you so that you do not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Just One. He is the expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (John 2:1-2)

POETRY: Hell, by Sarah Manguso

The second-hardest thing I have to do is not be longing’s slave.

Hell is that. Hell is that, others, having a job, and not having a
job. Hell is thinking continually of those who were truly great.

Hell is the moment you realize that you were ignorant of the fact,
when it was true, that you were not yet ruined by desire.

The kind of music I want to continue hearing after I am dead is
the kind that makes me think I will be capable of hearing it then.

There is music in Hell. Wind of desolation! It blows past the egg-
eyed statues. The canopic jars are full of secrets.

The wind blows through me. I open my mouth to speak.

I recite the list of people I have copulated with. It does not take long.
I say the names of my imaginary children. I call out four-syllable
words beginning with B. This is how I stay alive.

Beelzebub. Brachiosaur. Bubble-headed. I don’t know how I stay alive.
What I do know is that there is a light, far above us, that goes out
when we die,

and that in Hell there is a gray tulip that grows without any sun.
It reminds me of everything I failed at,

and I water it carefully. It is all I have to remind me of you.

HELL: A Fierce Jesuit, by John Casey

From After Lives

A famous exponent of Jesuit eloquence was Jeremias Drexel (or Dresselius), a Bavarian Jesuit who lived from 1581 to 1638.  His specialty was eternity.  He sought to dramatize for his listeners and readers the idea of everlasting punishment, using every possible rhetorical technique.  He talks of a “stone in Arcadia, called Asbestos,” which being set on fire burns continually; and of a certain kind of flax “which is so far from being comsum’d by the Fire, that it is wash’d and cleans’d by it.  Thus shall the Damn’d Burn, but the Fire shall never be Extinguish’d; they shall always Burn, but never be consum’d; they shall seek for Death in the Flames, but shall never find him.”

The pain of loss of the beatific vision will never have an end, because in hell there is no possibility of satisfaction – i.e., paying for sin: “Their Torments shall continue many Millions of Years without one sweet or refreshing Moment.  They shall gnash their Teeth with cold, and the Fire shall force them to lament and weep.  If the Gout or Stone is in one short Night, severely painful and grievous to us, consider we with ourselves how shall we endure to lie in the Flames Night and Day for Thousands of Years.”

Even a momentary (mortal) sin brings damnation, for ever sin is against the infinite majesty of God, so even a momentary lapse can incur eternity.  Drexel’s eternity is expressed in virtually the same words as his (fictional) Joycean fellow-Jesuit, Father Arnall used: “shou’d God say to the Damn’d, let the Earth be cover’d with the finest Sand, and let the World be fill’d therewith; let Heap be pil’d upon Heap, till it reaches up to the highest Heavens, and let an Angel, every Thousand Years, take a grain from it [and, after all has been cleared, the dead would be released from hell], how would the Damn’d rejoice?  But alas!  After millions and millions of years, there remain more Millions, and still more Millions for Ever and Ever.”  And if you were to take from eternity as many years as there are stars in the firmament, drops in the ocean, spires of grass in the field, motes in the sun, or atoms of sand upon the sea-shore, not one moment of eternity would have passed.  If one of the damned were to shed a tear every hundred years, and all the tears shed were to be kept together, until they made a sea as large as the ocean that surrounds the Earth, “how many Millions of Years may we reasonably suppose to pass away, before this tedious Effusion of Tears wou’d make a little River, and what is a River, to the vast great Ocean?  And yet if this could possibly be done, we might then truly say, now begins Eternity.”

Drexel is also an expert on the imagery of exclusion – in capturing the dread sense of how few shall be saved.  He speaks of the vision of a woman miraculously brought back from the dead, who stood before God’s tribunal together with sixty thousand souls who were summoned from all parts of the universe to stand before their judge “and they were all Sentenc’d to Eternal Death, Three only excepted.”

But why should we be surprised?  Only eight human beings were saved in Noah’s ark, the rest of mankind being drowned.  When Moses led out of Egypt six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children, a promiscuous multitude also following the camp, only two of so great a number came into the fruitful land of Canaan, while “to the rest the Wilderness was a capacious Grave.”  The statement in the Apocalypse that 144,000 shall be saved means that of all the Jews from Abraham to the end of the world, less than one in a thousand will escape hell.

Drexel lists the torments of hell as darkness (inner and outer), weeping, hunger, intolerable stench, fire.

Tenebrae: 

Of all the plagues of Egypt described in Exodus, the outer darkness is alone called “horrible.”  The inner darkness is even worse, for the deprivation of the sight of God is the greatest punishment of the damned.  We will know that when we die.  The falcon, when its head is covered with the leather cap, its eyes blindfolded, has no desire to go after magpies or doves or herons.  But once the pileous is removed, nature rushes him on – it is impossible to hold him back, except with extreme force – he breaks chains and thong, and no one can do anything with him, even with the hunter holding his feet in his arms.  Held back, he would be injured, so violent is the force of nature as soon as he sees what he desires at a distance.  Man is the same.  As soon as we see God we want to rush to him.  While we exist in this life, our eyes are hooded; we are in darkness.  But as soon as we see God the veil is removed – the cover is removed by death, and we are freed from it for all eternity.  So if we are excluded from God for ever and ever, this is to us an unspeakable punishment.  Of the pains of Gehenna, by far the most unendurable is to be shut out from the glorious sight of Christ and God.

Fletus:

Weeping is another grievous torment.  Tempus vivendi, tempus flendi – the time of living is the time for tears.  After death they are useless.  Angels find tears of repentance in the living fragrant, for they reveal holy grief, divine love – “Blessed are they who weep, for they shall be comforted.”  But in hell the tears stem from rage, pain, despair, envy, and obstinate malignity.  Hell will be filled with the hideous howling of the damned – a horror in itself – as they gnash their teeth from rage (stridor dentium), filled with the despair of the fire that can never be quenched and the worm that never died.  In the cruel gardens of Nero, where Christians were burned to make noctural torches, what sad outcries, what lamentations there must have been!  Imagine thousands and millions and thousands of millions impaled over the flames, what hideous screams!  Add to that the howlings of the demons who will be yelling at them from close to!  Among the damned there will be no sleep, no quiet, not even for a single moment.  Whereas in Heaven, there would have been the choir of angels, the songs of martyrs and apostles, here you will be among ulcerated, diseased cadaverous human beings yelling as in a super-heated hot room at the baths, their skin a venomous mass of slavering putrefaction, weeping and screeching as they experience pain and stench, hearing the howls of others in the same state.  These are the mores in the Hall of Satan, everyone burns with ardent hatred of everyone else, and everyone would, if he could, tear everyone else with his teeth.

Fames:

Hunger will be a punishment designed especially for gluttons – people who, like Heliogabulus, vomunt ut bibant, bibunt ut vomant – who vomited in order to drink, and drank in order to vomit.  Gluttons will eructate in the most frightful way, their stomachs will rumble thunderously, and they will always be shouting out with hunger.

Foetor:

Drexel was particularly interested in the intolerable stench of hell.  The damned will be in a very straight prison house into which the filth of the whole world pours.  It is a cloaca most filthy (actually “shitty” – faeculentissima), a cavern most noisome (graveolentissimam).  All the concentrated sulvurous rotten-egg smells of this world put together are as nothing in composition with the foetor of hell.  And the very bodies of the damned themselves, crammed into this tiny space, hugely increase the foul stench, for every one of the damned is an immensely smelly, wormy, putrid corpse.  There will be flatulence, corrupt air from the huge multitude, and all the smells from the World Sewer.

At this point, Drexel engages in a memorable – perhaps unique – calculation, as he works out how tightly the damned will be squashed together in hell: There will be a hundred thousand million of them, and they will have to fit into one square German mile.  They will be penned like dogs or pigs, or like grapes in a winepress, like pickled tuna in a barrel, like bricks in the furnace of a lime-kiln, like a ewe-lamb on the spit, like plums being flambed, like sheep having their throats cut in the market.  No wonder they will stink to high Heaven!

Ignis:

Who among us dares touch fire, let alone put his whole finger in the flame of a candle, let alone his whole arm – his whole body?  Nothing is more excruciating than fire.  But the difference between fire on Earth and in hell is that here it produces light and splendor.  But the fire of hell burns without light, except with such light as enables the damned to see the foul society in which they live (other damned souls and demons).  Our fire consumes what it burns – hell-fire does not.  Our fire burns only while it has material on which to feed; but there it is nourished forever by divine justice, which never sleeps and is inextinguishable.

So there the damned will lie for millions upon millions of years, millions of centuries, millions of millennia, in a place that is profundissimus, tenebricosissimus, foetidissimu, et quod lugubre cogitatue, remotissimus a caelo, mille clathris ac feris, repagulis ac claustris mille obseratus – “most deep, most dark, most fetic, and what is lamentable to think on, most remote from Heaven, with a thousand bars and grates, bolts and doors, shut up a thousand times over.”

PRAYER: John The Baptist’s Prayer

The Descent Into Hell

From The Exeter Book

Before it was day the women of noble birth began to get themselves ready to go;
the men who were assembled knew that the prince’s body was shut in the sepulcher.
The tired women meant to lament the prince’s death with dirges for a while, to
mourn in sadness. The place where he lay had grown cold, his passing had been
hard. But the men they met at the tomb were brave and cheerful.

Mary, the mourner, came at dawn, she told another nobleman’s daughter to go
with her, the two sad women looked for God’s victorious son, alone in the sepulcher,
where they knew that the men of the Jews had hidden him before. They expected
that he would remain in the tomb, alone over Easter Night. Certainly the
women knew something else about it, when they turned back again.

But a host of angels came there at daybreak, the best of companies surrounded
the Savior’s citadel. The sepulcher was open, the prince’s body received the breath
of life. The earth quaked, hell’s inhabitants laughed, the young warrior awoke,
came proudly from the earth, the majesty rose up in wisdom and in victory. John
said this to hell’s inhabitants, laughing, he spoke with pride to the crowd of them
about his kinsman’s exploit:

When he wanted to send me on this journey, our Savior had promised me that he
would come to find me at the end of six months, as the leader of all people. Now
the time is up, I expect strongly and with certainty that today the Lord will come to
find us himself, the victorious son of God.

Then the Lord of mankind went rapidly on his way, Heaven’s protector meant to
break down and slight the walls of hell, the fiercest of all kings set out to plunder
the power of that city. He did not worry in the battle about men wearing helmets,
nor did he mean to lead men in armor against the city’s gates, but the locks and
bolts fell from the fortifications. The king rode in, the leader of all people, he
hastened forward to give the hosts salvation. The outcasts pressed forward, to see
which of them could catch sight of the victorious Son – Adam and Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob, many patriarchs, and a crowd of men with them, a host of prophets, a
multitude of women, many girls, innumerable people.

Then John saw the victorious son of God coming into hell with royalty and
power; then in his sadness he realized the exploit that God himself had carried out,
he saw hell’s gates shining brightly, which for so long before had been locked and
smothered in darkness. God’s servant was delighted. Then the champion of those
who lived in that stronghold called out boldly, he spoke with pride to his kinsman,
in front of all the multitude, and greeted their welcome visitor with these words:

May you be thanked, our Lord, for wishing to look for us, we who have been sad
since we have had to wait in this bondage. When they tie up the brotherless outcast,
the man with no resources – he is proscribed everywhere – he can never be so
tightly shut up under hostile bars, or fastened so cruelly in evil chains, that he cannot
take heart the easier if he believes in his lord’s good grace, and that he will ransom
him out of his bondage. In that way, my dear Lord, we all believe in you
alone. I have endured a great deal since the time before when you traveled to me,
when you gave me my sword and armor, helmet and battledress – I have kept
them always till now – and you revealed to me that you would be a protector of
what was mine, the greatest and most powerful of kings.

O Gabriel, how keen and perceptive you are, how kind and thoughtful and humane,
how wise in your spirit and reasonable in your words. You showed that when
you brought the boy to us in Bethlehem. We had waited for him a long time, had
sat sorrowfully yearning for peace, wishing and hoping for the time when we would
hear the words of God spoken by his own mouth.

O Mary, how proud a king you bore for us, when you brought the child to us in
Bethlehem. We had had to wait trembling in bondage for him, it had been hard for
us beneath the gates of hell. Our killer took delight in what he had done, our
ancient enemies were all exultant when they heard how we spoke with regret and
penitence of our nation, until in your expedition, Lord God of victory, you
plumbed the depths of the earth, the bravest king of all. Now we have, with
pride, been given you from our own younger generation. We betrayed ourselves
through our own greedy spirits. Because of that we carry the sins in our
hearts to the hands of the killer himself, we have besides to ask for peace from our
own enemies.

O Jerusalem of the Jews, how you have remained unshaken in your place. Not all
the people who live across the Earth and sing your praises have been allowed to
travel through you.

O Jordan of the Jews, how you have remained unshaken in your place. You
could flow over all the people on Earth; they would all be free to take water from
you happily.

Now I implore you, our Savior, from the depths of destruction – you are Christ
the lord – that you should have mercy on us, as the creator of men. It was for the
love of men that you yourself descended to your mother’s breast, Lord God of
victory, not because you needed to, Ruler of nations, but because of the kindness
you often showed to mankind, when they were in need of favor. You can comprehend
the homes of all the races, just as you can reckon up, Lord of power and best
of all kings, the grains of sand in the sea. And so I implore you, our Savior: by
your childhood (best of kings); and by your wounding (Lord of hosts); and by your
mother, whose name was Mary, whom all the inhabitants of hell praise and honor;
and by the angels who surround you, whom you allowed to sit at your right hand,
when (Lord of hosts) you wished to come to find us on this expedition away from
your home, by your own power; and by Jerusalem of the Jews (nevertheless, dear
Lord, the city will have to wait now for your return); and by Jordan of the Jews
(the two of us bathed in its stream together): – Lord of hosts, scatter its water
cheerfully over all those who live in this city, just as you and John, in the Jordan,
nobly inspired all this middle-earth with baptism, for which may God always be
thanked.

SERMON: On The Apostles’ Creed, by Thomas Aquinas

He descended into hell.

As we say, the death of Christ lies in the separation of the soul from the body, just as in the death of other human beings.  But, the divinity was so indissolubly united to the humanity of Christ that, although body and soul were separated from each other, nonetheless the very divinity was always perfectly present both to the soul and the body.  Therefore, the Son of God was both in the tomb with the body and descended into hell with the soul.  And thus the holy apostles said: “he descended into hell.”

There are four reasons why Christ as a soul descended into hell.  (1) To shoulder the full punishment of sin, and so expiate all of its guilt.  The punishment of sin for humanity, however, was not only the death of the body, but also involved the soul, because sin also belonged to the soul.  And thus before the coming of Christ, the soul after death descended into hell.  In order that Christ completely shoulder the entire punishment due to sinners, he wishes not only to die, but also to descend into hell as a soul.  Thus we read: “I am labeled with those going down into the depths.” (Psalm 87:5)

Nonetheless, Christ descended into hell in one way, and the fathers of old in another.  The ancient fathers were conducted and detained there from necessity, and as if violently, whereas Christ went down in power and on his own initiative.  And therefore the Psalm above continues: “I am made like a man without help, yet free among the dead.” (Psalm 87:5-6)  The others who were dead were there as slaves but Christ was there as a free man.

(2) So that he would completely rescue all good people of past generations and his own friends who died in his lifetime.  Christ indeed had his own friends not only in the upper world, but also in the underworld.  People were friends of Christ in the world insofar as they had charity.  In the underworld, however, there were many people, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, and other just and virtuous men, who departed with charity and with faith in the One who was to come.  And therefore just as Christ visited his own friends in this world and rescued them through his own death, so he wanted to visit his own who were in hell, and to rescue them by descending to them: “I will penetrate the deepest parts of the Earth, and I will look upon all those who have died, and I will enlighten all those hoping in God” and so forth. (Ecclesiasticus 24:45)

(3) That he might completely triumph over the devil.  Consider that someone perfectly triumphs over another when they not only conquer them in the open field but also snatch from them the heart of their own kingdom and their home.  Christ, however, triumphed over the devil on the cross and he conquered him, whence he says, “Now is the judgment of the world, now is the judgment of the prince of this world,” that is, the evil, “and he will be tossed out,” from the world. (John 12:31)  Therefore, in order to triumph completely, Christ wanted also to capture the heart of the devil’s kingdom, and to bind him in his own house, which was hell.  Christ thus went down there and plundered all his goods; he bound the devil and stripped from him his own spoils: “Undoing the principalities and powers, he disgraced [them] with ease” and so forth. (Colossians 2:15)

Similarly, since Christ already had reigned sovereign in Heaven, and on Earth, he wished also to assume possession over hell, as Paul says: “In the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in Heaven, and on Earth, and in hell” and so forth. (Philippians 2:10)  And in the last chapter of Mark we read: “and these signs will follow those who believe.  In my name they will cast out demons.” (Mark 16:17)

(4) That he might free the saints who were in hell.  Just as Christ wished to suffer death that he might free from death those living, so he wished to descend into hell that he might free from hell the saints who were there: “As for you, in the blood of the covenant, I will set free your captives from the dry depths.” (Zechariah 9:11)  And in Hosea: “From the hand of death I will free them, from death I will redeem them.  I will be your death, O death!  I will be your sting, O hell!” and so forth. (Hosea 13:14)  Although Christ completely destroyed death, nonetheless he did not all together destroy hell.   Rather, Christ stung hell, because he did not free everyone from hell, but only those who were without mortal sin, that is, without original sin (from which they are cleansed as individuals by circumcision) and without actual [mortal] sin.  These souls were there on account of the original sin of Adam, from which they could not be freed by nature but only by Christ.  But he sent away those who were there in mortal sin and children who were not baptized.  Therefore it is said: I will be your sting” and so forth.

It is clear therefore that Christ did descend into hell and why he did so.

