More About Demons
Monday February 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (James 3:13-18) Gospel (St. Mark 9:14-29)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about this boy who is possessed by the demon. Many people, when they think about things demonic, immediately and only think about demonic possession. But, as we hear in the first reading, there are lots of other ways that demons operate. For instance, Saint James tells us if someone has a wisdom which is selfish, arrogant, and boastful that it is earthly and it is demonic. It is something that is not of God, but it is not merely something which is natural either; it is something that is preternatural or something that is from the demons.
This is a point that we have lost rather badly in our society. Even in our own Church these days, most people, first of all, give lip service to the fact that maybe the devil exists but he really does not have any power; or if he does, well, we do not want to deal with him anyway. There are some people who would say that anything demonic is merely a medieval myth, that they thought various forms of mental illness were really something that were demonic manifestations. But now that we have psychologists and psychiatrists, we know better than that; therefore, the devil does not exist because we have become enlightened now and we are not caught up in the medieval myths anymore. The fact of the matter is that they are as real as you and me. We all have guardian angels that we cannot see. Of course, many people want to deny that reality as well. The demons are fallen angels and they are real. And they can afflict us in a variety of ways.
But I think what is important is what Our Lord points out at the end of the Gospel today: This kind can only be gotten rid of by prayer. And there is another point where He says by prayer and fasting. When we look at the various things that we struggle with in our lives, we understand that certainly there is our own free will involved in some of our sinfulness; but there are other things that we continually do over and over again which are a mystery even to our own selves. “Why did this happen? Why do I keep doing these same things? Why do I do selfish things? Why do I do arrogant things? Why do I keep doing the same stupid things that I keep saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore’? I keep falling into the same pattern.” It is not necessarily a willful thing, but it just keeps happening and it is not good. It is because there is something spiritual there. Not that anybody here is possessed – I do not suspect anyone is – but, again, one does not need to be possessed in order to be troubled by demonic things.
So we need to pray and we need to do penance in order to overcome these things. Some things we can push out pretty easily. Other things are going to take an awful lot of work depending on what happened to allow these things in and what kind of demon it is, because there are different kinds of spirits that are present within us. And so we must be very careful because we realize that for someone to be possessed is exceedingly rare, exceedingly rare. It happens, but it is very rare. Do not assume that if someone has any kind of demonic problem they must be possessed, because generally they are not. But do not assume either that just because someone is not possessed that they do not have any kind of demonic problems. I can guarantee you that unless you are perfect you have a demonic problem, not that you are possessed, not that you are willfully entertaining anything demonic. The fact of the matter is the demons live within the wounds within us, and until those wounds heal they have a home. That is why we need to pray. That is why we need to do penance. We need to get at the very heart of what it is that allowed these things in, and we need to work against it. It is possible, as Our Lord made very clear, for those with faith.
As we look at our own struggles, some of which we may have been trying for years and years and years to overcome, we simply need to go to Our Lord and recognize that the ultimate origin of these things probably is not our own free will – we have simply cooperated with it to whatever degree – but there is probably something else that is spiritual there causing us trouble. We need to go to Our Lord and beg Him for the grace to be able to get rid of this thing, and say with the father of the boy in the Gospel, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Understand that with faith we can be rid of these things. Depending on what it is that they are, it requires different things. But the fact of the matter is that with the help of God all things are possible. So we do not go to prayer and say, “Oh, Lord, if you can do this…” because all things are possible for Him. What is necessary is that first we have faith in the proper sense. We have to recognize the reality of our situation for what it is and we need to approach it in the right way: with prayer, with penance, and with complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ, Who can do all things in those who believe.
Tuesday February 24, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (James 4:1-10) Gospel (St. Mark 9:30-37)
Yesterday, in the homily, we spoke about the reality of the evil spirits. I thought it might be appropriate to explain that with a little bit more detail so that we would understand exactly what it is we are working against.
There are spirits that are broken up into different kinds of categories. There are, for instance, the spirits that are called “cardinal spirits”. Cardinal spirits are the ones that we get in because of repeated sin. If we do the same thing over and over and over again, we open ourselves up to allow the devil in. We do not become possessed by these things, but rather we are oppressed by them. And what we need to do is work them back out by changing the habits that we have and changing our vices into virtues.
