Exorcistic Christianity

Here is a short excerpt from a book I am working on, concerning the Harry Potter phenomenon and the occult.  And yes, I read the books.  I have followed the controversy for years.  This has been stewing for a long time.  Preoccupation with my duties as a superior and this writing project has kept me away from blogging.

Christianity as Spiritual Warfare

That the practice of Christianity is spiritual warfare and that our mortal enemy is Satan is a fundamental dictum of our faith.

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, written as a private theologian, Pope Benedict XVI stresses the “exorcistic character of Christianity.”  Commenting on Mark 3:14 ff., he points out that Christ’s mandate to his apostles to preach the gospel is inextricably linked to the power to exorcize and to heal.  He says that preaching is “never just words, never just instruction.”  Rather, Pope Benedict tells us that preaching the Kingdom of God “is an event, just as Jesus himself is an event, God’s Word in person.”

Preaching the Kingdom, then, is a struggle with the “powers of evil” that rule world in order to deliver it from darkness and give it over to the dominion of Christ.  The preacher is an instrument of the Holy Spirit in the order of “exorcist.”  Referencing the work of Henri du Lubac, the pope points out that the birth of Christianity was experienced as “a liberation from the fear of demons.”  In a like manner, the tells us, today where Christianity replaces paganism, the works of the “gods,” or better, of the demons must be purged and only those customs worthy of the worship of the one true God permitted to remain.

Thus, Christianity is characteristically a matter of spiritual warfare.  The fall of our first parent’s was a matter of being spiritually “killed in action,” or better, “killed in inaction.”  It was a failure to protect the territory of the garden of paradise, of the family and of the heart. God’s subsequent revelation to Adam and Eve, and through them to us all, was that life is a war between the serpent and his seed and the Woman and Her seed (Gen. 3:15).  Ultimate victory has been promised to those who persevere in the fight.  Serpent enmity and head-crushing are our marching orders.

Principalities and Powers

St. Paul tells us that this warfare is spiritual and that our enemies are not flesh and blood (Eph. 6:10-12).  Our conflict is not fundamentally with other men, with the enemies of the Church, or with the practitioners of the occult.  It is worse than that.  In effect, but for the grace of God, we are totally outmatched.  Quoting Heinrich Schlier, Pope Benedict reminds us that the host sent against us, “never stops coming,” and “cannot really be pinned down and have no proper name.”  It starts out with an advantage because of its “superior position,” which is “impenetrable and unassailable.”  Furthermore, that host of enemies wields a malice that is deadly and undying.

The Holy Father also reminds us that satanic influence is, in a sense, “something in the air,”  “poisoning” the “spiritual climate.” He says that “[t]he individual human being and even communities of human beings, seem to be hopelessly at the mercy of such powers.”  So, while on the one hand, our enemy is not of this world, he uses those who are under his influence.  Father John Hardon, commenting on the Two Standards of St. Ignatius of Loyola affirms that Satan has the “capacity to so use people or human institutions that they become, in effect, instruments of the demonic will” (The Catholic Catechism, 90).

Exorcism and Healing

The salvific will of Christ, on the other hand, separates light from the darkness.  Prayer must take the form of deliverance.  Spiritual warfare is a healing of the wounds that have been inflicted on us by our enemy.  Our confidence is in God, because we have put on His armor and have been promised victory, but we must, at all costs, remain under the protection of Christ’s Church by accepting and making fruitful her preaching, exorcizing and healing ministries.

Pope Benedict shows that healing is related to the exorcistic characteristic of Christianity.  All of Our Lord’s miracles of healing point to the “entire content of redemption.”  But healing can only come through Him:

The authority to cast out demons and to free the world from their dark threat, for the sake of the one true God, is the same authority that rules out any magical understanding of healing through attempts to manipulate these mysterious powers.  Magical healing is always tied to the art of turning the evil onto someone else setting the “demons” against him.  God’s dominion, God’s Kingdom, means precisely the disempowerment of these forces by the intervention of the one God, who is good, who is the Good itself.

Spiritual warfare is, then, first of all, a matter of the heart, that is, it is a matter of remaining morally free of demonic contamination.  Such contamination we call sin.  Exorcists will tell us that the primary way to guard against extraordinary demonic influence is to resist the ordinary one that takes the form of temptation.  For this the “armor of God,” consists in the faith, prayer and the sacraments.  More often than not, if we are living a faith-filled, sacramental life we will be protected from evil.

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