From these considerations we can draw four conclusions for our own instruction.  (1) Firm hope in God.  No matter how anyone may be in affliction, they should not despair nor lose trust in the assistance of God.  Nothing can be found so dire as being in hell.  If Christ freed those who were in hell, everyone ought to trust greatly, if they are a friend of God, that they will be freed by God no matter what may be the tribulation: “She,” that is, wisdom, “did not abandon the just man when he was sold, but she went down with him into the pit and freed him from sinners.” (Wisdom 10:13)  And because God helps especially God’s servants, anyone who serves God should be quite secure: “Anyone who fears God will not be alarmed, and will not panic, because God is their hope.” (Ecclesiasticus 34:16)

(2) We should become afraid of hell and drive away presumption.  Although Christ suffered for sinners and did descend into hell, he nonetheless did not free everyone, but only those who were without mortal sin.  As it is said: but those who died in mortal sin he sent away.  Therefore, no one who died in mortal sin should hope for pardon, but should expect to be in hell just as long as the saints are in paradise, that is to say, forever: “And those on Christ’s left hand will go into eternal torment, the just, however, into everlasting life” and so forth. (Matthew 25:46)

(3) We should become careful.  Christ descended as a soul into hell for our salvation, and hence we ought frequently to descend there by considering eternal punishment: “I said: in the middle of my days I will go to the gates of hell” and so forth. (Isaiah 38:10)  Whoever frequently goes down to hell in thought during this life, will not go down there easily in death, because the consideration of hell draws one away from sin.  We see how people in this world protect themselves against Earthly pain from evildoers; how much more ought they to protect themselves against the pain of hell, which is greater in duration as well as in bitterness: “And in all you do, remember the end of your days, and for eternity you will not sin: and so forth. (Ecclesiasticus 7:40)

(4) We are shown an example of love.  Christ descended into hell in order to free those who were there.  Consequently, we ought to go down to that place, that we might come to the aid of our own friends we are there, for they are not able to do anything.  Therefore, we should support those who are in purgatory.  The man who would not come to the aid of his friend who was in prison would be thoroughly callous.  How much more unfeeling the man who does not come to the aid of a friend who is in purgatory.  “Have pity on me, have pity on me at least you, my friends, because the hand of God has pressed upon me” and so forth. (Job 19:21)  And in Ecclesisasticus we read: “From the dead you will not withdraw grace.” (7:37)  And in Maccabees: “Therefore it is a holy and beneficial thought to pray for the dead, that they might be absolved from their sins” and so forth. (2 Maccabees 12:46)

We come to their assistance principally in three ways, as Augustine says: through masses, through almsgiving, and through prayers.  Gregory adds a fourth way, through fasting.  We should not wonder, because even in the world one friend can make satisfaction for another.  We should understand the same thing about those in purgatory.

Let us pray to the Lord.

SATURDAY READING: Exorcism As Therapy, Michael W. Cuneo

From American Exorcism

During the 1980s charismatic deliverance ministry in the United States seemed intent on settling down, finding its bearings, getting a grip on itself.  After the excesses and exuberance of the seventies, this was its period of introspective middle age, its time for cleaning out the drawers.

Much the same can be said for the charismatic renewal movement as a whole.  After facing bitter opposition during its earliest years, the renewal movement had succeeded by the early seventies in winning acceptance within most of the major Christian denominations in the United States.  Throughout much of the seventies, in fact, the movement experienced vigorous growth, and by the end of the decade, according to a 1979 Gallup survey, a striking 19 percent of the total U.S. adult population identified themselves as either charismatic or Pentecostal.  As growth slowed substantially (and eventually came to a standstill) during the early eighties, however, the movement went into a period of strategic retreat, taking inventory, trying to determine exactly where it stood, where it should be headed.

Deliverance continued to be practiced within the renewal movement during this period – with Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, more than ever, taking the lead.  For a variety of reasons the ritual had proven especially congenial to Catholic and Episcopal charismatics.  Both belonged to religious traditions that endorsed the value of exorcism or deliverance and made concrete provision for its occasional performance.  The Roman Catholic rite of exorcism, so effectively dramatized in The Exorcist, was first formally laid down in the Rituale Romanum of 1614, and the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which was in effect until 1983, mandated that every bishop officially appoint an exorcist for his diocese.  (As we’ve seen, however, this wasn’t always followed through in places such as the United States.)  Historically, the position of the Church of England, the parent body of the Episcopalianism in the United States, has been quite similar to that of Roman Catholicism.  The Canons of 1603/4 (most of which were repealed in 1969) made explicit provision for exorcism, and a commission appointed by the Anglican bishop of Exeter in 1972 recommended that “it is much to be desired that every diocesan bishop should appoint a priest as diocesan exorcist, and that in each province centers of training should be established.

At a more modest level, exorcism (or the idea behind it) has also been woven into the very fabric of Roman Catholic and Episcopal sacramental life.  In various ritual settings both traditions have employed incense, the sign of the cross, holy oils and salts, and other accouterments of worship as symbolic vehicles for cleansing people of evil, converting darkness into light.  The Roman Catholic baptismal rite still contains prayers for the exorcism of the candidate, and similar prayers have been restored to Anglicanism through the Alternative Service Book of 1980.  And prior to the reform of their liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholics recited the following prayer, which was composed by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, at the end of every Mass.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle:
be our protection against the wiles and wickedness of the devil.
We humbly beseech thee, O God, to restrain him,
and do thou, the Prince of the Heavenly hosts,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Curiously enough, moreover, quite a few Roman Catholic and Episcopal priests with long-standing involvement in deliverance told me that they had actually benefited from the hierarchical structure of their respective churches, with lines of authority extending downward from the local bishop.  This meant that they weren’t at the mercy of prominent members of their home congregations who might have disapproved of deliverance and taken steps to stamp it out.  Most Catholic and Episcopal bishops, for their part, seem to have adopted the ecclesiastical equivalent of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  Providing that deliverance ministers comported themselves with discretion and didn’t take on suspected cases of full-fledged possession without first seeking official approval, they were mostly permitted to go about their business unimpeded.  (Of course, many bishops, on both the Roman Catholic and the Episcopal sides, looked upon the entire business as utter foolishness and tolerated it mainly because it would have been too much trouble to do otherwise.)

Roman Catholic and Episcopal charismatics were by no means alone in practicing deliverance during the 1980s.  The ritual was kept alive also within the more properly Protestant sectors of the movement, and it remained a major concern of freelance preachers such as Don Basham and Derek Prince.  (At the same time, it was also gaining popularity among people who weren’t strictly speaking, part of the renewal movement, but I shall leave this part of the story for later.)  For the reasons I’ve suggested, however, it was among Catholic and Episcopal charismatics that the ritual became most fully institutionalized – not openly advertised, to be sure, still conducted mostly in the shadows, but generally accepted and widely available.

In the hands of many of its Catholic and Episcopal practitioners, moreover, deliverance underwent a kind of domestication during the 1980s.  This happened in two ways.  First of all (and here the influence of Francis McNutt figured prominently), the ritual was completely integrated by an increasing number of prominent charismatics into comprehensive healing ministries, which involved prayer for spiritual healing, inner emotional healing, and sometimes also physical healing.  Gone were the days (at least among most Episcopalians and Roman Catholics) when deliverance was a separate and specialized ministry, carried out by single-minded zealots whose first and only thought was the casting out of demons.  It was now part of a more general therapeutic process, a process in which demons might not even play a featured role.  “It had always made me nervous when someone told me that they had a deliverance ministry,” Barbara Shlemon told me.  “This usually meant that they were mainly interested in expelling demons, at any cost, not in ministering to the total person.  Deliverance must always take place within a broader context of healing.  Francis MacNutt had always understood this, and so had some others, but finally it started to sink in more widely, especially among Catholics and Episcopalians.  This was a real growth in maturity for us.”

In a related development, deliverance was also considerably toned down by many Catholic and Episcopal charismatics during the 1980s.  Prior to this, as we’ve seen, the ritual was frequently a noisy and unkempt affair, with shrieking, cursing, slobbering – and sometimes worse.  For some charismatics, in fact, this was a large part of its appeal; the dramatic manifestations were like a certificate of authenticity, the surest, most visceral proof that demons – real spitting, jeering, profanity-addled demons – were actually being engaged in combat.  The uglier and more gut-wrenching the manifestations, the better.  Toward the end of the seventies, however, a number of prominent charismatics declared their unhappiness with this state of affairs.  The growling, the howling, and all the rest of it, they claimed, were turning deliverance into a permanent sideshow and thus preventing its true value from being more widely appreciated.  And what’s more, they said, all of this grotesquerie was completely avoidable.  Regardless of whether it was demons making a nuisance of themselves or the subjects of deliverance simply playing to the occasion, there was no excuse for such histrionics.  Demons needed to be kept in their place, the subjects of deliverance needed to be restrained from acting out, and it was the responsibility of deliverance ministers to ensure that proceedings were conducted in a dignified manner.  And how could this best be done?  Quite simply, by binding the demons.  By commanding them, in the name of Jesus Christ, to hold their peace.  This would take care of the demons, and it would also serve notice to subjects of deliverance that any acting out was unnecessary and unacceptable.

This notion of binding the demons – of placing them under strategic house arrest, as it were – was rapidly picked up in the Catholic and Episcopal wings of the renewal movement, and among Roman Catholics in particular it soon became an almost obligatory procedure.  No one was more responsible for making it so than Father Richard McAlear and Betty Brennan, a priest-housewife team and without question two of the most engaging personalities on the charismatic deliverance scene throughout the 1980s.

Richard McAlear was born in Boston in 1943 and raised in an Irish-Italian, working-class family as the second of five boys.  He joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1964 and then spent seven years in Rome preparing for ordination.  Upon returning to the United States, he became deeply involved with the renewal movement, and in 1976 he started his own healing and deliverance center at a defunct seminary in Newburgh, New York.  One of his earliest clients was Betty Brennan, a large, blond, plainspoken woman, who was a recent convert to the charismatic renewal – and quite an exceptional convert at that.

“Betty had been experiencing serious personal problems before becoming charismatic, and she came to the center for deliverance,” McAlear, a tall, good-looking man with a salt-and-pepper beard and pouches under his eyes, told me in the summer of 1997 at a parish rectory he was visiting in Queens, New York.  “But when I got to know her better, I discovered that she had a remarkable ability for discerning spirits.  Not just spirits, but someone’s entire psychological condition.  I’m talking about a major gift, a wonderful gift, a powerful gift of infused knowledge.  Benedict Groeschel, who was closely familiar with our work in Newburgh, was tremendously impressed.  It was simply extraordinary.  I first became aware of it when a woman in her sixties came to the center for healing.  She had an inner ear problem that was wreaking havoc with her balance.  Betty was sitting at the back; she’s never met the woman or her husband.  She came up to me and said, ‘Here’s the problem.  The husband has been sexually unfaithful.  Now he wants to retire and travel.  But the wife’s sickness forces him to stay home and, for the first time, give her his attention.’  And she was right.  This was the way it really was.  Remarkable.

“We started working together as a team in 1977, and our reputation build up by word of mouth.  A lot of priests came to us for deliverance.  There are so many priests suffering serious demonic affliction; priests are sitting ducks.  As time went by, Betty became quite famous within the renewal movement.  She was in tremendous demand.  Her gift of discernment blows everyone else’s out of the water.  Francis McNutt works with women who have impressive gifts of discernment, but these women aren’t even remotely in Betty’s league.  Don’t get me wrong: Betty inspires respect far more readily than affection.  She’s so blunt and outspoken that she’s turned some people off.  She’s bruised a lot of egos.  But the gift is for real.”

Betty Brennan, the woman behind the gift, spent her earliest childhood in Brooklyn.  When her father, who was a New York City cop, died of a massive coronary at the age of forty-one, she moved to Ireland with her mother and brother and was educated in a convent boarding school run by the Loretto Sisters.  She moved back to New York City when she was twenty, got married and started a family, and eventually settled in a small upstate town where her husband found work as a firefighter.  During the early seventies she went through a painful personal crisis but she regained her moorings soon after becoming charismatic.

I spoke briefly with Betty Brennan at a retreat house just north of New York City shortly after my meeting with Father McAlear and at much greater length by phone several months later.  I had been warned by several people that she could be intimidatingly brusque, but I found her smart and charming, with a habit (perhaps an echo of her Brooklyn girlhood) of punctuating her sentences with “You know what I’m saying?  Do you know what I’m saying, Michael?”

I asked about her gift, of which McAlear and a number of other charismatics had spoken so highly.

MYSTICISM: This Book Has Come From God, by Mechthild of Magdeburg

The Soul Praises Herself for Many Things
She is Given Two Angels and Two Evil Devils.
With Twelve Virtues She Does Battle Against the Flesh

From The Flowing Light of the Godhead

All the days of my life before I began this book and before a single word of it had come into my soul, I was one of the most naive persons ever to be in religious life.  I knew nothing about the devil’s malice; I was unaware of the frailty of the world; the duplicity of people in religious life was also unknown to me.  I have to speak of God’s honor and for the sake of the book’s teaching: I, unworthy sinner, was greeted by the Holy Spirit in my twelfth year, while I was alone, with such an outpouring that I could never, ever after that endure letting myself be led into a clear venial sin.  This precious greeting occurred every day and lovingly spoiled for me all worldly sweetness, and it is still increasing day by day.  This happened over thirty-one years.  About God I knew nothing more than what the Christian faith teaches and I strove with constancy to keep my heart pure.  God himself is my witness that I never in will or desire asked him to give me these things that are written in this book.  Also, I never imagined that such things could happen to a human being.  As long as I was with my relatives and my friends, to whom I was always the favorite, I had no knowledge of these things.  Long before this I had had the desire to be despised through no fault of my own.  Then for the sake of God’s love I moved to a town where no one was my friend except for one person.  I was afraid that because of him holy contempt and God’s pure love would be withdrawn from me.  But God nowhere abandoned me and let me experience such delightful sweetness, such holy knowledge, and such incomprehensible wonders that I found little enjoyment in Earthly things.

Then for the first time my spirit was brought up through prayer between Heaven and the air.  I saw with the eyes of my soul in Heavenly bliss the beautiful humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I recognized in his sublime countenance the Holy Trinity – the eternity of the Father, the suffering of the Son, the sweetness of the Holy Spirit.  Then I saw an angel, to whom I was entrusted through baptism, and my devil.  Our Lord said:

I shall take this angel from you
And shall give you two others instead.
They shall take care of you in these wonders.

When the soul looked at the two angels, oh, how completely was she unnerved in humble impotence, and she prostrated herself at the feet of our Lord, thanking him and urgently protesting that she was quite unworthy that princes such as this should be her chamberlains.  One of the angels was from the Seraphim, and he is an igniter of love and a holy beacon for tender souls.  The other angel was from the Cherubim: he is a keeper of the gifts and orders wisdom in the loving soul.

Then our Lord allowed two devils to come forth.
They were exalted masters, taken from Lucifer’s school,
And had seldom come out.

When the soul looked upon the terribly hideous devils, she shivered a little, commended herself to our Lord, and quite freely accepted them.  The one devil is a deceiver with beautiful angelic garments.  Oh, what a lot of false cunning he presented to me at first!  Once during mass he came down from on high and said: “I am so beautiful; don’t you want to worship me?”

The soul replied: “God alone shall one worship in all good things and in all distress!”

He said: “Don’t you want to look up and see who I am?”  Then in the lower air he displayed a beautiful sham radiance, which has seduced many a heretic, and said: “In the throne room upon this seat you alone shall be the most exalted virgin, with me the fairest youth next to you.”

But she replied: “A person would not be wise to take the worst when he could easily achieve the best.”

He said: “Since you do not want to surrender yourself to me – you are so holy and so humble – then I shall worship you.”

She said: “No grace shall be given to you because you worship a foul cesspool.”

Then he showed her the five wounds painted on his feet and hands and said: “Now you well see who I am.  If you will live according to my advice, I shall give you great honor.  You should tell people about this special favor; then much good would come of it.”

She said – and his idle talk annoyed her greatly; nevertheless, she listened to it freely so that she might become more shrewd – “You are telling me that you are God.  Well then, tell me, who is that who is the Son of the living God now here in the true priest’s hands?”  He then wanted to depart, and she said: “By the almighty God, I admonish you that you now listen to me: I well know your intentions.  If I were to tell everyone the secrets of my heart, things would be quite nice for me in the short term.  But then you would intently strive to make the fun end badly.  You would do this so that I might fall into doubt, sadness, unbelief, impurity, and thereafter into everlasting anguish.  Another reason you are doing this is so that I might imagine that you come to me thus because I am so holy.  Ha!  You old archdeceiver, as long as God stands by me, all your efforts are for naught.”

Then he cried out: “A plague on your magic; just let me get away from you.  I’ll never bother you again.”

The second devil who was assigned to me was a troublemaker and a master of concealed lewdness.  However, God forbade him ever to come to me himself.  Instead, he sent perverted evil people to me as his messengers who spoil good things for me and take what they can of my honor by their words.  He also strives for this: where good people are together and are talking idly in a lewd manner, this cannot help but trouble poor me.  Up to then that had never happened to me.

One night I was at prayer before my first sleep.  This same devil came passing through the air and took a close look at the sinful Earth.  He was huge like a giant.  He had a short tail and a crooked nose.  His head was large like a tub.  Out of his mouth fiery sparks came flying covered with black flame.  He laughed with cunning malice and a horrible raucous voice.  The soul asked him why he was laughing, what he was looking for, and what he was up to.

He answered and said: “I am glad, indeed, since I may not torment you myself, that I find so many who look like angels and are happy to torment you for me.”  Then he continued: “I am the chamberlain of religious persons and I look for two kinds of weakness in them that will separate them from God in an instant.  One is concealed or secret impurity.  Whenever a person in religious life seeks the comfort of the flesh without real necessity and in all his five senses, they become impure; that is, crass and lazy; and true love of God grows cold.  The other is hidden hatred in open discord.  This is a very useful sin for me.  Wherever I find it unrepented overnight, there is a win for me, for it is the foundation of long-lasting malice and the loss of all holiness.”

Then the soul said: “Since by your nature you have absolutely nothing good about you, how can it be that you can give a morally profitable explanation of your evil?”

And he replied: “Wherever I turn, God has me so firmly in his hands that I cannot do anything except what he directs me.”

I, unhappy person, in my early childhood committed such a great sin, that, if I had remained without repentance and without confession, I would have to have stayed in purgatory for ten years.  But now, dear Lord, when I die, I shall cheerfully suffer torment there for love of you.  I am saying this not from reason; love bids me say it.  When I entered religious life and took leave of the world, I looked at my body.  It was fully armed against my poor soul with great fullness of strong power and with the energy of a complete nature.  I saw full well that it was my enemy, and I also saw if I were going to escape eternal death, I would have to strike it down; conflict was inevitable.  I also looked at my soul’s weapon.  This was the glorious passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  With this I defended myself.  I had to remain constantly in great fear and throughout my youth had to deliver great defensive fasting, keeping vigils, scourging with rods, and constant adoration.  These were the weapons of my soul by means of which I so completely conquered the body that in twenty years the time never came that I was not weary, weak, and sick – mostly from repentance and suffering, but also from holy longing and spiritual toil and, in addition, many a different day of sickness from my nature.  There was also the violent force of love, which pressed me so intensely with these marvels that I did not dare remain silent about it.  Still, because of my naiveté, I had much to suffer.  I said: “Ah, kind God, what do you see in me?  You know quite well that I am a fool, a human being sinful and needy in body and soul.  You should be giving these things to wise people; then you would be able to receive praise.”

Then our Lord got very angry with little me and asked me for my judgment:

“Now tell me, are you mine or not?”
“Certainly, Lord, that is what I long for from you.”
“Shall I then not do with you what I want?”
“Yes, Dearest to my heart, gladly; even if I should thus become nothing.”

Then our Lord said: “You shall obey and trust me in these matters, and you shall also become sick for a long time, and I shall take care of you myself; and everything that you need for body and soul I shall give you.”

