DO you want to be free? Do you want to breathe the air of joy, peace, and that rest that Christ promised? Sometimes, part of the reason we are robbed of these graces is because we have not engaged a spiritual battle that is being waged around our souls by what the Scriptures call “unclean spirits.” Are these spirits real beings? Do we have authority over them? How do we address them so as to be free of them? Practical answers to your questions from Our Lady of the Storm…
REAL EVIL, REAL ANGELS
Let us be absolutely clear: when we speak of evil spirits we are talking about fallen angels—real spiritual beings. They are not “symbols” or “metaphors” for evil or badness, as some misguided theologians have suggested.
Satan or the devil and the other demons are fallen angels who have freely refused to serve God and his plan. Their choice against God is definitive. They try to associate man in their revolt against God… The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 414, 319
I had to chuckle at a recent article that only somewhat veiled its bemusement at Pope Francis’ frequent mention of the devil. Affirming the constant teaching of the Church on the personhood of Satan, Francis said:
He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person. I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan—if you do that, you’ll be lost. —POPE FRANCIS, television interview; December 13th, 2017; telegraph.co.uk
This was chalked up as a kind of “Jesuit” thing. It’s not. It’s not even a Christian thing per se. It’s the reality of the entire human race that we are all at the center of a cosmic battle against evil principalities and powers who seek to eternally separate humans from their Creator—whether we know it or not.
As Christians, we have real authority, given to us by Christ, to repel these evil spirits who are intelligent, cunning, and relentless.
Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:19-20)
However, to what degree do each of us have authority?
Just as the Church has a hierarchy—the Pope, bishops, priests, and then laity—so too, the angels have a hierarchy: Cherubim, Seraphim, Archangels, etc. Likewise, this hierarchy was maintained among the fallen angels: Satan, then “principalities… powers… world rulers of this present darkness… evil spirits in the heavens”, “dominions”, and so forth. The experience of the Church shows that, depending on the type of spiritual affliction (oppression, obsession, possession), the authority over those evil spirits can vary. As well, authority can vary according to territory. For instance, an exorcist I know said that his bishop would not permit him to say the Rite of Exorcism in another diocese unless he had the permission of the bishop there. Why? Because Satan is legalistic and will play that card whenever he can.
For example, a woman shared with me how they were part of a deliverance team with a priest in Mexico. While praying over an afflicted individual, he commanded an evil spirit to “depart in the name of Jesus.” But the demon replied, “Which Jesus is that?” You see, Jesus is a common name in that country. So the exorcist, without arguing with the spirit, responded, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I command you to depart.” And the spirit did.
So what authority do you have over demonic spirits?
As I said in Our Lady of the Storm, Christians have been given the authority to bind and rebuke spirits in essentially four categories: our personal lives; as fathers, over our homes and children; as priests, over our parishes and parishioners; and as bishops, over their dioceses and when the enemy has taken possession of a soul.
The reason is that exorcists warn that, while we have authority to cast out spirits in our personal lives, rebuking the evil one in others is another matter—unless we have that authority.
Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)
There are varying schools of thought on this, mind you. But it is pretty much unanimous in the Church’s experience that when it comes to the rare cases where a person is “possessed” by evil spirits (not just oppressed by, but inhabited by), only a bishop has the authority to either cast out or delegate that authority to an “exorcist.” This authority comes directly from Christ himself who first gave it to the Twelve Apostles, who then pass on this authority according to Christ’s Word through apostolic succession:
And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons… Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mark 3:14-15; Matthew 18:18)
The hierarchy of authority is essentially based on priestly authority. The Catechism teaches that every believer shares in the “priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World.” Since you are the “temple of the Holy Spirit”, every believer, sharing in the priesthood of Christ over their bodies, has authority to bind and rebuke evil spirits who are oppressing them.
Second, is the authority of the father in the “domestic church”, the family, of which he is the head.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (Eph 5:21-23)
Fathers, you have authority to cast out demons from your home, property and family members. I have experienced this authority myself several times over the years. Using holy water, blessed by a priest, I have “felt” the presence of evil depart when sprinkled around the home. Other times, I have been awoken in the middle of the night by a child who is suddenly writhing in stomach pain or a head ache. Of course, one assumes it may be a virus or something they ate, but other times, the Holy Spirit has imparted a word of knowledge that it’s a spiritual attack. After praying over the child, I’ve seen these sometimes violent symptoms just suddenly vanish.
Next, is the parish priest. His authority comes directly from the bishop who through the laying on of hands has conferred the sacramental priesthood upon him. The parish priest has general authority over all his parishioners within his parish territory. Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation, the blessing of homes, and prayers of deliverance, the parish priest is a powerful instrument of binding and dispelling the presence of evil. (Again, in some cases, of demonic possession or an obstinate presence in a home through the occult or a past violent act, an exorcist may be required who may use the Rite of Exorcism.)
