The following are substantial excerpts from the book Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance, authored by Father José Antonio Fortea, a priest of the Diocese of Alcala de Henares (Madrid), Spain, and an expert in the field of demonology. Thanks to Matthew Pinto and Mike Flickinger of Ascension Press for allowing me to reprint this material.
We live in a skeptical age, one which finds the very idea of personified evil spirits to be a superstitious remnant of the Middle Ages. Those people — and religious traditions — who believe in the existence of the devil and demons are often ridiculed as being out of touch with modern times. The contemporary Western mentality is that evil is merely the result of an inadequate social environment or due to purely psychological factors, causes which can be remedied with a social program or medication. In this view, the only “exorcisms” necessary are those which rid our society of poor social conditions, ignorance, or psychopathology. Many Christians — among them not a few Catholics — have succumbed to this mentality as well. They are formed more by the culture in which we live than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Church.
Yet even a cursory reading of the gospels gives us many explicit references to the reality of demons and demonic possession. Indeed, we can see that deliverance from evil spirits played a central role in Jesus’ ministry, and Jesus Himself cited these healing acts as proof that He was the Messiah (Mt 12:28; Mk 3:22-27). Our Lord cast out demons by “the finger of God” (Lk 11:20), by His own divine authority. Jesus commanded the demons to depart and they obeyed (Mt 8:16; Mk 9:24). The ministry of Jesus was essentially one of reconciliation and healing, the salvation of souls. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus healing people’s physical and spiritual illnesses, and among these people were those possessed by evil spirits. Exorcism of evil spirits clearly was an act of healing.
This same ministry of exorcism and healing Jesus handed on to His apostles, granting them the authority to cast out demons in His name from the very beginning of their ministry (Mt 10:1, 10:8; Mk 6:7; Lk 9:1, 10:17). Furthermore, when the apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gave them the powerful words of the Our Father, including its concluding line, “deliver us from evil.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, these words do not merely refer to some abstract notion of evil or sin; they refer to evil personified in malevolent spirits, particularly in Satan, “the Evil One” (seeCCC 2851-2854). While this petition generally refers to the devil’s ordinary temptations, it also encompasses the notion of demonic possession and oppression.
When needed, the Church continues to exercise this ministry of Jesus, carefully discerning when true possession is present and permitting those priests who have been trained in the rite of exorcism and with the permission of their bishop to perform it. In the cases of oppression by evil spirits or curses, a renouncement of the evil spirit or a breaking of the curse through the Sacrament of Penance and the deliverance prayer brings about healing.
In this fascinating, easy-to-read book, Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession, and the Path to Deliverance, exorcist Fr. José Antonio Fortea brings to light crucial aspects of this important ministry. He addresses 110 practical questions about the devil, demonic possession, and the path to deliverance. In the process, he provides bishops, priests, and laity alike with sound guidelines for determining the influence of evil spirits and the important spiritual questions it raises. Catholics need to learn to recognize the reality of evil, evil spirits, and the Evil One. In this way they may learn to discern in the spiritual life between good and evil, between the Truth — Jesus Christ — and the Father of Lies — Satan.
I do, however, have an important warning for you. Although all Catholics should have a basic understanding of the reality of evil, we should also avoid being overly preoccupied with the topic of the devil. The Evil One is capable of using such a fascination as a means to ensnare us — with despair, fear, or discouragement. We need not fear! “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). In the call to holiness — intimacy with the three divine Persons of the Trinity — we are encouraged to keep our focus always on the love that Jesus Christ has for us.
As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). Jesus’ deepest desire for all people is that they come to know the love of the Father for them and live in the heart of the Trinity. St. Ignatius of Loyola calls upon us to know Satan as “the enemy of human nature.” He asks us to pray and to discover places in our hearts where we hold on to unbelief or are weak in faith. It is here that the Father of Lies will tell us that we are not the beloved of the Father of Jesus, our Abba. Indeed, if we attend humbly to receiving the love of the Father where we sense the depth of our human frailty and powerlessness, we can taste anew St. Paul’s experience of God’s healing love and power making us strong (see 2 Cor 12:9-10; Heb 11:34).
Additionally, when tempted, we should not despair or become discouraged, for Jesus has experienced the very same (Heb 4:15). Jesus Christ has won the victory over sin, evil, and death through His passion, death, and resurrection. By His grace, we can recognize and reject Satan and his empty promises. The Lord in His tender mercy will unbind any shackles of evil and sin we bring to Him! I pray that as you read this book you will come to know the freedom that Jesus Christ desires for you and has bestowed on you. May all of us “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
— Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, D.D., Bishop of Fargo
31. Can demons unite and concentrate their efforts to influence society?
The greatest power of the demons lies in tempting us to sin. Since they communicate among themselves, demons certainly work together and concentrate their efforts to influence human society. They do this by collectively devising strategies and by putting them into action in a specific place. While they desire to tempt everyone to sin, they know very well that certain individuals have the ability to influence society as a whole because of their wealth, fame, or power. The communications media are a particularly powerful influence on today’s society. As such, the demons especially target these elites.
In politics, demons are never neutral — they always analyze the situation and focus their energies on those political officials and candidates who will (wittingly or unwittingly) favor their goals. Undoubtedly, in the German election of 1932, the demons understood perfectly that their goals would be better served by tempting the German people to vote for a rather unknown, fringe candidate named Adolph Hitler. Does this mean that Hitler’s rise to power can be attributed solely to demonic forces? No, human choice was involved; but demons were undoubtedly involved, too. Similarly, the Church Fathers, in their writings about Christian persecution by the state, often point out that such persecution is rooted in the instigation of demons on rulers and the population as a whole.