Then, a wretch trembling in humble confusion, I went to my confessor, told him the whole story, and begged for his advice.  He said I should boldly go forward with a light heart; God, who had been leading me, would certainly preserve me.  Then he gave me a command that often makes me ashamed and causes me to weep because my utter unworthiness is obvious to my eyes; that is, he commanded me, a frail woman, to write this book out of God’s heart and mouth.  And so this book has come lovingly from God and does not have its origins in human thought.

HEALING: Spiritual vs. Physical

When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:43-35)

When we break a leg and go through all we need to go through to have it mend, we don’t expect that as a result of this healing, we’ll experience more breaks about our body.

Just because we healed and are whole again.

Neither do we experience after recovering from the flu an influx of various other respiratory ailments, just because we healed and are in the pink once again.

Re-infestation of disease just because we are healthy.

What a concept!

In fact, the body functions in just the opposite manner: the more healthy our body is, the stronger it is to fight off germs and sustain injury.  To us, health is a good thing.

And yet, the Bible is so deep with its teachings about the soul that it even warns us that after a profoundly effective spiritual healing, all that we can expect is problems seven times worse than the one we had before.

Do what you can to heal, and you’ll be slammed with a reinfection.

Great.

Just lovely.

So why heal in the first place?

If we knew that each time we had a tooth filled, seven other heretofore perfectly good teeth would fall out, would we get the tooth filled, or just live with the discomfort?

As impressed as I am that the Bible chose to include this profundity (although I can imagine the shake of the heads when first hearing this), I am equally unimpressed with the way the Christian church approaches healing.

If it approaches healing at all.

But when it does, there are arms in the air of self-congratulations: Look see what we accomplished!  This man (or woman) is healed and whole once again!

Saved.

That’s one term used for it.

A person has released a whole lot of grief that kept him from having a loving relationship with God, and it’s viewed as an end of the process.  An accomplishing of the goal.

I’m here!

I’m clean!

I’m cured!

Yeah.  Well.  Not so much.

And that’s the real problem with not taking the Bible seriously.  Or using it as some sort of banner-worthy slogan-making machine.

You miss all the really good stuff.

This is where spiritual discipline and commitment come in.

We’re so accustomed to being able to go skiing after the doctor has given us the green light after our break because we just want to have fun, that we think that after being freed from a particular nasty spiritual infestation, we can just go out into the world and, well, have fun.

We’re good.

We’re clean.

We’re cured.

But in the spiritual world, this is when the real work begins.

In order to stay healthy, to stay functional, even, we have to don the mantle of asceticism.  Prayer is no longer just done when one happens to go to church, or muttered when things get terribly tight.  Instead, it has to become as essential to one’s life as food is.

There has to be a complete turning over of the soul to God.  And practicing this faith and trust in something most of us do not experience becomes a severe self-discipline on its own.

It is also the time to admit where you went wrong, and, even more importantly, where you are still wrong today.

People don’t like doing that.

Especially the second part.

One can go through a healing and see, in part, where they have gone wrong in the past.  But, once healed, all things are a go.  I’m fine just the way I am.

That’s the tricky part.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  Someone has managed to pull out the thorn that has been embedded in their soul for most of their life, and goes skipping off, only to be slammed into a wall of limitation and possibly even disgrace.

What happened?

Well, look at what Matthew teaches.  You clean your soul.  Give it a good sweep.  And guests arrive before you’ve even put the broom away.

Surprise!

Bet you never saw them coming.

That’s because demons are really, really good at finding your blind side.

Your arrogance, that isn’t so out-of-place at the office, but in front of God, not so much.

Your indifference to the suffering that you pass by every day.

Your self-indulgence in things even you know should not be indulged in.  Quite so much.  Fine, not at all.

For a human, feeling good can lead to letting down all sorts of defenses.

We only want to think about religious discipline when we know we need help.

God as a band-aid used only when we are bleeding.

It’s like having been healed of something physical, receiving specific instruction from the doctor on how to maintain this current state of health, and then going out and partying every night.  And ignoring everything the doctor told you.

I remember a man who upon coming out of the hospital after a serious disease was equipped with his medicine – which had the instruction, don’t take with alcohol.  But he kept drinking, explaining that the instruction was not to take the pill with alcohol.  Any other time, drinking alcohol was just fine.

He died shortly thereafter.  From complications due to taking the medicine with alcohol.

Spiritually, that’s what we are all like.

I’m fine.  I’m out of the hospital.  Leave me alone.  I just want to have fun.

So what is the best way to find our need for discipline in the light of our spiritual euphoria?

Well, it would be so nice if churches took our actual spiritual health seriously and put in place support for this.  For those in need of healing.  For those recovering from healing.

Like study groups in school.  A place where we can go to become aware of our weaknesses and find the means for shoring up.

Perhaps we can all look at our own church and find ways that healing can be approached.

But, there’s also this nice little prayer on humility:

Lord Jesus, when you walked the Earth, your humility obscured your kingship. Your meekness confused the arrogant, hindering them from grasping your purpose, Your nobleness attending to the destitutes. Teach me to model after your eminence, To subject my human nature to humility. Grant me a with a natural inclination to never view myself greater than anyone. Banish all lingering sparks of self-importance That could elevate me greater than you. Let my heart always imitate your humility.

Amen.

It’s a start anyway.

Amen.

EXORCISM: All That Jesus Does Has Purpose, by Don Dickerman

From When Pigs Move In

What wonderful information is provided to us in Mark chapter 5 concerning demons.  Jesus had made a special trip to see a man tormented with demons.  We don’t know what prompted the journey across the Sea of Galilee.  As the scripture reads, it seems unplanned and without prior arrangements.  Jesus had been teaching in parables on the west side of the sea when he spoke, “Let us pass over unto the other side.”  It was seven miles to the “other side.”

It was evening, and he doubtless and tired and weary from the day.  The disciples “took him even as he was in the ship.”  It seems that almost immediately he retreated to the back part of the ship to sleep.  I have often wondered if Jesus was going to the “other side” in response to someone’s prayer.  All that Jesus does has purpose!  Unfortunately, we are not always privy to that.

I believe Jesus was responding to the prayers of someone in Gadarenes.  In this country, he would encounter a man so desperate for help that he lived in hopelessness among the tombs.  We have no background information on this fellow except that he had an unclean spirit, he lived among the tombs, and all efforts to help him had failed.

The work of the demon spirit is partially revealed in the bits and pieces of information that we do have.  The account in Luke 8 tells us that the man had been possessed a long time.  It tells us that he wore no clothes and had no home.  We also learn that the demons had driven him into the wilderness.  There was no rest for him.  Night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs crying and cutting himself with stones.

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of people who have demons revealed in this one account:

1. The person is “driven.”  I have found this to be a consistent mark of demons, especially in the
area of compulsion and obsession.  There are certain areas in the life of the oppressed in which
no victory can be found.

2. There was no peace or rest.  Always, night and day, he was roaming, controlled by restlessness.
He searched for peace and found none.  The pain of the tormentor is so great, only those who
have experienced it can relate.

3. There was self-hatred and self-mutilation.  Often, those so tormented tell me that the pain of
hurting themselves actually relieved the greater pain they felt.

4. There was no help available from mankind.  No man could bind him and no man could tame
him.  Man did not have the answer then and does not have the answer now.  Spiritual problems
must have spiritual solutions.

5. There was confusion and mental anguish.  “Tormentors” is one description of demon powers
given by Jesus in Matthew 18:34-35.

6. He wore no clothes.  He was not able to function as a normal human being.  His godly instincts
were suppressed.  He intimidated others with his uncouth actions.  People could not be
comfortable in his presence.  Others avoided him.

7. He had physical strength beyond his normal abilities.  I believe this often indicates rebellion.

8. He was rejected by society.  He did not fit in.  He did not measure up.  Most likely, he had been
run out of town.”

9. People had given up on him, and he was banished to suffer alone.  He had his own prison, his
own asylum.

10. He knew that Jesus was God’s son and deserved to be worshiped, but the demons would not
allow it.  He knew there was a better way but did not know how to obtain it.

There is always a kingdom

There was a demonic kingdom in this man’s life.  Scripture declares in Mark 5:2, “And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.”  “An unclean spirit” seems to indicate there was only one devil (demon) present.  But we find it was a demonic kingdom of many spirits, and the prince demon of that kingdom identified himself as Legion.  There is, virtually, always a kingdom, and sometimes more than one kingdom, in those who experience demonic oppression.

Let’s back up and try to understand why Jesus made this journey to the other side.  And why was there such opposition to him getting there?  Why was this “castaway” such a priority to Jesus?  We can only guess.  And why was the man in such a bad state?  My experience has shown that the man’s condition could have been caused by parents who did not care.  Maybe he was born under a generational curse.  Maybe he was conceived out of wedlock.  Perhaps his ancestors had been idolaters.  Maybe his mother and father fought and argued while he was in the womb.  Maybe his dad left his mom and had affairs with other women.

Could it be that his mom gave him up at birth?  Were his parents killed in some tragedy?  Maybe he was abused sexually and physically.  Possibly, they told him he was unwanted, and demons were given permission to his life through no fault of his own.  I have encountered all of these things to be consent for demons to enter someone.

I would guess that this man was eventually expelled from school and had a criminal record.  Probably, at best, he would have been a “latchkey” kid in today’s world.  He was troubled for a “long time” and was eventually banished to live among the tombs.

Now it could be that his parents were good people and loved him dearly.  They may have tried their best to control him but did not know how to deal with the demons.  More likely, they did not even believe that it could be demons.  Maybe they were praying for him.  I want to believe that his mom cried out each day and night, “God, help my son!”  The father, too, asking for God’s mercy, must have cried out to God, “God, help my son.”

I can see him sitting up against a tomb

Maybe it was their prayer that Jesus heard.  We don’t know, but something happened that caused Jesus to decide to go to the other side.  Perhaps it was the young man himself.  Maybe in a moment of sanity, he looked at the cuts and the dried blood on his body and cried out, “My God, look at me.  Look at my life.  God,help me!”  I can see him sitting up against a tomb with tears streaming down his bearded, dirty face.  Maybe he tugged at his long, matted hair and cried, “God, help me.”  His cry is the one I think Jesus heard.  The pain of the heaviness and depression and the horrible feelings of rejection and abandonment oppressed him and everyone whom he touched.  Maybe it was a combination of all of their prayers.  Perhaps it was just God’s sovereign mercy!

The man needed help and could not find it in this world.  He had no medicine for his migraine headaches and for his tormenting thoughts of worthlessness that weighed upon him continually.  He could not take an antidepressant.  He suffered alone, and I believe the merciful Lord Jesus was moved with compassion to go to this one man.

What believer has not heard this story?  Which of us has not had hope rise up in us when we read about the One who speaks peace to wind and waves?  It seems to me there was a concerted effort on the part of demon powers to prevent Jesus from reaching this man.  We know from Job chapter 1 that Satan’s kingdom of darkness can cause storms of destruction.  Lightening was used by demon powers to destroy Job’s sheep and servants.  Job 1:16 says, “The fire of God is fallen from Heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them.”  It was a great wind from the wilderness, perhaps a tornado, that he used to destroy Job’s children.  Job 1:19 says, “And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead.”

Storms of opposition

After Jesus had declared that they were going to the other side of the sea, something began to take place in the heavenlies.  A scheme, it seems, was devised to destroy the ship or at least to cause them to turn back.  I have found that demons are always scheming, always trying to hinder the work of the Lord Jesus.  Opposition often comes in the form of “storms.”  They come to instill fear and hopelessness.  They come with attempts to discourage and to defeat.  They make the way seem so difficult that it appears it would be best to give up.  This seemed to be working with the disciples.

But Jesus had spoken.  The Word had been declared.  If Jesus says it, then we may stand upon what he has spoken.  He had declared, “Let us pass over to the other side.”  He was on a mission!  Evidently, the disciples did not know about the mission; they did not know the purpose of the trip.  They did not know it was urgent!  They had not seen the affliction or heard the cry as Jesus had.  They reacted as most of us would have.  They did not yet understand that fear and faith cannot peacefully coexist.  They did not know that fear is a spirit and that God does not give that spirit to us.  It seems from Jesus’s words that he was telling them, “With faith you could have rebuked the storm also, simply by placing faith in that which had already been spoken.”

I have a visual picture of the blackness of that night, the howling winds and the waves that tossed the boat and beat against it.  Great splashes of water covered the disciples.  The wind was threatening, and they felt helpless to change it.  It’s like the words of the songwriter who said, “Master, the tempest is raging.”  This was without a doubt a raging storm.  The disciples feared they would die.  They probably did what they should have done in the midst of the storm – call on Jesus!

Jesus, with sleep in his eyes, looked the storm in the eye and commanded, “Peace, be still!”  I see the waves drop immediately and lay flat on the waters.  I see the wind gently blow the dark clouds away, and then great calm.  The stars and moon that were hidden in the darkness now shine upon the glistening sea.  Oh, what a moment that must have been!  The disciples could only say, “Wow!  What manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?”  The once-troubled boat now glides on the calm waters directly toward a desperate man filled with hopelessness and despair.  It seems the Navigator knew exactly where to land the boat.

Jesus gets his feet wet

The boat eases up to the shore, and I hear Jesus say to Peter or John to get him an extra change of clothes.  He throws the clothes over his shoulder and hops from the boat into the shallow waters.  Probably he told them that he would be back shortly.  Personally, I believe he was answering the demoniac’s prayer.  Isn’t it something that Jesus makes so many special trips throughout the Gospels?  Here it was for someone whom society had thrown away just as we toss an empty soft drink container.  Thank God Jesus has been in the reclamation business for a long time.  He salvaged me!

As he came out of the ship, the man from the tombs met him immediately.  There is an interesting exchange of words.  “When he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshiped him.” (Marks 5:6)  It was the demons in the man that recognized Jesus; they knew who he was.  Apparently, the demons communicated that to the man, for he wanted to worship Jesus.  Just the presence of the Lord Jesus demands worship.  Jesus commanded the demonic kingdom to come out of him.  And amazingly, the demon spokesman responded with, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus thou Son of the most high God?  I adjure [command] thee by God, that thou torment me not.” (v. 7)

This is one for the books.  The demon was giving a command to Jesus!  The demons were afraid.  They always are.  They knew it was about over for them.  In Luke’s account, the demons begged Jesus that he would not command them to go into the deep (the abyss).  (See Luke 8:31.)  The tormentors were pleading to not be tormented.  Those who instilled fear are now overcome by it.  It seemed to be understood that if demons are cast out, it would be into the abyss.

Jesus commanded the demon spokesman, the prince of the kingdom, to identify himself.  “And he [demon] answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” (Mark 5:9)  “And he besought him much. . . .” (v. 10)  Demon powers are such sorry creatures and such enemies of mankind.  Their hatred for Jehovah God and the Lord Jesus is vented toward God’s special creation – man.  Here, the merciless creatures beg for mercy.  Incredible.

Now, I have tried to get a mental picture of the country of the Gadarenes, because there is a strange encounter next.  “Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.” (v. 11)  The demons wanted to go into the swine on the way into the abyss.  Think of these lying, ugly spirits who claim to have such power.  They are begging to go into swine!

There are some in deliverance ministry who believe that deliverance should be done by discernment only.  They teach that it is wrong to confront and command truth from demon powers.  Jesus asked this demon to identify himself.  I would say the reality is that no anointed deliverance minister is going to carry on a conversation with demon powers.  It is not conversation, but rather it is confrontation.  Why did the demons request permission to go into the swine?  Why did Jesus allow it?  What can we learn from this?

They knew their time was up.  It is clear that demons would prefer the body of a pig to nothingness.  There seems to be some truth here concerning the abilities of an evil spirit to enter into animals.  I think this was one last attempt at destruction, to rob life, even the life of the swine.  Remember, the demons have the same functions as Satan.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  He was a murderer from the beginning.  He has come to steal, kill, and destroy.  All demons are thieves.  I have yet to encounter one that did not fall in the category of steal, kill, and destroy.

Near the scene of this miraculous deliverance, there was an unusual number of pigs.  A very large herd of about two thousand pigs.  They were being fed.  Picture this in your mind.  I recall my grandparents talking about “slopping the hogs.”  Many of you have heard that term.  Well, that’s what was happening.  I imagine there was a lot of snorting and grunting as the pigs pushed and shoved to get their share of the food.

What we can know is that the owners of the swine were not Jewish.  But they likely were wealthy; that’s a lot of bacon.  This pig farm was on a mountainside that must have overlooked the Sea of Galilee.  I’m not sure the smell was very good, but it seems somewhat picturesque.

As the Legion of demons was cast from the man, the swine began to screech.  The pigs were experiencing the same torment that the man had known.  The noise from the swine must have been disconcerting, perhaps frightening to those who fed the pigs.  Perhaps the soul God has breathed into man was strong enough to resist the suicidal demons.  The pigs immediately plunged to their death because of the torment.  The men feeding the swine could not control the herd.  The pigs hurt each other.  They trampled upon one another and bit each other as the demons entered into them.  They ignored the commands of their keepers.  Not only were they out of control, but the tormented swine also committed suicide.  They ran headlong down the mountainside and into the sea.  I’m sure the swine were knocked over by others, and many of them tumbled over the rocky mountainside and over a cliff into the “deep.”

Suicide was doubtless a plan for the young man

Demons have come to kill, steal, and destroy.  I could only speculate as to why Jesus allowed this mass suicide of the pigs.  Perhaps because the swine themselves had been declared unclean.  Regardless, the demons not only destroyed the swine, but they also brought hardship to the community that raised the swine.  It had an economic impact on many people.  The pigs went into the deep, committing suicide, and the demons went into the abyss.  Doubtless, suicide was a plan the demons had for the young man who had just been freed.

Look what happened when genuine freedom came to this man.  This was the man that no man could tame.  This was the man who had no social skills and could not be taught.  This man was made a missionary on the spot.  Jesus anointed him and ordained him.  He commissioned the man to go home and tell his friends what great things the Lord had done for him.  Remember, this man was previously not “in his right mind.”  He wore no clothes and had no control over his life.  Now they find him “sitting,” not wandering, and clothes, maybe in the extra set of Jesus’s clothes.  Maybe Jesus took an extra robe with him because he knew what he was about to do.  More so, he was clothed now in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  His mind had been restored!

I feel certain the demons understood that they had to put things back in order when Jesus spoke.  They had stolen the man’s peace and joy.  They robbed his self-image and worthiness.  They created disorder in his mind and were planning to kill him.  Then Jesus came!

You know, I see the same things happen on a regular basis.  I see demons putting back things they have stolen at the command of the name of Jesus Christ.

The church needs to get ready because a new anointing is coming – a new and fresh understanding of spiritual warfare and of the believer’s authority.  Pastor, get ready.  Get your deliverance team ready.  God wants his people free, and he has commissioned us to act in the name of Jesus Christ.  Demons still bow and retreat in his mighty name.