There are what are called “ministering spirits”. Ministering spirits are huge things from the higher order of angels. They are the ones that live within the wounds that are inflicted upon us from the time that we are quite young, when there are traumatic things that happen in our lives when we are young (before 12 years old). These are the great, big things that get wrapped around our personality, and because of that, they are very, very difficult to even be able to recognize or to get rid of. The problem with ministering spirits is, first of all, they are exceedingly intelligent, which is why they go after little children rather than adults because their arrogance will not allow them to do anything else. They try to hide behind the personality of the people. These are the ones that will cause pride, selfishness, anger, and also fear. So when we see these kinds of problems in our lives, these are things that are rooted deep, deep within ourselves. They are in the wounds that were inflicted when we were young, and the only way to be able to get rid of them is to get inside and be able to address the woundedness, to heal those wounds that are there through forgiveness, through working through the various things in prayer. Slowly, we will be able to push these things away.
There are also occult spirits. These are the things that get in through occult practices. They can be sent or they can be summoned. For instance, if we allow ourselves to be involved in any kind of occult things: playing with a ouija board, going to a palm reader or to a psychic or somebody like that, getting ourselves into any kind of satanic thing. That is how we are going to get these occult spirits. But they can also be sent by somebody. That is, they can be sent along with a curse. They can be sent by someone who is in the occult, someone who does not like you very much, to cause you lots of problems. These are particularly vile creatures. Because they are occult spirits, they are not very easy to get rid of because they are nasty and tenacious and they fight back, whereas the other ones we can push out. But these are going to cause lots of problems as we try to get rid of them.
Then there are other categories that still fit under these three general headings. There are familial spirits, which are within the family and get passed down; for instance, if there is someone who is in the Masons. The Masons are the lowest form of human life on the face of the earth. They are an occult religion, and they are the most despicable of human beings. In order to move up the ladder, they actually offer their children and their grandchildren and generations down the line in order for their own selfish ambitions to be met. So there are curses that are put upon the families and upon the children, and those get passed down from generation to generation.
There are others that are also generational spirits, familial spirits. One of these, for instance, is incest. That is a generational and familial spirit; it gets passed down from generation to generation. You see the same problems within the family that get passed along. We wonder how it is possible that this can happen generation after generation; it is because of the spirit that is there. There are familiar spirits. That is a different spirit that has a familiarity with you because it was already there and the wound is not necessarily fully healed, so it can come in because there is a woundedness that is already present for it. And there are retaliating spirits. There are all kinds of different ways that these things can get in, but it is just to understand what it is that we are working against.
When we think about the struggles that we have, Saint James in the first reading telling us, for instance, that we have these wars within our members and so on, but the reality is that the war, as Saint Paul tells us, is not against flesh and blood; it is against the principalities and powers of darkness and the rulers of the high places. It is against Satan and his minions, and we need to be clear. We do have our own weaknesses because of our own sins, but the fact of the matter is it is not merely just our little human weakness – it is our human weakness being compounded by something which is a spiritual problem. And in order to deal with a spiritual problem, you have to deal with it in a spiritual way.
So again, as we look now toward Lent beginning tomorrow, it is a matter of how we are going to combat these things. Remember, yesterday Jesus said, “This type can only be gotten rid of by prayer and fasting.” If you really want to be able to make headway on some of these things, you need to pray, you need to take on some penances, and you need to face the things directly. It is all of these things. It is not just a matter of saying, “If I pray it will go away.” It is not just a matter of saying, “If I try to change my habits it will make a difference.” These things will help all by themselves; but if we really want to be able to get rid of the problems in our lives, it is going to require all three of these things: to pray, to do penance, and to work at making the changes that we need, because we have our part to do but it is still a matter of recognizing where the trouble is coming from. Not merely just within our own selves and within our own weaknesses, but by the spirits that are there.
There are also three levels of these things. There are oppressive spirits. Those are the ones that all of us deal with. They are the things that are there causing us the trouble. There are obsessive spirits. That is where a person gets obsessed with occult things. And then there are possessive spirits. That is when a person opens himself up to actually be taken over, to become possessed. That is the one that is very, very rare. We have to understand that just because someone is dealing with spiritual things, which all of us are, it does not mean they are possessed. In fact, it is very rare that someone would be possessed.
I make these distinctions for you simply so you can understand why we struggle the way that we do in our spiritual lives, what it is that we are fighting against, and to help us understand that just because we are struggling against the devil and his minions does not mean that we are possessed and it does not mean that we have given ourselves over to Satan. Some of the things we are completely innocent of: the generational things, the ministering spirits, and so on. The fact is they are still there, and so we have to do our part to work against them. As we look again toward Lent, look seriously at what is going on within your own heart and soul, and make a choice to really fight against them by prayer, by fasting, and by turning directly against the areas of weakness within yourself to throw the devil out by the time that Easter comes.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.