And last is the bishop, who has spiritual authority over his diocese. In the case of the Bishop of Rome, who is also the Vicar of Christ, the Pope enjoys supreme authority over the entire universal Church.
It must be said that God is not limited by the hierarchical structure He himself has ordained. The Lord can cast out spirits when and however He pleases. For instance, some Evangelical Christians have active ministries of deliverance that seem to fall outside the above guidelines (though in cases of possession, ironically, they often seek out a Catholic priest). But then, that’s the point: these are guidelines given to guide so as to not only maintain order, but to protect the faithful. We would do well to humbly remain beneath the protective mantle of the Church’s 2000 year old wisdom and experience.
HOW TO PRAY FOR DELIVERANCE
The experience of the Church through her various apostolates of deliverance ministry would essentially agree on three basic elements necessary for the deliverance from evil spirits to remain effective.
Sin is what gives Satan a certain “legal” access to the Christian. The Cross is what dissolves that legal claim:
[Jesus] brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it. (Col 2:13-15)
Yes, the Cross! I remember the story a Lutheran woman once told me. They were praying for a woman in their parish community who was afflicted by an evil spirit. Suddenly, the woman growled and leapt up toward the woman praying for her deliverance. Shocked and afraid, all she could think to do in that moment was make the “sign of the cross” in the air—something she once saw a Catholic do. When she did, the possessed woman flew backwards. The Cross is the symbol of Satan’s defeat.
But if we willfully choose not only to sin, but to adore the idols of our appetites, no matter how small, we are handing ourselves over in degrees, so to speak, to the influence of the devil (oppression). In the case of grave sin, unforgiveness, loss of faith, or involvement in the occult, a person may be permitting the evil one a stronghold (obsession). Depending upon the nature of the sin and the soul’s disposition or other serious factors, this can result in evil spirits actually inhabiting the person (possession).
What the soul must do, through a thorough examination of conscience, is sincerely repent of all participation in the works of darkness. This dissolves the legal claim Satan has on the soul—and why one exorcist said to me that “One good confession is more powerful than 100 exorcisms.”
True repentance also means renouncing our former deeds and way of life.
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world… (Titus 2:11-12)
When you recognize sins or patterns in your life that are contrary to the Gospel, it is good practice to say aloud, for example: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I renounce having used Tarot cards and seeking out fortune tellers”, or “I renounce lust,” or “I renounce anger”, or “I renounce the abuse of alcohol”, or “I renounce watching horror films in my home and playing violent video games”, or “I renounce heavy death metal music,” etc. This declaration puts the spirits behind these activities on notice. And then…
If this is a sin in your personal life, then you have the authority to bind and rebuke (cast out) the demon behind that temptation. You can simply say:
In the name of Jesus Christ, I bind the spirit of _________ and command you to depart.
Here, you can name the spirit: “spirit of the Occult”, “Lust” , “Anger”, “Alcoholism”, “Curiosity”, “Violence”, or what have you. Another prayer that I use is similar:
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I bind the spirit of _________ with the chain of Mary to the foot of the Cross. I command you to depart and forbid you to return.
And then Jesus tells us this:
When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. (Matt 12:43-45)
That is to say, if we do not repent; if we return to old patterns, habits, and temptations, then the evil one will simply and legally reclaim what it has temporarily lost to the degree that we leave the door open.
One priest in deliverance ministry taught me that, after rebuking evil spirits, one can pray: “Lord, come now and fill the empty places in my heart with your Spirit and presence. Come Lord Jesus with your angels and close the gaps in my life.”
The above prayers while intended for individual use can be adapted by those who have authority over others, while the Rite of Exorcism is reserved to bishops and those whom he grants authority to use it.
BE NOT AFRAID!
Pope Francis is right: don’t argue with Satan. Jesus never argued with evil spirits or debated with Satan. Rather, He simply rebuked them or quoted the Scriptures—which is the Word of God. And God’s Word is power itself, because Jesus is “the Word made flesh.” 
You don’t need to jump up and down and scream at the devil, no more than a judge, when passing a sentence over a criminal, stands up and shouts while flailing his arms. Rather, the judge simply stands on his authority and calmly delivers the sentence. So too, stand on your authority as a baptized son or daughter of God, and deliver the sentence.
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory, cry out for joy on their couches, with the praise of God in their mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands… to bind their kings in shackles, their nobles in chains of iron, to execute the judgments decreed for them—such is the glory of all God’s faithful. Hallelujah! (Psalm 149:5-9)
There is more that could be said here, such as the power of praise, which fills demons with disgust and terror; the necessity of prayer and fasting when spirits have deep strongholds; and as I wrote in Our Lady of the Storm, the powerful effect of the Blessed Mother through her presence and her Rosary, when she is invited into the believer’s midst.
The bottom line is that you, Christian, are victorious through faith in Jesus and His Holy Name. For freedom, Christ set you free. So take it back. Take back your freedom, purchased for you in Blood.
For whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith… Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (1 John 5:4; Luke 10:20)
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