Jesus is still speaking peace to the storms!

POETRY: Teaching A Child The Art Of Confession, by David Shumate

It is best not to begin with Adam and Eve. Original Sin is
baffling, even for the most sophisticated minds. Besides,
children are frightened of naked people and apples. Instead,
start with the talking snake. Children like to hear what animals
have to say. Let him hiss for a while and tell his own tale.
They’ll figure him out in the end. Describe sin simply as those
acts which cause suffering and leave it at that. Steer clear of
musty confessionals. Children associate them with outhouses.
Leave Hell out of the discussion. They’ll be able to describe it
on their own soon enough. If they feel the need to apologize
for some transgression, tell them that one of the offices of the
moon is to forgive. As for the priest, let him slumber a while
more.

POETRY: Angels, by Maurya Simon

Who are without mercy,
Who confide in trumpet flowers,
Who carry loose change in their pockets,
Who dress in black velvet,
Who wince and fidget like bats,
Who balance their haloes on hatracks,
Who watch reruns of famine,
Who powder their noses with pollen,
Who laugh and unleash earthquakes,
Who sidle in and out of our dreams
Like magicians, like childhood friends,
Who practice their smiles like pirates,
Who exercise by walking to Zion,
Who live on the edge of doubt,
Who cause vertigo but ease migraines,
Who weep milky tears when troubled,
Whose night sweats engender the plague,
Who pinion their arms to chandeliers,
Who speak in riddles and slant rhymes,
Who love the weak and foolhardy,
Who lust for unripe persimmons,
Who scavenge the fields for lost souls,
Who hover near lighthouses,
Who pray at railroad crossings,
Who supervise the study of rainbows,
Who cannot blush but try,
Who curl their hair with corkscrews,
Who honeymoon with Orion,
Who are not wise but pure,
Who behave with impious propriety,
Who hourly scour our faces with hope,
Whose own faces glow like radium,
Whom we’ve created in our own form,
Who are without mercy, seek and yearn
To return us like fossilized roses
To the wholeness of our original bloom.

THE CHURCH: Exorcism And The Path To Deliverance, by Jose Antonio Fortea

From Interview with an Exorcist

What is an exorcism?

The rite of exorcism is the official ritual of the church in which a demon is ordered in the name of Christ to leave the body of a possessed person.  While the ecclesiastical rite of exorcism contains many secondary parts (e.g., the litany of the saints, the liturgy of the Word, the Lord’s Prayer, etc.), its essence is the casting out of the demon.  The prayers directed to God are deprecatory – that is to say, God is begged for his assistance in casting out the demon.  Nothing is ever asked of the demon; rather, he is ordered to depart by the name of the Redeemer.  If an exorcism does not have a “casting out,” it is not a true exorcism.

In the gospels, could exorcism be just a symbol of liberation from evil?

No.  To deny the reality of exorcism and to hold that it is merely a symbol of deliverance from evil is a heresy.  The constant tradition of the church has affirmed the possibility of demonic possession.  The saints, the Church Fathers and Doctors, and the practice of the church in East and West throughout history are unanimous in stating that possession is the domination of the demon on a human body.

The New Testament clearly distinguishes between illness and possession, and this is especially so in the gospels.  For example, Matthew 8:16 states, “He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick”; and Mark 1:32, 34 makes a similar distinction: “They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. . . and he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”  It is always clear that possession is caused by an evil spiritual being.  It is a phenomenon so distinct that a special Greek verb is used whenever Jesus goes to expel a demon – exorkizo (“to conjure”).  Such individuals are not called “ill” or “sick” but daimonizomai (“demon-possessed”).  Possession is not cured; rather, the possessed person is freed.  This group of people that appear in the four gospels shout and have crises of agitation.  Jesus will address himself to daimonia in an imperative way, giving orders without showing any compassion at all.

What is the difference between an exorcism and a prayer of deliverance from a demonic oppression?

An exorcism is a liturgical rite that is carried out on people who are possessed.  Deliverance is a series of private prayers prayed over people who suffer from some type of demonic influence.

The liturgical rite of exorcism is already predetermined; it requires authorization on the part of the bishop and should be carried out only when one is certain that a person is possessed by a demonic spirit.

The prayer of deliverance can be long or it can last less than fifteen minutes.  It can be done by a prayer group or by a priest; either way, it is a private prayer.  In other words, it is not a liturgical prayer and it can also be improvised.  This private prayer of deliverance can be done even if there is only a suspicion of a harmful demonic influence, to whatever degree and however weak it may be.

In an exorcism, the priest prays that the possessed person be freed from the devil.  In a deliverance prayer, we ask God to set a person free from some degree of demonic influence, including what some have referred to as “clinging spirits.”  Often, when we experience a wound – either self-imposed due to sin or from some outside force or person – demonic spirits can “attach” to the wound and prevent healing.  We can also experience unhealthy “soul ties” to people, through sexual contact and emotionally abusive relationships.  Demonic spirits can “cling” to these as well and, thus, prevent healing, which is a primary aim of such spirits.  Although our sin is forgiven, the demons want to prevent deep emotional and spiritual healing.  Deliverance prayers can break the bonds of such spirits and bring about a greater freedom for us than if we did not have such prayers said.

In an exorcism, the priest is certain that the person is possessed.  Meanwhile, in a deliverance prayer, the priest is not sure as to the extent of the demonic oppression.

What is demonic infestation?

Demonic infestation is the phenomenon in which a demon possesses a place, such as a house or building, or an object.  A demon, by possessing a place, can move things at will and cause various noises and smells.  Infestation never causes the possession of any of the people who live there.  An infestation may occur in a particular place due to some esoteric or satanic rites being performed with frequency.  Such infestation may result from a hex, spell, or curse, or from voodoo or witchcraft.  To end the infestation of a place, the rite of exorcism lists several specific prayers that need to be prayed.

A priest should not be too quick to believe the testimony of strange phenomena in a house unless there are at least two corroborating eyewitnesses.  In the case of a suspected possession of a person, a priest can pray and confirm the presence of a demon.  In the case of infestation, however, nothing happens when he prays in the suspected place.  Therefore, everything depends on what is reported to him.  This is why there is no way to establish a true infestation with certainty without several corroborating testimonies about the extraordinary events that have been witnessed.

In these cases, the priest can bless the house and encourage the family to pray together every day.  They can pray the Rosary, read the Bible together, sprinkle holy water in the various rooms, come together before a holy image and beg protection, etc.  The persistent prayer of a family, over the course of several weeks or months, can completely destroy the demonic infestation in their house.

Why do some exorcisms last so long?

Since not all the demons are from the same hierarchy, not all have the same power.

As a result, some demons are more difficult to expel than others.  Those demons who have angelic natures belonging to the highest choirs are the most difficult to drive out of a body.  Satan and Lucifer are the most difficult to exorcise.  No matter how holy the exorcist, and exorcism of such a powerful demon takes time.  We can see a parallel here in the world of medicine, where heart or brain surgery is more complex and takes longer than merely cosmetic surgery.

We can see that even in the Bible some exorcisms were more difficult – and lengthy – than others.  In Mark 9:17-18, for example, we read how the apostles could not expel a demon from a young boy.  When they later ask Jesus why they could not cast it out, Jesus responds, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:28, 29)  In exorcism, as with any ministry, there is a distinction to be made between power and authority: “And Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons.” (Luke 9:1)  This distinction is seen in Jesus’s response to them in Mark 9:29 – the apostles had full authority but needed to increase their power over the demons by growing in holiness (i.e., through “prayer and fasting”).

Conversely, in Mark 9:38, we read of a man who had power over the demons even though he had no apostolic authority: “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.”

How does one know that the last demon has left the person?

Given the fact that the possessed may have several demons, the question of how one determines when the last demon has left arises.  When a demon leaves, the person remains at peace, recovers consciousness, and opens his eyes.  He may even feel a spiritual happiness.  The exorcist should pray for the person for two or three more minutes.  If a demon is still inside, the person will fall back into a trance or the demon will become furious.  If the person remains conscious, he should be asked if he feels anything.  If the answer is no, then everyone present should kneel down and thank the Lord for freeing the person from the demon.  They should also thank the angels and saints for their help and intercession.

If a priest believes that every demon has left but this, in fact, is not the case, no great harm would be done.  The possessed would simply call him again, saying that some of the symptoms that made him ask for an exorcism in the first place are still present.  The exorcist would then need to repeat the prayers to drive out the last demon (or demons).

Can one who has been possessed be “re-possessed” after being exorcised?

The possessed person and their family ask this question with much desperation during the process of exorcism.  I can categorically answer them in the negative – they will not be possessed again.  If the person lives in the grace of God, prays, and goes to Mass and regular confession (i.e., once a month or even more frequently), he has nothing to fear since he is protected; the evil cannot enter again.  On the other hand, if the freed person returns to his old life of sin, he could be possessed again.  If he is repossessed, this will be by more and worse demons.

We need to leave the newly liberated in a very tranquil state, telling him that if he lives a Christian life, a demon could not enter him again, even if it wanted to.  One also needs to assure him that a demon will not return even if he should commit one or more mortal sins.  He is in danger only if he reverts to living in a state of sin (i.e., to an ongoing situation of estrangement from God).

For example, I know of a lady who had been released from all her demons.  A few days later, she called me saying that she felt bad – the feelings of oppression in her chest she had felt before (as well as other symptoms) had returned.  I was very surprised because I was certain that all the demons had been cast out of her.  She assured me that, since she had been freed, she was praying a lot, reading the Bible, and doing other spiritual things.  I laid my hands on and prayed over her.  She did not go into a trace but did feel the weight on her chest grow stronger and stronger until it gradually began to recede.  As the prayer was going on (which lasted no more than five minutes), the oppression she was feeling became increasingly weaker until it disappeared completely.  She has had no problems since then.

What had happened in this case?  This was clearly demonic influence.  The demon had left but then tried to enter into her again.  It could not re-enter because she was protected by the armor of the spiritual life.  The demon could not possess her; no matter how much I prayed, she never entered into a trance.  The prayers broke this influence that the devil had over her body and the demon was driven away forever, never to return.

This is the clearest example I have seen of a demon trying to return to a newly liberated person’s body and being unable.  The spiritual life, though we do not see it, is a true and authentic protective armor against the Evil One.

 What happens if, in an exorcism, the demons do not leave?

If weeks or months go by without any demons being cast out, this could mean that the possessed person is not following the exorcist’s direction.  Before the first session of the exorcism, the exorcist should advise the possessed to pray, go to Mass, confess, and strive to live in accord with the Ten Commandments.

Some people approach an exorcist as they would a doctor.  They think that an exorcism is similar to taking prescription medicine: the medicine will cure their illness and they can continue to live as before.  But if one wants to be exorcised, he must make a life change and strive to fulfill all of the teachings of Jesus.  If not, a demon may not leave because it has something to hold on to – and, if the demon is expelled, it may return.  If the possessed is unwilling to abandon sin, the priest should suspend the exorcism sessions until the person agrees to obey his instructions.  For example, if the person is living in an illicit union, he needs to first understand why he must put his life in order before God.  Good intentions are worth nothing; the law of God is objective and must be obeyed.  If the exorcism is begun before the person makes the life changes he needs to, it will have no effect.  As we have said, if a demon has something to hold on to, it will not leave.

Normally, a longer-than-usual exorcism is the result of some hidden disobedience by the possessed to the instructions of the exorcist.  If the person seems sincere and is following the exorcist’s instructions, then the best remedy is to bring in another priest to see if he will be more successful.  A less-experienced exorcist could be doing things that are ineffective with a particular demon.  It may be useful to try again with a priest who has more experience.

What makes a demon leave the body during an exorcism?

There are three things that can make a demon leave a person’s body:

1.  The demon itself decides to leave.

2.  The priestly power forces it to leave.

3.  An angel sent by God forces it to leave.

Weaker demons normally leave on their own.  Sacred things and prayer torture them, and the moment arrives when they decide to leave to avoid suffering.  Sometimes when they leave they say things like, “I am leaving.  You have not cast me out; I leave of my own will.”

Stronger demons, though at first refuse to leave no matter how much they are tortured.  Exorcising these demons takes more time, but the order of the exorcist forces them out.  During the exorcism, they get slowly weaker and end up being cast out by the power of the prayer.

Demons of the highest rank, though they also suffer terribly during an exorcism, refuse to leave unless an angel comes to cast them out.  At a certain point during the deprecatory prayer, God sends an angel to free the person.  Toward the end of the exorcism, an invisible fight between angel and demon occurs.  The possessed person looks at a specific place and tries to scratch and hit those present.  It is then that the worst convulsions and screams take place.  Even though the exorcist may be quiet, the angel is present and the possessed is freed by means of his intervention.

EXORCISM: The Vatican’s Exorcists, by Tracy Wilkinson

Driving Out the Devil in the 21st Century

Prologue

Caterina seems the picture of normalcy.  Tall, blue-eyes, and blond, the forty-five-year-old Italian woman has the slender, taut body of the professional dancer she is.  She comes from a good family, the daughter of a surgeon and a music teacher.  She speaks calmly and intelligently, not an intellectual but a person with education and grace.

Her exorcist is Father Efrem Cirlini of Bologna.

At seventy-nine years of age, Father Efrem is one of the oldest of Italy’s approximately 350 exorcists.  He looks a bit like Santa Claus, a man with a full, bushy white beard who cuts a rotund figure under his rough-hewn tan cassock.  He wears a thick leather belt around his amble waist and a tiny wooden cross pinned to the left side of his chest.  Caterina and Efrem have been meeting weekly for years, sometimes just for prayer, and sometimes for what both describe as a full-blown exorcism of the demons that possess this troubled woman.

An authentic exorcism, like psychotherapy, is not a one-shot deal.  It can take many, many attempts to banish the devil.  What happens in Italy, in numerous Catholic churches, is a Vatican-sanctioned ritual involving people who truly believe.  This is not Hollywood.

On a hot late summer morning, Caterina and Efrem met for one of their sessions.  It was a Friday, and these appointments are as much a part of Caterina’s schedule as going to the dentist or teaching one of her dance classes.  She stepped casually through the heavy wooden doors of the sixteenth-century Saints Gregorio e Siro Church, on a back street in central Bologna, where Father Efrem practices.  Outside, Smart cars and motorbikes pushed through a city as famous for its communist governments as its renaissance architecture, with buildings the color of terra cotta.  Inside, elderly women dressed all in black whispered prayers at small hushed chapels and lit devotional candles.  Modernity and tradition, two worlds seemingly as different as could be.  And yet here they do not collide, they intersect.  A contemporary Bolognan seeks help in an ancient ritual.

Father Efrem and Caterina began solemnly and rhythmically with prayers and blessings.  But within minutes Caterina transformed into another soul, at times angry, at times mournful, emitting voices from some unknown place deep in her body and bone-chilling screams that echoed under the vaulted ceilings of a side room inside the cavernous medieval church.

“Padre nostro, che sei nei cieli, sia santificato il tuo nome,” they recited at first, in unison.  “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. . . .”

Caterina sat in a green plastic chair in the center of the room.  The tools of the exorcism were laid out on a large oval wooden table to one side: the red book of rites and prayers; a silver crucifix; a bottle of holy water from Lourdes, and a small plastic canister of holy oil.  Efrem lifted and placed a purple satin stole around his neck, then stood off to Caterina’s right side.  Her eyes darted around the room, finally focusing on a distant point.  She worked her right thumb against her left hand, rubbing, kneading, worrying.

“Ave Maria, full of grace. . . Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. . . .”

Efrem moved behind Caterina, placed his hands on her head, and then anointed her forehead, making the sign of the cross with holy oil.  It is these blatantly religious symbols that most pester the devil, say priests.  Immediately Caterina’s face contorted, her cheeks flushed.  Efrem pressed on, making signs of the cross on each hand and the nape of her neck.  She grimaced, as if in pain.  Her voice suddenly became weak and raspy, even as she continued to attempt to recite a prayer.  “Gesù Christo!  Jesus Christ!”  Then her body convulsed violently, a seizure wringing her lanky frame.

“I can’t do it!” she boomed in a voice deeper than what seemed possible.  Repeatedly, she exhaled air, blowing through her lips almost comically, like a child blowing bubbles, and as if she were expelling inner toxic fumes.  She shook her head back and forth, back and forth.

Alternately, her normal voice returned, then other voices emerged: the hoarse, laryngitis voice; a little girl voice; and most dramatically, the deep masculine voice.  At times, she even spoke of herself using masculine verb conjugations and pronouns.  It was, Efrem explained later, the devil himself speaking.

Alarmed but persistent, Father Efrem placed a large crucifix against her throat.  “Pray for us!” he implored to a litany of saints.  “Saint Michael, pray for us.  Saint Gabriel, pray for us.  Saint Raphael, pray for us.”  Caterina attempted to push the cross away and rolled her eyes in disgust.  Her violent reactions surged when the priest uttered the name of John Paul II, the late pope.  She clasped her head, then hurled forward.  Each time the priest removed the cross, she lost her voice again, choking.  “Signore pietà.  Lord, have pity!” Efrem cried. “Free us, oh Lord!”  Suddenly, Caterina began emitting groans that sounded like a monster vomiting.  Over and over.  She sat ramrod erect in the green chair, her hands frozen into claws.  “This is foul!” she growled, huffing.  “Basta stupido prete!  Enough, you stupid priest!”

Father Efrem stepped away and retrieved the thin red book containing the exorcism rites.  Clutching the crucifix in his right hand, he crossed himself three times, on the forehead, lips, and left side of his chest.  He moved behind Caterina again, touched her head, and began to read the exorcism prayer.  She closed her eyes, then her face contorted.  The bones of her face were more pronounced, her aspect more gaunt.  She wrung her hands together relentlessly.

“Basta gia!” she moaned, stamping her foot.  “I can’t take this anymore!  Basta gia, prete!”

“Renounce Satan!” Efrem intoned.  “Renounce the seduction of evil.  Renounce Satan!”

“No!” Caterina called back.  “No!  No!  No!”

Then, shaking her head, her index finger raised to her lips, she hissed, “Shhhhhh!”

“Do you believe in God?” Efrem demanded.  Caterina struggled to respond.  She stamped her foot again, grabbed her head, and exhaled heavily.  In the tiniest, barely audible voice, she muttered, “I believe.”

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” Efrem again demanded.

She cringed, closed her eyes tightly, opened them, and focused high on the ceiling.  Again, a voice fighting to be heard said, “I believe.”

Quickly Efrem launched into another round of “Our Father, who art in Heaven.”  Caterina’s body twitched as the priest prayed over her.  “Please, please, enough!” she cried.  “Sono stufo!  I am fed up with this!  Basta, prete!”  He placed his purple stole over her right shoulder, and she lurched forward and screamed, “Basta!  She then froze in pain, her head slowly shaking back and forth.

Standing behind her, he held the stole in place with his right hand.  In his left hand he held the crucifix, which he touched to her left shoulder.  He bent over her head as if to embrace her with his body.