We must always remember that the devil is the Father of Lies, and he seeks to make evil appear good and good appear evil. At the heart of much evil is the rejection of human dignity; the demons want us to forget that we have been created in the image and likeness of God.
There is the famous vision of Pope Leo XIII in which he saw the infernal spirits concentrated on Rome. This vision was the origin of the Prayer to St. Michael, which the Holy Father sent to the world’s bishops in 1886 and asked the entire Church to recite. The work of the angels and the prayers of Christians can impede the plans of darkness. This is why prayer and sacrifice are so important; they are a bulwark against the powers of hell in this world and a source of abundant blessings.
Though we must do battle in this invisible struggle with spiritual powers, we should always remember that in the exercise of our free will we are the authors of our own destiny. The demons can only influence us to the extent that we let them. In the end, we do what we choose and are ultimately responsible for these choices. Not even the concerted effort of millions of demons can force us to do something we really don’t want to do. When tempted, prayer is our greatest weapon, a weapon as powerful as the greatest army or wealth. The demons know the power of prayer and fear it.
55. What order do the three temptations of Jesus in the desert follow? Is there any significance to this order?
In the synoptic gospels, we see how the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness immediately prior to the start of His public ministry (see Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:9-15; Lk 4:1-13). These temptations were those of bread, power, and worldly recognition. Now then, why would the devil tempt Jesus to worship him when he did not even get Him to break His fast? In the end, why did he tempt Jesus with jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple? If Jesus had already rejected the glory of the whole world, why is the devil’s last temptation seemingly so minor?
At first sight, it seems logical that the devil’s temptations of Jesus would have started with the greatest sin, and not achieving this, the devil would have moved on to lesser sins. So he would first tempt Jesus with idolatry and follow up with something that is not even a venial sin, such as breaking a voluntary fast.
But one’s first impression is that the succession of the devil’s temptations does not follow a logical order. Actually, the succession of the devil’s attack follows a more subtle logic. It follows the order of temptations that a soul suffers when it decides to move forward with living a spiritual life. That is why there is a deep symbolism in these three temptations. The devil first tempts Jesus with things of the flesh, symbolized by the bread. This temptation symbolizes what the ascetic calls the “night of the senses.” If the soul resists this type of temptation (i.e., all the bodily appetites), there is no reason for the devil to continue tempting in this way because the soul has fortified itself against it. Having passed through the night of the senses, the devil then tempts with the world. The soul feels the beauty and attractions of the world that it has left. This is a symbol of the “night of the spirit.” Here, the soul is tempted by the world in which it lives but no longer enjoys. If this temptation is resisted, one final danger remains: pride. This is pride in the gifts one has received from God.
These three temptations symbolize the phases of temptations we go through in the spiritual life. It has to be added that, concretely, those which the devil used with Jesus were especially subtle:
• First, the devil tempted Jesus not with sin per se but with imperfection. He was asked to stop doing a good, i.e., his fasting, and turn stones into bread.
• Then, He was tempted with the spiritual good of the world. It is as if the devil were saying, “Make a sign of acknowledgment toward me, proud as I am, and, as a reward, I will put myself at your side. All I ask is that you acknowledge me, and I will help you in your work of saving souls. Are you not humble? Are you not capable of lowering yourself a little more for the eternal good of souls?” This second temptation is packed with tremendous spiritual meaning. Jesus was not asked to stop being God; He was only asked to humble Himself a bit more. Could not the Just One, who had made so many sacrifices for souls, make one more? It is the temptation to do a little evil so as to achieve a great good.
• The final temptation is that of pride — to be publicly recognized. It was to prescind from the fact that it is God, in His time, who exalts His servants. Here, the devil was saying, “Even though God decides the time and the moment, why not bring the moment forward? Why remain in obscurity when so much good can be done by coming out into the light in a glorious and spectacular way?” We can see that this third temptation is the most complex and subtle of all.
73. Why does God allow demonic possessions to occur?
While this is ultimately a mystery, we can see that God allows possession for the following reasons:
• Possession demonstrates the truth of the Catholic faith.
• Possession punishes sinners who seek a relationship with evil.
• Possession can be a spiritual benefit.
• Possession can produce wholesome teachings for humanity.
Since God allows physical illness, which often brings about an increase in faith, there are even more reasons for Him to permit a reality — possession — that often brings about an even deeper faith. Possession is a phenomenon in which the power of God, Christ, and the Church is clearly demonstrated. It is like an open window through which we can look at the world of hatred and demonic suffering. It is an open window through which we can glimpse some of the invisible power of angelic natures. And the good that comes from all of this normally affects those present for the rest of their lives.
I say “normally” since merely being present at an exorcism does not guarantee a deeper faith. There are those who, after witnessing an exorcism, attribute everything they have witnessed to natural (or unknown) causes. We shouldn’t be surprised at this. After all, there were people in Jesus’ time who did not believe in Him even after witnessing His miracles. We have to understand that, regardless of what we see, grace is required for faith. If a person freely decides to resist grace’s interior and invisible invitation, he could see the heavens open and hear God speaking to him from on high through the clouds and still believe he was having a hallucination. It is not what we experience that ignites the interior of our immortal souls with the flame of faith; it is the grace of God.
(Excerpted from Interview with an Exorcist by Father José Antonio Fortea. © 2006 Ascension Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.)