“Ti comando, Satana!  I command you, Satan!  Leave Caterina, servant of God!”

She leaned forward, her face again an ugly mask of pain.  The monster again vomited, long, harsh, guttural scrams of anguish from deep inside a tortured soul.

“Leave this creature!  Vattene, Satana!  Be gone, Satan!”  The priest forced the crucifix against her back.  Her head was in her hands.  The screams reverberated again and again, each longer and more horrific than the one before it.

Finally, Caterina fell backwards in her chair, her body now limp.  “Enough, enough,” she muttered.  Then her body lunged forward again and she screamed.  She twisted her body to try to push the cross away from her back.  She screamed and screamed.  Efrem repeated: “Be gone, Satan!”

A scream even deeper than the earlier ones thundered from Caterina: “You stupid priest!  Enough, you cretin!”  Suddenly, a little girl’s voice followed: “Stop, please, I beg you, stop,” she said amid pitiful sobs.  Caterina cried and moaned, and Efrem continued to pray.  She doubled forward.  “I didn’t want to come here, I didn’t want to.  It’s your fault.  I hate you!”

The priest wiped her tears, but she pushed him away.  As he prayed softly, her body, first her legs, then her torso, twitched.  She grimaced, and a stronger, harsher voice returned: “Die, priest!  Die, priest!  Die, priest!  Die, priest!”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” Efrem prayed and turned to the next rite, one of healing.

“Heal us, oh Lord!  Heal her, oh Lord!”

Caterina abruptly went erect and slid from the chair.  “Leave me alone, priest,” she said.  “She will never heal!  It is useless.  Go away!  She will never heal!”

The voice from Caterina continued in a singsong taunt of the priest: “She will never heal!  She will never heal!  She will never heal!”

Efrem was breathless by now, growing weary of the battle.  He repeated the prayer of healing.  “Heal her, oh Lord!  Pray for us!”

“No, no, no!” the voice from Caterina responded.  She jerked upright again in the chair.  The moaning resumed, but now a bit softer.  She seemed to calm.  Slowly, she recited a prayer in unison with Efrem.

“Are you alright now?” he asked her.  She motioned with her head: more or less.

Efrem sang a chant in the ancient language of Latin.  Caterina wept, but quietly, more of relief than anguish.  Briefly her body again contorted, but Efrem placed his hands on her shoulders and she grew calm.  He touched her with the purple stole and intoned the litany of saints to ask for their prayers.

Caterina brightened.  She announced that she was “eighty percent” better.  She retired her long blond ponytail and clasped hands with Efrem, who recited another prayer.  She joined in easily.  She looked straight ahead, then up at her priest.  The ordeal was over.

Suddenly the sky outside clouded over, the room inside went dark.

Panicked, Caterina grabbed the sides of her chair and, still seated, pushed herself backwards a good six feet across the floor.  “No!  No!  No!  No!” she shouted in a deep voice.  She cried and rocked her head back and forth, beating her fists against the chair.  “I told you no!”

Efrem rushed his stole around her shoulders and launched anew into prayer.  A creaky, old person’s voice came from Caterina.  “Stop it!  I said no!  I can’t take it anymore,” the voice pleaded.

After a few more minutes of prayer, Caterina calmed down and grew still.  Efrem whispered to her that she should now feel better.  Slowly, she smiled.  Yes now it was truly over.

Outside, the sun came out again, bathing the room in light.

PRAYER: Prayers Of Exorcism

Authors unknown.

Almighty Lord, Word of God, the Father, Jesus Christ, God and Lord of all creation; who gave to your holy apostles the power to tramp underfoot serpents and scorpions; who along with the other mandates to work miracles was pleased to grant them the authority to say: “Depart, you devils!” and by whose might Satan was made to fall from Heaven like lightning; I humbly call on your holy name in fear and trembling, asking that you grant me, your unworthy servant, pardon for all my sins, steadfast faith, and the power – supported by your mighty arm – to confront with confidence and resolution this cruel demon.  I ask this through you, Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, who are coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire.

Amen.

⌘ ⌘ ⌘

I cast you out, unclean spirit, along with every Satanic power of the enemy, every specter from hell, and all your fell companions; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Be gone and stay far from this creature of God.  For it is he who commands you, he who flung you headlong from the heights of Heaven into the depths of hell.  It is he who commands you, he who once stilled the sea and the wind and the storm.  Hearken, therefore, and tremble in fear, Satan, you enemy of the faith, you foe of the human race, you begetter of death, you robber of life, you corrupter of justice, you root of all evil and vice; seducer of men, betrayer of the nations, instigator of envy, font of avarice, fomenter of discord, author of pain and sorrow.  Why, then, do you stand and resist, knowing as you must that Christ the Lord brings your plans to nothing?  Fear him, who in Isaac was offered in sacrifice, in Joseph sold into bondage, slain as the paschal lamb, crucified as man, yet triumphed over the powers of hell.  Be gone, then, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Give place to the Holy Spirit by this sign of the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

Amen.

⌘ ⌘ ⌘

God, creator and defender of the human race, who made man in your own image, look down in pity on this your servant, now in the toils of the unclean spirit, now caught up in the fearsome threats of man’s ancient enemy, sworn foe of our race, who befuddles and stupefies the human mind, throws it into terror, overwhelms it with fear and panic.  Repel, O Lord, the devil’s power, break asunder his snares and traps, put the unholy tempter to flight.  By the sign of your name, let your servant be protected in mind and body.  Keep watch over the inmost recesses of his (her) heart; rule over his (her) emotions; strengthen his (her) will.  Let vanish from his (her) soul the temptings of the mighty adversary.  Graciously grant, O Lord, as we call on your holy name, that the evil spirit, who hitherto terrorized over us, may himself retreat in terror and defeat, so that this servant of yours may sincerely and steadfastly render you the service which is your due; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

⌘ ⌘ ⌘

I adjure you, ancient serpent, by the judge of the living and the dead, by your Creator, by the Creator of the whole universe, by him who has the power to consign you to hell, to depart forthwith in fear, along with your savage minions, from this servant of God, who seeks refuge in the folds of the church.  I adjure you again, not by my weakness by by the might of the Holy Spirit, to depart from this servant of God, whom almighty God has made in his image.  Yield, therefore, yield not to my own person but to the minister of Christ.  For it is the power of Christ that compels you, who brought you low by his cross.  Tremble before that mighty arm that broke asunder the dark prison walls and led souls forth to light.  May the trembling that afflicts this human frame, the fear that afflicts this image of God, descend on you.  Make no resistance nor delay in departing from this man (woman), for it has pleased Christ to dwell in man.  Do not think of despising my command because you know me to be a great sinner.  It is God himself who commands you; the majestic Christ who commands you.  God the Father commands you; God the Son commands you; God the Holy Spirit commands you.  The mystery of the cross commands you.  The faith of the holy apostles, Peter and Paul, and of all the saints commands you.  The blood of the martyrs commands you.  The continence of the confessors commands you.  The devout prayers of all holy men and women command you.  The saving mysteries of our Christian faith command you.

Depart, then, transgressor.  Depart, seducer, full of lies and cunning, foe of virtue, persecutor of the innocent.  Give place, abominable creature, give way, you monster, give way to Christ, in whom you found none of your works.  For he has already stripped you of your powers and laid waste your kingdom, bound you prisoner and plundered your weapons.  He has cast you forth into the outer darkness, where everlasting ruin awaits you and your abettors.  To what purpose do you insolently resist?  To what purpose do you brazenly refuse?  For you are guilty before almighty God, whose laws you have transgressed.   You are guilty before his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom you presumed to tempt, whom you dared to nail to the cross.  You are guilty before the whole human race, to whom you proffered by your enticements the poisoned cup of death.

Therefore, I adjure you, profligate dragon, in the name of the spotless Lamb, who has trodden down the asp and the basilisk, and overcome the lion and the dragon, to depart from this man (woman), to depart from the church of God.  Tremble and flee, as we call on the name of the Lord, before whom the denizens of hell cower, to whom the Heavenly Virtues and Powers and Dominations are subject, whom the Cherubim and Seraphim praise with unending cries as they sing: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.  The Word made flesh commands you; the Virgin’s Son commands you; Jesus of Nazareth commands you, who once, when you despised his disciples, forced you to flee in shameful defeat from a man; and when he had cast you out you did not even dare, except by his leave, to enter into a herd of swine.  And now as I adjure you in his name, be gone from this man (woman) who is his creature.  It is futile to resist his will.  It is hard for you to kick against the goad.  The longer you delay, the heavier your punishment shall be; for it is not men you are condemning, but rather him who rules the living and the dead, who is coming to judge both the living and the dead and the world by fire.

Amen.

SATURDAY READING: The Nun, by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón

The Story of a Woman Who Had No Love Life

I

Around eleven o’clock on a March morning nearly one hundred years ago, the sun appeared as cheerful and benign as it is now at the beginning of spring 1868, and as it will be for our great-grandchildren in another century (provided the world has not ended by then); it shone through the balconies of the main salon of a great manor house located on the Carrera de Darro in Granada, bathing with its brilliant light and pleasant warmth that vast and lordly room, giving life to the religious paintings that covered the walls, rejuvenating the ancient furniture and faded tapestries, and taking the place of the abolished brazier for three poeple, alive and important at the time, but of whom today there barely remains any trace or memory.

Near a balcony sat a venerable old woman whose noble and energetic face, which had probably once been very beautiful, betrayed an inordinate pride and the most austere virtue.  Certainly that mouth had never smiled, and the hard creases at her lips stemmed from the habit of giving orders.  Her tremulous head could only have been bowed before altars, and her eyes seemed to flash with the thunderbolt of excommunication.  Shortly after looking at that woman, one knew that wherever she wielded power there would be no other choice but to obey her or kill her.  Nevertheless, the expression on her face revealed neither cruelty nor evil intent, rather narrowness of principles and an intolerance of behavior that made her incapable of compromising with anything or anyone.
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MYSTICISM: Vision Seven — The Devil, by Hildegard of Bingen

Then I saw a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided at its summit as if into many tongues.  And there stood in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, before whom what seemed like a screen of translucent crystal had been placed, reaching form their breasts to their feet.  And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lay on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long, which aroused an indescribable sense of horror and rage.  On its left stood a kind of market-place, which displayed human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise; and some people were running through it very fast and not buying anything, while others were walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy.  Now that worm was black and bristly, covered with ulcers and pustules, and it was divided into five sections from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes.  One was green, one white, one red, one yellow, and one black; and they were full of deadly poison.  But its head had been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone was dislocated.  Its eyes were bloody on the surface and burning within; its ears were round and bristly; its nose and mouth were those of a viper, its hands human, its feet a viper’s feet, and its tail short and horrible.  And around its neck a chain was riveted, which also bound its hands and feet; and this chain was firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss, confining it so that it could not move about as its wicked will desired.  Many flames came forth from its mouth, dividing into four parts: One part ascended to the clouds, another breathed forth among secular people, another among spiritual people, and the last descended into the abyss.

And the flame that sought the clouds was opposing the people who wanted to get to Heaven.  And I saw three groups of these.  One was close to the clouds, one in the middle space between the clouds and the Earth, and one moved along near the Earth; and all were shouting repeatedly, “Let us get to Heaven!”  But they were whirled hither and thither by that flame; some did not waver, some barely kept their balance, and some fell to the Earth but then rose again and started toward Heaven.  The flame that breathed forth among secular people burned some of them so that they were hideously blackened, and others it transfixed so that it could move them anywhere it wanted.  Some escaped from the flame and moved toward those who sought Heaven, reiterating shouts of “O you faithful, give us help!”  But others remained transfixed.  Meanwhile, the flame that breathed forth among spiritual people concealed them in obscurity; but I saw them in six categories.  For some of them were cruelly injured by the flame’s fury; but when it could not injure one of them, it burningly breathed on them the deadly poison that flowed from the worm’s head to its feet, either green or white or red or yellow or black.  But the flame that sought the abyss contained in itself diverse torments for those who had worshiped Satan in place of God, not washed by the font of baptism or knowing the light of truth and faith.

And I saw sharp arrows whistling loudly from its mouth, and black smoke exhaling from its breast, and a burning fluid boiling up from its loins, and a hot whirlwind blowing from its navel, and the uncleanness of frogs issuing from its bowels; all of which affected human beings with grave disquiet.  And the hideous and foul-smelling vapor that came out of it infected many people with its own perversity.  But behold, a great multitude of people came, shining brightly; they forcefully trod the worm underfoot and severely tormented it, but could not be injured by its flames or its poison.

And I heard again the voice from Heaven, saying to me:

ONE:  God strengthens the faithful so that the Devil cannot conquer them

God, who disposes all things justly and rightly, calls his faithful people to the glory of the celestial inheritance; but the ancient deceiver lurks in ambush and tries to hinder them by using all his wicked arts against them.  But he is conquered by them and is confounded as his presumption deserves, for they possess the celestial country, and he suffers the horrors of hell.

Therefore, you see a burning light, as large and as high as a mountain, divided as its summit as if into many tongues.  This is the justice of God, which burns inthe faith of believers, displaying the greatness of his power, sanctity, and glory, and wonderfully declaring in that glory the diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit.

TWO: The multitude of the faithful and the divine law displayed before them

And there stand in the presence of this light a multitude of white-clad people, a cohort of people in the presence of God’s justice, shining with faith and well and honorably constituted in good works.  Before them what seems like a screen of translucent crystal has been placed, reaching from their breasts to their feet; for, from their decision to do good actions to their completion, they have before their eyes the strong and splendid sight of the divine law.  And thus they are so strengthened in these actions that no cunning or deception of false persuasion can conquer them.

THREE: The deceptions of the Devil lie in the path humans take in this world

And before that multitude, as if in a road, there lies on its back a monster shaped like a worm, wondrously large and long.  This means that the ancient serpent is well-known to humanity in the course of the pilgrimage of the good and the bad through the world, not in that visible form but in its inner meaning.  Its mouth is gaping upward in order to pull down by deception those who are tending toward the celestial regions; but it is lying down, because the Son of God destroyed so much of its strength that it cannot stand up.  And it arouses an indescribable sense of horror and rage; for the mental capacity of mortal humans is insufficient to understand the manifold variations of its poisonous fury and malicious exertions.

FOUR: The Devil offers fraudulent riches and delights, and some buy them

On its left stands a kind of marketplace, which displays human wealth and worldly delights and various sorts of merchandise.  For the left hand of the destroyer signifies death, and there is seen a marketplace composed of Death’s evil works: pride and vainglory in corruptible riches, licentiousness and lust for transitory pleasures, and trafficking in all kinds of Earthly desires.  Thus those who would be terrified by the horror of the Devil if they met it openly are deceived by these things; they are lightly offered persuasions to vice as a merchant displays his diverse wares to people, and delighted by the display so that they buy what is offered.  So the Devil offers humanity his lying arts; and those who desire them buy them.  How?  They throw away a good conscience as if selling it, and they collect deadly wounds in their souls as if buying them.

FIVE: The strong resist the Devil’s offers, the apathetic consent to them

And some people are running through it very fast and not buying anything; they know God, and so they carry the treasure of good will and the sweet spices of virtue and eagerly accumulate more of them, and quickly pass by the pleasures of the world and the filth of the Devil, obeying God’s commands and despising the sweetness of their flesh.  But others are walking slowly and stopping both to sell and to buy; they are slow to do good works and apathetic of heart, and so they smother their own desire for Heaven as if selling it, and nurture the pleasures of their flesh as if buying them.

Therefore, the former will receive the reward of good works, and the latter will suffer the punishment of iniquity, as Ezekiel shows, saying:

SIX: Words of Ezekiel on this subject

“The justice of the just shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)  What does this mean?  The shining works of the pure person bathe him in sanctity and surround him like a thousand eyes that see into the heights and the depths; as the Holy Spirit inspires him, they bear him aloft to great honor and leave his wrong desires behind for dead, as a bird is borne aloft in the air by its wings whenever if pleases.  But the person who faithlessly follows the wickedness of the savage viper who hisses at Heaven, covering the pearl with mud and raging at the Most Beautiful among all the beautiful, is degraded by its snakelike poison; he is cut off from the noble work of God’s hands, from all honor and from the beatitude of the celestial vision, and exiled from the Living Fruit and the root of the Just Tree.

SEVEN: The Devil labors to deceive the five sense of humanity

But you see that that worm is black and bristly, covered with ulcers and pustules.  This shows that the ancient serpent is full of the darkness of black betrayal, and the bristles of concealed deception, and the ulcers of impure pollution, and the pustules of repressed fury.  And it is divided into five sections from the head down through the belly to its feet, like stripes; for from the time of his first deception when he tried to put himself forward until the final time when his madness will end, he does not cease to inspire the five human senses with the desire for vices.  Simulating a deceitful rectitude, he draws people to the downward slopes of his unclean arts.  One is green, one white, one red, one yellow, and one black; and they are full of deadly poison.  The green indicates worldly melancholy; the white, improper irreverence; the red deceptive glory; the yellow, biting envy; and the black, shameful deceit, with all other perversities that bring death to the souls of those who consent to them.

EIGHT: The Devil’s pride was overthrown by the Incarnation

But its head has been so crushed that the left side of its jawbone is dislocated.  This means that his pride was so overthrown by the Son of God that even the enmity of Death is already destroyed and cannot exert its full strength of bitterness.

NINE: What the eyes and ears and nostrils of the serpent signify

Its eyes are bloody on the surface and burning within; because his wicked intent outwardly inflicts harm on human bodies and inwardly drives a fiery dart into their souls.  Its ears are round and bristly; for the bristles of his arts pierce a person all around, so that if he finds anything that is his in that person, he may quickly thrown him down.  Its nose and mouth are those of a viper; for he shows people unbridled and vile behavior, through which, transfixing them with many vices, he may cruelly slay them.

TEN: Its hands and feet and tail and what they signify

Its hands are human, for he practices his arts in human deeds; its feet a viper’s feet, because he ceaselessly ambushes people when they are journeying and inflicts devilish lacerations on them; and its tail short and horrible, for it signifies his power in the short but most evil time of the son of perdition, whose desire to run wild exceeds his power to do it.

ELEVEN: The might of God has broken the Devil’s strength to do what he wants

And around its neck a chain is riveted, which also binds its hands and feet; which is to say that the strength of the Devil was so broken and crushed by the power of Almighty God that he cannot freely work his evil and accost humans in the way.  And this chain is firmly fastened to a rock in the abyss, confining it so that it cannot move about as its wicked will desires; for the power of God abides unfailingly and immovably for eternity, and by saving souls oppresses the Devil so forcibly that he is not able by inner or outer means to take away redemption from the faithful, or keep them from that place of joy from which he perversely exiled himself.

TWELVE: The Devil sends his fire to lead astray all kinds of people on Earth

Many flames come forth from its mouth, dividing into four parts.  This means that in his rapacious voracity he sends forth in cruel flames the terrible and manifold evil of his wicked counsels; he breathes it into all four corners of the world, that the people there may follow him.

One part ascends to the clouds; for the sharpness of the Devil’s breath drags down those who with all their mind’s longing seek Heaven.  Another breathes forth among secular people; for its many forms deceive those who live among Earthly affairs.  And another among spiritual people; for its pretense infects those who labor in spiritual disciplines.  And the last descends into the abyss; for its persuasions put the faithless who consent to it into the torments of hell.  For they have walked the way of falsity and deception and left the way of rectitude, and they have not shown the reverence due to the true God, as David testifies, saying:

THIRTEEN: Words of David

“Destruction and unhappiness in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Psalm 13:5)  What does this mean?

People who expel God from their hearts by their wicked and damnable deeds are overwhelmed by his innocent and mighty works, which arise in the pure living Fountain, as a great rain submerges an object so that it is no longer visible.  And so they are not formidable in the sight of God, for misery is in their ways wherever they go, and most unhappy companionship, and the food of death.  How?  They taste and eat what is evil.  Hence in their deeds they do not know the way that ascends in the sunlight, and do not taste in honor or in love the sweetness of God; they cast away their fear of him as if it were fear of another person, desiring neither to see him nor to look him in the face.

FOURTEEN: The Devil assails spiritual and secular people in many ways

Hence you also see that the flame that seeks the clouds is opposing the people who want to get to Heaven.  For when that wicked flame feels that the minds of the faithful are tending upward, it rages against them most cruelly with its arts, so that they may not come to the celestial places to which they aspire.

FIFTEEN: The three groups of these people

 And you see three groups of these; for they do not cease to worship the true and ineffable Trinity, although greatly fatigued by their struggles.  One is close to the clouds; these are fighting most strongly against the Devil and raising their thoughts from Earthly deeds to Heavenly things as a cloud floats above the Earth.  And one is in the middle space between the clouds and the Earth.  These people control themselves moderately well, but their whole mind is not set on Heavenly things nor their whole desire on Earthly ones; they take a middle way, seeking inner qualities but not refusing outer ones.  And one moves along near the Earth; for these people have not perfectly renounced the transitory but cling a little to passing things, and so have great labor and suffer much fatigue.  But, with the help of Heaven, they are all victors; for all are shouting repeatedly, “Let us get to Heaven!”  And so the former and the latter people, with sighs of desire, exhort themselves to move toward the secret places of Heaven, even though tired out by the arts of the ancient serpent.  But they are whirled hither and thither by that flame, being driven to various actions by the wind of the Devil’s temptation.  Some do not waver, for they are exceedingly strong fighters and manfully defend themselves from these illusions.  Some barely keep their balance, for they keep their feet in the path of rectitude and persevere in God’s commandments, but are worn out by their labors and can scarcely conquer the Devil’s arts; and some fall to the Earth but then rise again and start toward Heaven, for they fall into different ways of vice but are then raised up by penitence and place their hope in God and good works.

SIXTEEN: The temptations of secular people

Now the flame that breathes forth among secular people burns some of them so that they are hideously blackened.  This is to say that the flame of evil deception aims itself at those who pursue worldly affairs and subjects some of them to its perversity; it stains them with dark and iniquitous vices, so that they despise the brightness of the true faith.  Thus they slay themselves by a bitter death, and fall to the ground and there do evil deeds.  And others it transfixes so that it can move them anywhere it wants; for it dominates them by its wickedness and bends them to all the vices of its own depravity, seducing them into the embrace of worldly pleasure, so that according to their desires they have different ways in their speech, hair, clothing, gait, and other such things.  Therefore, they become confused and neglect the justice of God, breaking the law and failing to circumcise their minds; they seek excess in lust and do not observe the times of the law God constituted for them.  And as the sea is stirred into turbulence by the wind, they are stirred into diverse vices by the breath of the ancient dragon  Some of these escape from the flame and move toward those who seek Heaven, reiterating shouts of “O you faithful, give us help!”  For they withdraw themselves from shameful and harmful companionship and imitate those who fix their mind on celestial things, desiring with heart and voice their solicitude and help.  But others remain transfixed, continuing to be ensnared in evil actions by their various vices.

SEVENTEEN: The six ways of temptation of the spiritual

But the flame that breathes forth among spiritual people conceals them in obscurity.  This means that the breath of the Devil’s persuasion, when it flames toward those who should be assenting totally to the Spirit, beclouds them with the perversity of its vices, so that they long for the flesh more than for the Spirit.

And you see them in six categories; for the ancient enemy strives to pervert both their five exterior senses and the sixth inner one, the devotion of the heart.  Some of them are cruelly injured by the flame’s fury; for the Devil unlooses his arts on them and inspires them with carnal desires and pleasures, and so enkindles them to lust and unclean pollution.  But when it cannot injure one of them, it burningly breathes on them the deadly poison that flows from the worm’s head to its feet, either green or white or red or yellow or black.  How?  When they refuse the delights of pollution, he pours into them the sprouting green of mundane sadness, so oppressing them that they have no strength for spiritual or worldly matters; or he sends against them the empty whiteness of vicious irreverence, so that they do not hide their shame before God or Man; or he displays to them the bright red of Earthly glory, giving them bitterness and anxiety of heart; or he puts into them the dull yellow of contempt for their neighbor, and thus they become whisperers and hypocrites; or he imposes on them the horrid blackness of feigned justice, through which their hearts are wretchedly darkened.

All these are deadly plagues; they have proceeded from the destroyer from the beginning of his time of deception, and will do so until the end of time, when his madness will end in the world.  And through them he injures and burns people up with vices.

EIGHTEEN: Concerning the unbaptized

But the flame that seeks the abyss contains in itself diverse torments for those who have worshiped Satan in place of God, not washed by the font of baptism or knowing the light of truth and faith.  This is to say that the fire that accompanies perdition inflicts dire and bitter torments on those souls who were not washed clean in the font of salvation and did not see the brightness of the celestial inheritance or the faith instituted by the church, and who continue to venerate the lurker in ambush who tries to kill human souls, rather than the One who granted humanity life and salvation.

NINETEEN: What is meant by his mouth’s arrows, breast’s smoke and loins’ fluid

And you see sharp arrows whistling loudly from its mouth; these are the terrible and evil thrusts of the Devil’s rage, which issue forth in madness and iniquity; and black smoke exhaling from its breast, which is the outpouring of his malicious impulses of hideous wrath and envy; and a burning fluid boiling up from its loins, which is the effusion of his uncleanness in ardent lust.

TWENTY: What is meant by his navel’s whirlwind and bowels’ uncleanness of frogs

And a hot whirlwind is blowing from its navel, which is the suffocating wind of fornication that proceeds from his voracity to dominate; and the uncleanness of frogs issuing from its bowels, which is the fetid excrement of his obduracy in desperation and his perverse concentration on it.  For the ancient waylayer hopes to subjugate those who follow him completely to his will.  And all of these things affect human beings with grave disquiet; for such perversities bring those who fix their hope in the Earthly and not the Heavenly, and so most miserably become involved with them, into extreme ruin.

TWENTY-ONE: The Devil makes the foolish believe what he falsely shows them

And the hideous and foul-smelling vapor that comes out of it infects many people with its own perversity.  This means that the black wrong of a fetid conscience proceeds from the Devil and disturbs the foolish with wicked unbelief.  How?

From the time of the beheading of John the Baptist, who declared that the Son of God is the One who heals the wounds of sin, most evil error arose, whereby the Devil seduces different people by different false images; sot hat they think that what he shows them, each according to his understanding, is true.  And many are deceived thus, because their faith is constantly weak and wavering.

But you, O My Children, if you wish to live justly and devoutly, fly from this most wicked error, lest death catch you in your unbelief.

TWENTY-TWO: Heretics who worship the Devil for God must be avoided and
excommunicated

And fly from those who linger in caves and are cloistered supporters of the Devil.  Woe to them, woe to them who remain thus!  They are the Devil’s very viscera, and the advance guard of the son of perdition.

Therefore, O you my beloved children, avoid them with all devotion and with all the strength of your souls and bodies.  For the ancient serpent feeds and clothes them by his arts, and they worship him as God and trust in his false deceptions.  They are wicked murderers, killing those who join them in simplicity before they can turn back from their error; and they are wicked fornicators upon themselves, destroying their semen in an act of murder and offering it to the Devil.  And they also invade my church with their schisms in the fullness of vice; in their shameful plots they wickedly scoff at baptism, and the sacrament of my son’s body and blood, and the other institutions of the church.  Because they are afraid of my people, they do not openly resist these institutions of mine, but in their hearts and their deeds they hold them as nothing.  By devilish illusion, they pretend to have sanctity; but they are deceived by the Devil, for if he were to show himself to them openly they would understand him and flee him.  By his arts he shows them things he pretends are good and holy, and thus deludes them.  O woe to those who persevere in this death!

But because the Devil knows he has only a short time for his error, he is now hastening to perfect infidelity in his members: you, you evil deceivers, who labor to subvert the Catholic faith.  You are wavering and soft, and thus cannot avoid the poisonous arrows of human corruption, which you employ as you wish against the law.  And after you pour out your lust in the poisonous seed of fornication, you pretend to pray and falsely assume an air of sanctity, which is more unworthy in my eyes than the stinking mire.

And thus for certain the punishment of all the schisms shall fall upon you: The one that arose in Horeb when the Jewish people made a graven image and played before it is devilish mockery, as some wantonly do to this very day; and the one about Baal, in which many perished; and the one about fornications, where the Midianites did shameful deeds; and all the others.  For you have part in all of them by your evil actions; but you are worse than the earlier people, because you perceive the true law of God but stubbornly abandon it.

But, O you who desire to be saved and have received baptism and form the holy mountain of God, resist Satan, and do not descend form the height of your salvation.

TWENTY-THREE: God’s grace forsakes his despisers but mercifully helps his seekers

The Devil ceaselessly sets his snares against a person who is so hard-hearted as to despise God’s help in resisting him; for then he sees a blackness of iniquity rising up in that person, bringing such bitterness into his whole body that its strength dries up.  Hence, when a person begins to contemplate his evil and so crushes himself in despair, deeming it impossible for him to avoid evil and do good, the Devil sees this and says, “Behold a person who is like us, denying his God and turning to follow us.  Let us hasten and run swiftly to him, urging him by our arts so that he cannot escape us.  For to leave God and follow us is what he wants.”

But a person who is assailed by these evils through the Devil’s agency, and polluted by murder, adultery, voracity, drunkenness and excess of all vices, will fall into death if he continues in them impenitent; while one who resists the Devil and withdraws repenting form these vices will rise again to life.  For if a person follows the longing of his flesh and neglects the good desires of his spirit, the Maker of this globe says to him, “He despises me and sinfully loves his flesh, and rejects the knowledge that he should turn away from perdition.  And therefore he must be cast out.”  But if a person loves the virtuous ardor of his spirit and rejects the pleasure of his flesh, the Creator of the world says of him, “He looks toward me and does not nourish his body on filth, and desires the knowledge of how to avoid death.  And therefore help will be given him.”  How?  As Solomon says, in accordance with my will:

TWENTY-FOUR: Words of Solomon

“Evil pursues sinners; and to the just good shall be repaid.” (Proverbs 13:21)  What does this mean?  Those who fall into error and slide into ruin are invaded on all sides by deadly sickness; and so they do not wisely regard what is true, but carelessly abandon it.  And, because they reject God and choose the Devil, they are not worthy to look at God or take any pleasure in God or other people, and the evil they do brings them much adversity.  But in good people, right sense and just thoughts erect a tall building; they receive in their bosom the inheritance of the Father, for they long for the celestial light.  For they are not among the deceivers in the derisive marketplace, where this or that is sold without regard for its value, but in God they possess that which is true.

TWENTY-FIVE: True worshipers of God crush the ancient serpent

But you see that a great multitude of people come, shining brightly; they forcefully tread the worm underfoot and severely torment it.  This is to say that those who are born into human misery, but who constitute the faithful army of believers, hasten to attain their desire for Heaven by the faith of baptism and blessed virtues, which are beautiful adornments; and by their deeds they cast down the ancient seducer.  They are virgins, martyrs, and all other kinds of worshipers of God, who in full knowledge tread worldly things underfoot and desire the Heavenly; and they surround the Devil and crush him with force, weakening him with dire suffering.  But they cannot be injured by its flames or its poison; for they are protected by God with such strength and constancy that neither the open flame not the hidden persuasion of the Devil’s wickedness can touch them.  For they forsake all vain fictions, and with great strength in virtue hold fast to sanctity.

But let the one who sees with watchful eyes and hears with attentive ears welcome with a kiss.  My mystical words, which proceed from me who am life.

Amen.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE: Bound

I never saw it coming.

I never even imagined it could happen to me.

The first thing it taught me was that all while I was thinking I was so clever staying under my “target’s” radar, finding access to his soul to bind it, to keep him from harming others any longer, I could drop enough of my own defenses in the fray, leaving a blind side, and be bound myself.

My soul was bound.

I don’t know what the experience of this is on an evil soul, how the person feels once its accomplished, but, for me, it felt like I was being choked.  Bodily choked.

Choked.  Chained.  Fastened to the floor.

It was the stark contrast to my normal operating sensations that really got me.

In warfare, or in flight, as I like to call it, my experience of life is vastly changed.  Heightened.  Freed.

It’s like becoming Spiderman, in a way.  I find I need something, I flip my hand open to receive it, and there it is.

This only applies to needs.  In flight, there are no wants.

Except to survive.  Somehow.

Because the rules have mutated so much, actually living in the unseen world all the while accomplishing reality as though it were, well, real, understanding how to get through such an ordeal is challenging at best, extreme and desperate at worst.

Ah.  Back to needs.

It’s as though I’ve come to a river and very much need to get across it.  In flight, ice blocks will literally rise up in the water so that I can use them for stepping stones.  And then, once on the other shore, they melt away.  No residue.   No proof.  Just me on one side.

And the enemy stranded on the other.

My favorite of all these times was back when money was very tight.  Getting what I needed financially was like swinging on vines through a jungle: having to let go of one and grab hold of the next before I fell crashing to the ground.

There was a time when I was down to ten dollars.  I knew I was not going to use it until I saw the next vine, the next infusion of money coming my way.  But I would take out that ten dollars, unfold it, and feel it in my fingers.  Sometimes I would even smell it.

It was my secret.  I don’t know why I felt this way about it.  I just did.

Hidden.  Mine.  Waiting.

Finally, I received a call.  More money was on its way.  So I knew I could use the ten dollars.  I could use it to buy some food.  And not just ramen noodles.

So I went to my favorite deli and ordered a barbecued beef sandwich on a twist roll, a bag of Doritos, and an Orangina.  I was so excited.  Real food.

As I took my slip up to the cash register to pay, I pulled out my treasured ten-dollar bill, opened it up, and, there, tucked inside it, out of nowhere, was another ten-dollar bill.

I had opened and held the ten-dollar bill so much that I knew I hadn’t gotten the amount wrong.

But there it was.  The companion ten-dollar bill.

My little miracle that I could tell no one about.

Just smile.

And order a piece of chocolate cake to go along with the sandwich.

(So, fine.  Wants can happen on very rare occasion.)

But, here I was, in battle.  Still in battle.  With a bound soul.

Which means not only no miracle ten-dollar bills, but not even the original ten-dollar bill.

I was just like everyone around me now.  Life was just life.  Solid.  Immovable.  Real.

And I was still in flight.

Bound and in flight.

Like a bird in migration with an anchor tied to its leg.

Going somewhere, except not.

It was a time, interestingly, that gave me battle after battle.  Onslaught after onslaught.

Enemy upon enemy.

And here I was, just an ordinary woman.  All my “spidey” gifts gone.

I was lucky to have a dust pan and broom to sweep the stoop with.

One Wednesday, acutely aware of my screaming vulnerability, I headed off for a noon healing service.  I could drive north on the highway, or I could go south on the highway – or on a nice, quiet, country road.  Ordinarily, I always went north.  But this Wednesday, somehow, someway, I did get a bit of a “spidey” tingling and I went south.

After a service, where the priest’s touch poured into and filled me with peace, I headed home.  Driving on the back road, coming to a slow rolling stop at a stop sign, one tire just exploded.  A gas station was just across the intersection.  The attendant who looked to the tire told me that there was no obvious reason that he could see for the tire having just exploded the way it did.  He said that had I been on the highway, with such an explosion, I would have probably died.

Yeah.

Bound.

But still alive.

It took a long, long time for me to feel safe in the world again.

Years, really.

I shut down as much of everything around me that I could.  I wanted no attention from anyone for anything whatsoever.  No neon signs that could light the way for more attacks.

And I began to see signs.  Dead cats, mostly.

Black-and-white dead cats.

Squashed on the road.

I began to be concerned about the priests with whom I was in contact.

How do you tell a modern priest to watch his back?  To be extra careful while on the road?  (I took to always driving in the midst of a pack of cars.)

Because the problem with demons, the real, true problem with demons, is that they can see you coming, but you can’t see them coming.  Or going.

I’ve “seen” them in visions.  There, in the unseen world, they really don’t amount to much.  They are driven by whoever is calling the shots, their shots; but, basically, they are just nuisance.

On Earth, on the other hand, nuisance can harm a person.  Their nuisance can kill.

To them, it’s play.  To us, it’s our immortal life.  The life of our soul.

So how did I recover exactly?

I did what a recovering person does: I lie as still spiritually as I could.  I prayed.  And I accepted my limitations.

It was quite a few years ago, now, and I’m really not sure that I am completely healed yet.

I knew things were getting better though when, traveling home from a church service hours away, and becoming hungry, I looked down in the car and saw in the little holder a bunch of abandoned change.  With it I could buy a banana, a piece of cheese, and some milk.

I think people at the stop wondered why I was cheering all the way back to the car.

It wasn’t a piece of chocolate cake, but, hey, it was a start.

Amen.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE: Warring With Demons, by Tom Licence

From Hermits and Recluses

Anchoretic warfare also involved relentless attacks by evil spirits, which inflamed the lusts of the flesh or planted wicked thoughts in the mind.  These were the beings cast out of the lofty regions of the higher heavens for their rebellion under Lucifer.  They were animal in genus, rational like humans, but aerial in body and eternal in time.  “Spirits fanatically bent on doing harm, completely at odds with justice, swollen with pride, green with envy, and well versed in deceit,” their objective by any means at their disposal was to divert souls – especially the pious – from the narrow path and plunge them into hell.  Traditionally, demons mustered in lonely places.  Saint Antony had gone to battle with them on their own terrain.  Some nights when he was alone at prayer on the inner mountain his followers heard tumults, voices, and a clash of arms, or saw the mountainside swarming with strange beasts, or caught sight of the hermit struggling as with invisible entities.  Ever since Antony had driven the demons from the desert, hermits following in his footsteps had advanced the frontiers of God’s kingdom, in England from Inner Farne to Crowland, expelling Satan’s minions and establishing outposts along the haunted border regions.  Maintaining such bastions required unceasing ascetic struggle.  Bede described the hermit Felgild, Cuthbert’s successor-but-one, as “the third heir of that dwelling and of that spiritual warfare,” implying that without a steady reinforcement of hermits the devils might return.  Sometimes the demons wept at being driven from their haunts, complaining that they could make no impact on God’s saints; but Bede’s Life of Cuthbert decries them as usurpers.  Taking Christ’s fight to the devil in the wilderness was the anchorite’s prerogative, enshrined within the Benedictine and eremitic traditions.  Godric duly set out “to do battle with the ancient enemy”; Finchale was “the arena of his combat with the ancient serpent.”  It was acknowledged that anchorites could become so wise to the devil that they might qualify as expert demonologists.  Cuthbert “had learned how to lay bare before tempted men the manifold wiles of the ancient foe.”  Romuald battled demons so successfully that he decided to write a guide for those who wished to fight them.  Eleventh-century monks thought it plausible that a hermit could trap a devil and force from it secrets about the otherworld, or that Saint Dunstan could catch Satan’s nose in his tongs.  The recluse Ælfwine of Evesham was held to possess a special faculty for seeing the demons that swarmed all over his monastery.  Goscelin rejoiced that Satan, who “once had not been content to rule over the stars and even the angels,” was forced to battle the recluse of Thanet, “a feeble little girl.”  Henry of Coquet was such a successful exorcist that, after his death, the saint saved a sick priest’s soul from a troupe of demons and drove them retreating into the ether.

The sheer logistical scale of the diabolical campaigns mounted against anchorites was a great proof of their sanctity, for the devil desired above all to corrupt the purest of God’s saints.  His armory was amply equipped for physical and mental warfare, so that over the course of a single anchorite’s career hundreds if not thousands of demons skilled in all forms of temptation could be mobilized in every conceivable disguise, and countless plots hatched or traps sprung, all for the purpose of claiming one soul (or of stopping anchorites from leading others to Heaven).  First there were the bludgeoning weapons of violence and intimidation designed to inflict pain, shock, confusion, and terror upon the would-be ascetic.  Wicked spirits arrived at Finchale to beat the hermit, smash his possessions, and toss him from his bed.  One entered his oratory and started to attack him while he prayed.  With all the strength it could muster it hurled the pyx at him, then the horn of communion wine, then the vessel containing the wafers, before ripping down a shelf and its contents and pelting him with these projectiles from the far wall.  Tusked demons vomiting flame tormented him.  One appeared with a burning spear and threatened to carve him up the middle; others took the forms of wolves, bears, bulls, lions, “poisonous” toads, and ravens.  At dusk they invaded the shadowy corners of his cell, like pitch-black pygmies, growing indignant when Godric ignored them and approaching him with hammers, clubs, pincers, burning splinters, and bloodthirsty hissing.  In the dark, they would rise from the floor or burst through the cobbles.  Devils plagued the recluse of Thanet in the guise of bears, roaring lions, howling wolves, toads, frogs, hissing venomous water snakes, and monstrous reptiles.  At Haselbury a troupe of demons assembled to conceive at attack upon Wulfric before dragging him from his oratory through the church; another devil “gazed at him with terrible eyes” and struck him with a stick.  At Markyate one of these spirits set fire to Roger’s cowl during his devotions; others invaded Christina’s cell in the likeness of toads: “Their sudden appearance, with their big and terrible eyes, was most frightening.”  On the lonely island of Inner Farne, a demon seized Bartholomew by the throat and throttled him; another grabbed him by the hood as he prayed and flung him far across the room.  Shaggy black demons riding goats assaulted his hermitage with lances.  But there was a theological case to be made that God allowed such evils to befall the saints in order that they might be proven and strengthened like Job.  For the devil could do nothing without permission.

When violence and intimidation proved ineffective, devils turned their attention to distracting anchorites from their devotions or to discouraging them.  Godric of Finchale stood praying in the river one night when a hideously deformed demon appeared on the bank, spewing flame and gnashing its teeth.  Seeking to interrupt the hermit’s prayers by luring him from the water, it made a show of stealing his clothes, which he had left on the riverbank.  The knot of toads that invaded Christian’s cell intended “to distract her attention from God’s beauty by all kinds of ugliness.”  More often, demons sought to dismay anchorites, sometimes by mocking them, sometimes by defiling sacred objects, and occasionally by demonstrating resilience to normal techniques for expelling them.  Typically they resorted to facetious obloquy.  One devil accused Ælfwine of Evesham of violating his vow of poverty by accepting a gift: “O what a great monk you are, tossing aside your vocation for the sake of a halfpenny!  Ha!  Truly now your hypocrisy is openly proven!”  “You’re no true hermit you fat peasant,” jeered a demon at the hermit of Finchale.  “Godric indeed!  Pile of shit would be a better name for you; this Godric’s the vilest peasant, the filthiest pigsty cleaner. . . You pretend to be a saint when everyone detests you!”  Another taunted his psalmody: “Ahoy decrepit bumpkin, rustic shit-heap!  I know as well how psalms should be sung as you know how to croak them out with hisses!”  Many demonic jibes like this one focus on Godric’s lack of education and may have echoed the critical sentiments of certain high-minded monks of Durham.  Placing them in the mouths of devils served a clear polemical purpose, but it may also show what sort of remarks stung the hermit.  The devil’s tendency to mock Godric for being a “mad rustic,” coupled with defensive tirades from his hagiographer asserting that God could still work his wonders through an “ignorant layman,” may betray his sensitivities.  Writing about Godric in the 1190s, the chronicler William of Newburgh picked up the same theme, claiming that God had used this man “to the confusion of the noble and great.”  Rejoicing in the scandal of simplicity with words echoing those Goscelin had used to describe the recluse Brihtric, WIlliam characterized Godric as the simplest rustic who knew nothing but Christ crucified.  In Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert, the attribution of rustic simplicity implied that the subject was incapable of inventing an untruth; but it could also suggest vulnerability, and both Goscelin and William recorded of their respective anchorites that the devil had turned simplicity to his advantage.  Battle lines may well have been drawn between those who shared the Cistercian contempt for learning (Godric’s hagiographer and William wrote partly for Cistercians) and those suspicious of Godrick’s lack of it.  The latter camp may have been seen to be fueling the devil’s campaign to plant self-doubt in the hermit’s mind.

Devils also sought to instill doubt and dismay by defiling sacred objects as though sacred things held no power over them.  Christina’s demonic toads squatted on the pages of her psalter; other demons tore pages from Godric’s shouted blasphemies, or farted in his oratories, and flung his Holy Communion vessels to the floor.  On one occasion, his devotions cast a warped reflection when the devil put on a comparable show of piety to ridicule his.  Bursting through the northerly corner of the church, he divided himself into four homunculi, which aped the hermit by genuflecting and beating their breasts before the altar.  Turning to him with a show of reverence, they bowed their heads mockingly as though acknowledging his sanctity, before returning their attention to the altar in pretense of prayer.  Even devils could pray – so what if Godric did?  At crucial moments of the hermit’s career when anxieties ran high and much was at stake, his adversary drew on hidden reserves of strength to overcome his embattled resolve.  These efforts apparently peaked over the long period when Godric was bedridden during his final illness, the devil thinking that at last he might get the better of him.  Godric lay ill; physically, he was at his weakest, when a young servant noticed devils crouching at his bedside.  The youth sprinkled holy water on them but they refused to budge.  Again he tried, this time drenching them, and still they sat there, grinning at him.  In an earlier encounter with a demon, Godric had expressed some astonishment at its ability to withstand the blessing of holy water.  Now, this device, usually efficacious for dispelling phantasms, no longer seemed to work.  The intermittent deactivation of apotropaic mechanisms served to remind anchorites where their power source lay: without grace such gestures were nugatory, redundant.  God was permitting the devil to play on Godric’s fears, that he might be tested.  On a separate occasion, two demons appeared at his sickbed declaring: “Behold, we have come here to cart you off to hell because you’re a crazy old man who’s gone in the head.”  Whenever devils appeared that no other person could see, Godric would bellow loudly, roll back his eyelids, and fix his gaze on where they stood, until others could see them.  Through all these manifestations the devil tried to persuade the hermit that his piety was a sham, that he was unqualified for sanctity, that he was a hypocrite, that the armory of Heaven was no match for his superior foe, and that he certainly should be damned.  His overarching objective was to entice Godric into the sin of despair, the first sin that tempted the penitent freebooter Guthlac when the devil reminded him how far from salvation he stood, having perpetrated so many crimes.  If fear and despair made no inroads on the anchorite, the tempter used craftier tactics.

One ruse was to interrupt or end some laudable activity by tricking the anchorite into thinking that what he was doing was misguided.  So unbearable did the devil find Brihtric’s ceaseless prayer that he criticized his importunity as offensive to God, cunningly citing scripture to deter min: “do not pile up words in prayer.”  “Bruised by these tricks the simple man imposed silence on his lips.”  The devil’s mischief was exposed the next day when Brihtric related this incident to the wise monk Æthelsige.  Another ply, first unmasked in the Life of Saint Antony, was to make an anchorite feel inadequate by urging Sisyphean feats of asceticism on him until he should despair of fulfilling his proposition.  Bent on such purposes, one devil, dressed as a pilgrim, went to Finchale pretending to be a hermit.  Drawing back his cloak to reveal putrid, ulcerous flesh almost dissolving on account of his punishing mortifications, he asked his appalled host to inspect his miserable condition.  If Godric were a genuine hermit, boasted the impostor, he would be following his example.  To belittle and entice him by pretended achievements, the demon recounted tales of how he had been rapt up to Heaven before God and his angels.  On a separate occasion, a devil in disguise put Godric’s labors to shame by digging his entire vegetable garden in a moment.  Yet another fiendish stratagem was to lull the victim into a sense of complacency before catching him off-guard.  Even Wulfric was unable to win every battle, and the enemy – it was supposed – timed his every victory to inflict the maximum misery.  Wulfric confessed to a Cistercian abbot that for eighteen years he had been tempted to masturbate on the toilet.  One Easter, after his vigils had been making some headway through Lent, the foe disarmed him with sleep before stealing upon him on the night before Easter Day and effecting a wet dream.  Wulfric was thus overcome.  Some demonic attacks aimed to dupe anchorites into committing specific sins.  A traditional tale circulating in our period told of how the devil, robed as an angel, appeared before an anchorite to warn him that the day thereafter Satan should arrive disguised as the anchorite’s father.  When his father appeared, he axed him to death.  Murder was Satan’s goal in the tale of Alexander too, again successfully accomplished.  Among the malevolent, shape-shifting spirits that plagues Godric of Finchale were demons of avarice, one of which sent him digging for treasure, another of which, dressed as a goldsmith, tempted him with his wares.  Some assailed his chastity in the guise of pretty girls.  Two claimed to specialize respectively in goading others to wrongdoing and polluting the flesh with lust.  One demon even tried to make him drink poison.

Although the devil remained a wily, chimerical opponent, experienced anchorites learned to recognize and repel his attacks.  Patristic texts, particularly the Life of Saint Antony and Moralia in Job (“A moral exegesis of Job”) by Pope Saint Gregory the Great (c.540-604), contained a wealth of expertise on how to discern and overcome the tempter’s machinations.  Goscelin advised Eve to read the Life of Saint Antony because it would “safeguard her against the devil’s plots.”  He also offered advice of his own.  Prior Roger of Durham (d. 1149) taught Godric of Finchale so many things about spiritual warfare that the devil blamed the monk for briefing the hermit against his illusions and punished Roger by filling his nostrils with a suffocating stench.  After the monk  Æthelsige had exposed teh devil’s trickery to Brihtric, the recluse returned to his routine of perpetual prayer, fortified with greater fervor.  Sometimes God would grant his warriors special powers, so although demons were normally invisible some anchorites acquired the ability to see them.  This was of great assistance because their plots could then be laid bare.  Ælfwine of Evesham “saw the enemies of the human race so clearly that he could discern their speech and actions as though they were men.”  Godric of Finchale “was accustomed to see the trickery and traps of demons which duped other men; he would often describe their countless molestations in the dead of night.  Thus enlightened, many were plucked from their snares.”  Two monks singing nocturnes for the hermit once fell into an argument, one accusing the other of fluffing the notes and nodding off.  Godric then revealed that a tiny tonsured demon had been running between them, inciting the first to anger while rendering his companion drowsy and full of mistakes.  As soon as devils were detected, attempts could be made to overcome them.  Godric fought back with staunch indifference or resistance, by making the sign of the cross, bidding them depart in the divine name, confronting them with images of the saints from his psalter, pouring holy water on them, and even by attacking them with axes.  Holy water and the sign of the cross were effective in Bartholomew’s duels with the demons of Inner Farne; Brihtric too dismissed a devil by making the sign of the cross.  Other devils proved more resilient.  Some nine hours of spiritual exertion were needed to defeat a self-proclaimed “prince of demons” which arrived threatening to slice Godric in half and which made three assaults on him during the ensuing battle.  Godric retaliated by denouncing it, making the sign of the cross, and invoking Christ “the Victor and Judge.”  Frightening noises bellowed from his oratory (a servant who ran in was terrified by what he saw), but at last the fiend was overthrown and expelled.  When Godric overcame evil spirits, they frequently punished him by leaving tempting thoughts, nausea, or putrid odors.

Some attacks were so dangerous that only intervention from Heaven could stop them.  In the context of spiritual warfare, Heavenly agents could be pitted against diabolical potentates after a principle that operated throughout medieval society: that the man whose liege-lord was mightier than his opponent’s might hope to prevail.  In a crisis, the absolute power of God and his saints over devils could be wielded as a trump.  So when the devil tried to strangle Bartholomew of Farne the hermit cried out loudly, ceaselessly, and, as it happened, successfully for the Virgin to come to his aid.  In other instances, saints intervened of their own volition to save anchorites, affirming that anchorites were of their own company.  Mary’s sudden appearance dispelled the demons that had been dragging Wulfric brutally through the church and cemetery.  Saint Bartholomew’s timely arrival prevented an air-borne troupe of demons, which had kidnapped Guthlac, from dropping him into the maw of hell.  Like the devils that appeared at Gothric’s bedside, they claimed God’s authorization to hurl him in, but Saint Bartholomew’s authority compelled them to carry the hermit back to Crowland “with the utmost gentleness.”  The next morning, Guthlac saw two of these spirits weeping beside him, and when he asked why they wept they answered: “We mourn for our strength which has been everywhere broken by you, and we bewail our lack of power against your strength; for we dare not touch you nor even approach you”; having said these words, they vanished.  The innate power of scripture could be equal proof against devils.  When a company of marching soldiers besieged Guthlac’s barrow, he dispelled the phantasm by chanting the first verse of Psalm 67: “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let his foes flee before him.”  Saint Antony had used this verse to the same effect.  When the recluse of Thanet perceived that the army of reptiles invading her cell was no more than a phantasm, with a flash of inspiration she began reciting the first fourteen verses of Saint John.  “Speaking the gospel, she hurled flaming darts of the Lord’s Word into that whole pestiferous crew.”  When she had finished, her cell was utterly purged.  The demons had fled, “like night struck by the sun.”  Grimlaïc recommended prayer as a means of repelling the devil, advising recluses to persist in this tactic notwithstanding the devil’s attempts to interrupt or even harm them.  All these apotropaic devices, whether prayer, symbols of the faith, appeals to saints, or the citation of scripture, ultimately reminded a solitary of her dependence on God: every time one weapon failed she was forced to return afresh to the divine armory.  Her constant raging warfare clarified her spiritual insight and sharpened her faculty of discerning conflicts between good and evil in everyday affairs.  At the same time, her power over the lethal spirits which ensnared ordinary women and men with invisible subterfuge set her above her fellow beings, as a figure they could look up to.

POETRY: The Demons, by Alexander Pushkin

(Translated by Irina Henderson)

Clouds are whirling, clouds are swirling;
Though invisible, the moon
Lights the flying snow while blurring
Turbid sky and nigh in one.
On and on through broad expanses;
Sleigh-bell tinkling—din-din-din…
Casting fearful, fearful glances
At the dark and eerie plain!

“Driver, hey there!….” “Can’t go faster:
Drifts have blown across the road;
Heavy for the horses, master,
And my lids together glued;
For the life of me, beside us,
Tracks are nowhere to be found;
It must be a demon guides us,
As he circles round and round.

“Over there: see him cavorting,
Blowing, spitting in my face;
Look—and now the horse is snorting
On the edge of the abyss;
Like some verst-pole without substance
He stood out against the dark;
Then he flashed across the darkness,
Disappearing like a spark.”

Clouds are whirling, clouds are swirling;
Though invisible, the moon
Lights the flying snow while blurring
Turbid sky and nigh in one.
No more strength to circle, barely;
Silent falls the little bell;
“What pulls up the horses?”—”Surely—
Stump or wolf? But who can tell?”

Raging blizzards, weeping, blowing;
Horses snorting in their fear;
See his eyes distinctly glowing,
As he capers over there;
Now the horses speed in frenzy;
Sleigh-bell tinkling—din-din-din…
I can see a spirits’ medley
Gather on the glimmering plain.

Endless, hideous hordes are pressing
Round us, in the moon’s dull light,
Demons whirling, flying, massing,
Like November leaves in flight.
Crowds of them! Where do they hurry?
Why so pitiful their song?
Goblin do they haste to bur?
Witch to wed they bring along?

Clouds are whirling, clouds are swirling;
Though invisible, the moon
Lights the flying snow while blurring
Turbid sky and nigh in one.
Swarm on swarm, the demons flying
Sweep the sky in endless quest,
Till their piteous screams and crying
Rend the heart within my breast…

DESERT FATHERS: Dealing With The Devil, by Michael Patella

From Angels and Demons

Desert Monasticism

The apocalyptic battles dramatically described in the Pseudepigrpha should not and cannot be interpreted literally, and no group knew this point better than the monastic women and men, who did so much in shaping Christian theology in the early days of the church.  The monks and nuns dwelling in the remote deserts were never far from daily confrontation with demons, as well as appearances of angels, and the stories of their battles with the diabolical world provide us with some of the best thought and practice of living in a world redeemed from sin and death.  From this desert literature, we can learn a great deal about how to approach the supernatural in our day.

The monks and nuns moved to the desert to become closer to God.  They knew that to abide in God’s grace, they would have to battle the demons, who would do everything in their power to keep the holy ones from reaching their goal.  The demons were not always external, however; many if not most of them were the internal demons of selfishness, anger, self-centeredness, lust, sloth, envy, and the like.  Likewise, expressions of grace as seen in faith, hope, and charity are often described as angels and saints in the literature.  From our perspective, this might seem to be an application of literary simile in which, say, the vice of anger is depicted as a ferocious demon, but to look at it only as a literary device would not be accurate.

The worldview of the desert monastic men and women was one that drew a very fine line separating the natural from the supernatural realms.  Where people today feel uncomfortable with such visual imagery and may even liken it to hallucination, these contemplatives knew quite well how evil desires, forces, and actions could take on a life of their own.  A contemporary example that is analogous to such a mindset would be the struggles a person recovering from addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, and food must face.  Moreover, people dealing with personality disorders and mental illness live brave lives with nearly insurmountable difficulties.  For them, to fight their way to sobriety or wellness is in very many ways a battle with demons.

The first example involves Saint Evagrius, and the second, Saint Macarius the Great.  Before heading to the desert, Evagrius was one of the most learned men in Constantinople.  While there, he is overcome with lust for a married, highborn noblewoman, and the woman in question was also smitten with him.  At no point in his writings does Evagrius chastise, condemn, or demonize the woman, yet the state in which he finds himself is itself described as falling into the “hands of the demon.”  Evagrius prays continuously and earnestly for deliverance, and it finally comes in a vision at night of angels dressed as soldiers coming to arrest him.  Evagrius thinks it is because the jealous husband had falsely accused him of sexual transgression.  In the vision, one of the angel soldiers morphs into the appearance of a very close friend who questions him on the reasons for his arrest.

Evagrius explains all and the visionary friend gives him advice: flee Constantinople.  Evagrius, still within a dreamlike state, swears on the gospels that he will do so.  He awakens from the vision and realizes that an oath in a dream is still an oath.  Immediately, he packs his things and sets sail for Jerusalem, and from there, he goes into the desert.

Did a close friend actually come to Evagrius during the night to speak to him about the impending scandal?  Did Evagrius’s emotional tension combine with his somnolent state, causing him to see this friend as an angel?  Is the whole vision a literary device?  For the desert mothers and fathers these questions are uselessly immaterial.  The fact of the matter is that Evagrius prayed for deliverance and deliverance came.  God loves his people and helps them.  A friend is an angel, and an angel is a friend (and we today still use similar language when someone shows up at a time of great need.)  This story about Evagrius is but one among the desert literature.  Within this genre there are many of a more graphic and dramatic nature, as found in an account about Saint Macarius the Great.

A man falls in love with a married woman.  She is virtuous and spurns his advances.  He in turn becomes so angry that he goes to a magician and pays him to cast a spell so that she would appear as a mare to her husband as well as to all the people in the area.  The poor husband is devastated that the woman he loves has turned into a horse; he even tries to feed her hay.  No one is able to help the hapless husband restore his wife, so he takes her to Saint Macarius.

Saint Macarius assesses the situation in short order.  He tells the husband and those with him that the magician has only made the woman appear to them as a horse; she is still a woman.  Macarius further explains that the magician’s spell could not possibly change the woman into a mare, because it is not possible for a person to change one of God’s creatures into something else.  To break the spell, Macarius sprinkles holy water over the woman’s head, and the husband and his friends see the wife and woman they all know.  Saint Macarius is not yet finished, however.  He also blesses some bread and gives it to the woman to eat with the instructions that she must attend church daily for Eucharist as well as morning and evening prayer.   The whole affair has taken place because the woman had been lax in her prayer life and had not been partaking in the Eucharist.

This short passage is a small vignette of the wisdom the desert monks and nuns can offer us today in dealing with the struggle between good and evil.  At the very start, Macarius disabuses any notion of dualism; good and evil are not equal, and the forces of evil are subject to God.  Although the incident is bad and unfortunate, it is not terror-ridden; God is in control, and there is nothing to fear.  Finally, the spell had power only because the woman had not been availing herself of the church’s sacramental life.

In many accounts, the demons attack the monks and nuns to the point that the holy ones are left bloodied and bruised.  Sometimes the demons tempt the monks with lustful thoughts or may even appear to them as voluptuous women.  The demons also pose as guests and try to engage in conversations which would get the monk to renounce Christ deliberately or accidentally.

The desert monks and nuns had other dealings with demons as well.  A great deal of the time, the monks exorcised people already possessed by evil spirits.  For these holy people, to confront a demon was nothing out of the ordinary.  Christ had his temptations and struggles with Satan, and that his followers do as well is all part of the Christian life.

Summary

The literature from the early monks and nuns of the desert recounts some of the battles these holy people had with demons.  The followers of the monastic movement went into the desert to become closer to God, and if that meant contesting with demonic forces, so be it.  Those battles ensue, for the demons do not want the holiness of the men and women to succeed.  One of the greatest contributions that the desert fathers and mothers make is a refocusing of temptation and evil.  Rather than directing evil at others, the monks and nuns look first to the evil within; scapegoating is not part of their worldview.  Temptation is deception, and the greatest deception is self-deception.  Simultaneously, Satan is a very real presence to them, and they do not hesitate to exorcise demons from each other and from people in the neighborhood.  The monastic objective was then and is now to follow the light of Christ at all times, and by following that light, monks and nuns lead others there as well.

DESERT FATHERS: Evagrius Debates Three Demons

From the Life of the Holy Evagrius
Written by Palladius

Three demons in the form of clergy met him during the middle of the day.

Their idea (to disguise themselves) was so good that he had no idea they were demons.  Indeed, his door to the courtyard was always kept barred; when he found it shut, he knew immediately that his visitors were demons.

Each, therefore, asked him his own question, and they said to him, “Since we have heard that you speak articulately concerning the faith, we have come so you might persuade us.”

He said to them, “Say what you wish.”

The first said, “I am a Eunomian; I came in order for you to tell me: Is the Father unbegotten or begotten?”  He said to him, “I will not answer you, for you have not asked a good question.  With regard to the begetting of the Unbegotten, no one can use the term ‘begotten’ or ‘unbegotten.'”

Thus left at a loss, he brought forward the other one.  When he came, he brushed aside the one who went before him because he had asked a bad question.

So, Abba Evagrius asked him, “Who are you?”
“I,” he said, “am an Arian.”
“And what do you want?”

“With regard to the Holy Spirit,” he said, “and with regard to the body of Christ, I want to know if Mary truly bore it.”

Abba Evagrius answered, “The Holy Spirit is neither something begotten nor a creature, for every creature is circumscribed by place and is subject to change and is sanctified by participation in the divine.

But the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and fills all things – I mean things in Heaven and things on Earth.  It is sanctified by no one.  Therefore, what is uncircumscribed and immutable and holy by essence can neither be a creature nor be called one.  With regard to the body, the question is one asked by Manichees and Valentinians and Marcionites.  Do the Arians also ask it?”

The demon replied, “Yes, we have our doubts, but we do not dare express them publicly on account of the rabble.”

Abba Evagrius responded, “Numerous events and statements demonstrate that his body was from Mary: growth and circumcision, and nine months gestation in the womb, and breastfeeding, and eating and drinking, and suffering, and sleep belong to the corruptible body; even more striking was when he was on the cross and was stabbed by the lance and poured forth blood and water.”

Thus when the second was also left at a loss, the third came forward with great boldness, pushing aside the other two because they had gained no advantage over Abba Evagrius and said to him, “I grant that you have prevailed over these two; to be sure, the truth was on your side.  What do you have to say to me?”  Evagrius said to him, “What do you doubt?”

He responded, “I don’t have any doubts; I am certain that Christ did not have a human mind but instead of a mind had God himself: a human mind cannot defeat the Prince of Demons.”

He said to him, “If he did not have human intelligence, he did not have a human body either, and one could say that he was not called Christ.

“Paul, when he sums up the faith in unity, teaches the fact of immutability and about both the human soul and the body: ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind: Christ Jesus, human.’

“As I see it, the three of you are in complete agreement in denying the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  Since one of you says that the Word is a creature, while another rejects the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ, and another the soul, it is clear that you find yourselves in agreement with the Jews who crucified Christ.  They, perhaps, may be pardoned, having killed according to the flesh, but you, through your impiety, have killed him just as thoroughly according to the spirit.”

Very upset, they threatened to make a public example of him, and then they disappeared.  But he, as though waking from some soft of sleep, became very fearful.  Therefore he sent a message to Albinus, his neighbor, who was very gentle, with whom he was very close, and informed him of the incident.  Albinus advised him not to remain alone, because his spirit was overly alert and because he was weighed down by solitude.

PRAYER: Unanswered Prayer And Petition, by Anthony Bloom

From Living Prayer

And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” (Matthew 15:22)

In the episode of the Canaanite woman, we see Christ, at least at first, refusing to answer a prayer; it is the case of a prayer tested in an extremely hard way.  The woman asks for something which is absolutely right, she comes with complete faith and does not even say “if you can,” she just comes, sure that Christ can and that he will be willing, and that her child will be cured.  To all this faith the answer is, “No.”  It is not that the prayer is not worthy, or the faith not sufficient, simply that she is the wrong sort of person.  Christ has come for the Jews, she is a pagan; he has not come for her.  But she insists, saying, “Yes, I am the wrong kind, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”  And she stands, trusting in the love of God, in spite of what God says, trusting so humbly despite the reason he gives.  She does not even invoke the love of God, she just appeals to its expression in daily life: I have no right to a loaf, just give me some crumbs.  Christ’s clear and sharp refusal tests her faith and her prayer is fulfilled.

So often we implore God, saying, “O God, if. . . if Thou wilt. . . if Thou canst. . .,” just like the father, who says to Christ: “Your disciples have not been able to cure my little boy, if you can do anything, do it.” (Mark 9:22)  Christ answers with another “if”: if you believe, however little, everything is possible with faith.  Then the man says: “I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”  The two “ifs” are correlative, because if there is no faith there is also no possibility for God to enter into the situation.

The fact that one turns to God should be the proof of belief, but it is so only to a certain extent; we believe and we do not believe at the same time, and faith shows its measure by overcoming its own doubts.  When we say: “Yes, I doubt, but I do believe in God’s love more than I trust my own doubts,” it becomes possible for God to act.  But if one believes in law and not in grace, if one believes that the world as we know it with its mechanical laws is mechanical because God willed it to be nothing but a machine, then there is no place for God.  Yet the heart’s experience, as well as modern science, teaches us that there is no such thing as the absolute law in which men believed in the nineteenth century.  Whenever by faith the kingdom of God is re-created, there is a place for the laws of the kingdom to act, that is for God to come into the situation with his wisdom, his ability to do good within an evil situation, without, however, upsetting the whole world.  Our “if” refers less to the power of God than to his love and concern; and God’s reply “if you can believe in my love, everything is possible” means that no miracle can happen unless, even in an incipient way, the kingdom of God is present.

A miracle is not the breaking of the laws of the fallen world, it is the re-establishment of the laws of the kingdom of God; a miracle happens only if we believe that the law depends not on the power but on the love of God.  Although we know that God is almighty, as long as we think that he does not care, no miracle is possible; to work it God would have to enforce his will, and that he does not do, because at the very core of his relationship to the world, even fallen, there is his absolute respect for human freedom and rights.  The moment you say: “I believe, and that is why I turned to you” implied: “I believe that you will be willing, that there is love in you, that you are actually concerned about every single situation.”  The moment this grain of faith is there the right relationship is established and a miracle becomes possible.

Apart from this type of “if,” which refers to our doubt in the love of God, and which is wrong, there is a legitimate category of “if.”  We can say: “I am asking this, if it is according to thy will, or if it is for the best, or if there is no secret evil intention in me when I ask,” and so on.  All these “ifs” are more than legitimate, because they imply a diffident attitude to our own selves; and every prayer of petition should be an “if-prayer.”

As the church is an extension of Christ’s presence in time and space, any Christian prayer should be Christ praying although it implies a purity of heart that we do not possess.  The prayers of the church are Christ’s prayers, particularly in the canon of the liturgy, where it is entirely Christ praying; but any other prayer in which we ask for something involving a concrete situation is always under “if.”  In the majority of cases we do not know what Christ would have prayed for in this situation and so we introduce the “if,” which means that as far as we can see, as far as we know God’s will, this is what we wish to happen to meet his will.  But the “if” also means: I am putting into these words my desire that the best should happen, and therefore you can alter this concrete petition to anything you choose, taking my intention, the desire that your will be done, even if I am unwise in stating how I should like it to be done, (Romans 8:26).  When, for example, we pray for someone to recover, or to be back from a journey at a certain time, for some purpose we think essential, our real intention is the good of the person, but we are not clear-sighted about it, and our timing and planning may be wrong.  “If” implies that so far as I can see what is right, be it done that way, but if I am mistaken, do not take me at my word but at my intention.  The Staretz Ambrose of Optina had the kind of vision which allowed him to see a person’s real good.  The monastery’s icon painter had just received a large sum of money and was about to start his journey home.  He must have prayed that he might be on his way immediately; but the Staretz deliberately delayed the artist for three days, and in so doing saved him from being murdered and robbed by one of his workmen.  When he eventually departed the villain had left his ambush, and it was only years later that the painter discovered from what danger the Staretz had protected him.

We sometimes pray for someone we love, who is in need and whom we are not able to help.  Very often we do not know what the right thing is, we do not find the words to help even the most beloved.  Sometimes we know that nothing can be done except to be silent, though we are ready to give our life to help.  In that spirit we can turn to God, put the whole situation into his care and say: “O God, who knowest everything and whose love is perfect, take this life into thine hand, do what I long to do, but cannot.”  Prayer being a commitment, we cannot pray in all truth for those whom we are not ourselves prepared to help.  With Isaiah we must be ready to hear the Lord say “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and to answer: “Here am I, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

FAITH: Chiaroscuro, by Susan Cushman

Shimmer and Shadow

How a spiritual expat from the “Christ-haunted South” found healing through art and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Susan Cushman

Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s and ’60s, I was always attracted to powerful religious experiences.  From my childhood years in the Presbyterian Church, through my involvement with religious movements on college campuses, and finally the Jesus freak hippies that formed a church in my first apartment, I finally landed within the walls of the ancient Orthodox Christian Church in the 1980s.  It is no small thing to leave one’s religious upbringing, especially in the South, for something as foreign as Easter Orthodoxy.  With this conversion came lots of changes, and the process continues today.

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Head Coverings and Nuns

First I changed my name.  I chose Mary of Egypt as my patron saint early in my conversion, changing my name from Susan to “Marye,” and adding the “e” for Egypt, a way of distinguishing her from Mary the Mother of God and other saints who shared her name.  I began signing all my correspondence, “forgive me, Marye, the sinner,” and naively used “sinfulmarye” as part of my original email address.  You can imagine the spam that hit my in-box.

My husband had become a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and so, to add to the peculiarity of my new nomenclature, I started using the church’s traditional title for a priest’s wife – Khouriya – introducing myself in church circles and taking communion as Knouriya Marye.
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SATURDAY READING: Phil’s Shadow, by Michael P. Foley

The Lessons of Groundhog Day

From Touchstone

Last December the New York Time ran an intriguing article about a Museum of Modern Art movie series on film and faith.  What attracted the Times to the series was not its pageant of grave Swedish cinema but its opening feature, the 1993 romantic comedy Groundhog Day.  The curators, polling “critics in the literary, religious, and film worlds,” found that the movie “came up so many times that there was actually a squabble over who would write about it in the retrospective’s catalog.”

The movie, the article went on to observe, “has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in Groundhog Day a reflection of their own spiritual messages.”  A professor at NYU shows it in her classes to illustrate the doctrine of samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth Buddhists seek to escape), while a rabbi in Greenwich Village sees the film as hinging on mitvahs (good deeds).  Wiccans like it because February 2nd is one of the year’s four “great sabbats,” while the Falun Dafa sect uses the movie as a lesson in spiritual advancement.

Deciphering which, if any, of these interpretations is correct is no easy task, especially since the director and cowriter of the film, Harold Ramis, has ambiguous religious beliefs (he is an agnostic raised Jewish and married to a Buddhist).  The commentators also seem wedded to a single hermeneutical lens, forcing them to ignore contradictory data.
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MYSTICISM: Profitable Teachings From The Life Of The Bride Of Christ Catherine Of Siena

beginning with what our Lord taught her and continuing with what she taught her followers

From The Cell of Self-Knowledge

The first thing our Lord taught her was this:

Daughter, do you not know who you are and who I am?  If you know these two things, you are blessed and will continue to be so.  You are she that is not, and I am he who is.  As long as you keep an awareness of these two facts in your heart, your enemy the devil will never deceive you, and you will be able to slip easily out of all his traps.  You will never give way to temptation to do anything against my commandments and teachings, and you will have no difficulty in winning my grace, truth, and love.

The second thing he taught her was this:

As long as you think of me, I shall think of you.

When she told people about this saying of the Lord’s, she used to say:

A soul that is truly united to God is not conscious of itself; it neither sees, nor loves itself, nor anyone else, but keeps its thoughts on God alone, not on any creature.

She would explain these words more fully by saying:

A soul in this state sees that in itself it is nothing, that all its virtue and all its strength belongs to God, its maker, alone.   So it abandons itself and all other creatures completely and takes refuge in its creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, to such an extent that it casts all its spiritual and physical actions wholly on to him, in whom it sees that it will find every blessing and the fullness of goodness.  This means that it has no desire to look for anything outside this intimate knowledge of him, for any reason whatsoever.
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THE CHURCH: Doubt And Faith

I’m not really sure that I believe in God, mutters the something-of-a-head of the Anglican church.

I write, something-of-a-head because profoundly, historically, Anglicans don’t recognize a head as a head.

In truth, the man who bears the title, Archbishop of Canterbury, while seeming to “run” the show of his denomination (or those parts of the Anglican Communion that still endure being in each other’s company from time-to-time) has no real authority or power over anyone else.

Anglicans do this as a stand against seeming Romanish, declaring one man as the ultimate authority.
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REFLECTION: Shadows, by Terry Hershey

From The Power of Pause

As long as the most important thing in your life is to keep finding your way, you’re going to live in mortal terror of losing it.  Once you’re willing to be lost, though, you’ll be home free. (Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment)

I’ve missed all my deadlines for the past seven weeks, including this project.

I shrugged it off and added it to a growing catalog of discontent: stalled projects, lack of motivation, unmet commitments, a nagging unease (“this day is not what I signed on for”), a desire to sleep past noon, and a mood the shade of indigo.  “Okay,” my friend reminds me, “so life is hard.  You want to talk with the complaint department, take a number.”

Have you ever felt unmoored?  I have.  And I do.  Things had been going well, but something derailed.  I hit a wall.  I tell myself, “There’s got to be a pill for this.”  What is the use of receiving two hundred spam emails a day, if not to take advantage of every offer of chemicals and other things that will make life a stroll in the park?

Melancholy is only made worse by our cultural expectations to rise above it.  “Don’t let on,” people will say.  Or if you do, tell the story as if this is a problem already resolved: “I used to struggle with that, but not anymore.”  The other day, when flying to some destination, I reflected on all of this.  I noticed that the woman next to me was reading a magazine article guaranteed to “Tone Thighs, Butt, and Abs.”  Maybe that’s the secret – a toned butt.  I caught myself reading over her shoulder.
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