UPDATE: Again, I know that there are very, very, very difficult cases. Some go on for a very long time indeed. And there is only so much a body can do. I know this. As with the Apostles, we can sometimes fail. Yes, I know. I guess what I’m trying to get at in this post is to get the successful exorcism over with and done as quickly as possible. I’m guessing that there are exorcists who couldn’t possibly agree more, especially in view of the fact that they have ongoing cases that they are trying to get finished as quickly as possible. I’m guessing that they’ll understand what I’m saying here. There is a ferocity of temptation to frustration. I know this. Let’s pray for exorcists: Hail Mary…
Nota bene: Although what I say in this post only applies to some few exorcists in some circumstances, I think that it is a good reminder of dangers for all exorcists in whatever circumstances. Those who take umbrage with what I say may either need to hear more than others, or are thinking of circumstances frequently or sometimes encountered by them which I haven’t even thought about. If it is the latter case, send me an email so that I can learn. Those who don’t need what I say here might nevertheless rejoice to know that this matter has been voiced.
An analogy is appropriate. Once, when I was on my way back to my parish after teaching at Saint John Vianney seminary down in the Wagga Wagga Diocese of Australia, I was driving behind a firefighter (he had a special licence-plate on his vehicle). He was throwing lit cigarettes out the window, one after the other. I guess he was too drunk to know I was right behind him, watching him do this. It was about 115 degrees fahrenheit, and we were driving through hundreds of thousands of acres of the driest wheat possible, with farm houses dotting the landscape here and there. Fires were starting up everywhere with freak almost cloudless lightning. Any of these fires could destroy untold acreage, especially with even a slight wind. Conditions were so bad that it had been declared a federal crime to throw a cigarette out a car window, or even to park on the side of the road, as the heat from the muffler would ignite a fire. And here he was… putting property and lives at risk. What’s in it for him? Well, surely, if there’s a fire, he, the firefighter, can feel useful, needed: he can be a hero!
I’m not saying that all or even most exorcists who do multi-part, limited minutes exorcisms over untold numbers of candidates for exorcism are like the terrible example of the firefighter mentioned above, always wanting to be able to say that he has another exorcism scheduled this week. There are, you have to know, very difficult exorcisms. I understand that. Sometimes you just can’t finish in one session, even if that session lasts from morning until night. Fine. Spread it out over some days – even a week or ten days, whatever it takes – but making this your top priority, your main task, day in, day out, according to your health and endurance, without exaggerating by not doing your obligatory prayers (the Breviary or LoH, Holy Mass, etc.), and making certain that the person is physically and possibly medically, even psychiatrically cared for in every way. You have to prepare for an exorcism in a multitude of ways, including the time when to begin, because, when you begin, you should be prepared to see it through to the end. If the bishop has mandated you to be an exorcist, he must make difficult exorcisms physically possible to do time-wise. The point is: When you start an exorcism, finish it!
I insist on getting the exorcism over and done with because it has become an accepted part of exorcism training to teach that spreading out an exorcism by way of short appointments is just fine, especially if the priest is just too busy. The idea here would be similar to visits to a therapist: an hour here, thirty minutes there, once a week, or once a month, or whatever. After all, there are so many! Only some minutes can be given to each one in any given week! Why, it’s enough to make an exorcist feel needed, important, useful! That can be the temptation, gentlemen. It is a grave temptation, one, it seems, that not a few fall into. An exorcist can innocently find himself in such a situation: he is inundated with requests. He has no time. He wants to help everyone. He is trying his best. The last thing he wants to do is congratulate himself. He is prayerful. He means well. He’s been doing this for years, decades even. However, if this is what you do are about to do, stand forewarned of probable folly. Not all who do this fall into this temptation, but I do think that what they are doing, in view of possible suicide of candidates because of their perception that they are not being helped, but only being strung along, is rather imprudent. Such a perception is hard to avoid, isn’t it? Perhaps you or other exorcists have a different experience. Perhaps you can always triage out a few to spend more time with. It’s just that I’ve never seen this work well. Just sharing that with you, that’s all.
It seems to me that a more radical triaging becomes important when there is too much to do. Do desperately needed exorcisms first. Finish them off, one by one. If you need other exorcists, ask for them. And ask again. Ask on behalf of terribly neglected, suffering, often marginalized people who shouldn’t be beyond the parameters of ecclesiastical care, being put into the too hard bucket. Doing what is needed in our Lord’s charity can and does encourage vocations to the priesthood, by the way. This is like not being available for confession for the reason that there are other things to do. If only one would hear confessions anyway, there would be an abundance of vocations to the priesthood. Just do what our Lord wants. This is how He works. The priesthood belongs to Him. I wouldn’t worry too much about those you’ve triaged off to a later time. They will see that you are truly helping others, one by one, and that you are getting through the list, and that their turn will come. That gives hope. Being strung along provides a temptation that takes hope away. Besides, you’ll be giving them a bit of encouragement right along, won’t you?
When I first saw the stringing people along thing happening with one particular exorcist, I instinctively interiorly rebelled, especially when I saw that people would become so very terribly depressed that they were not being helped, having to return, then wait a week, then return, the wait a week, seemingly endlessly.
I was more disheartened when I saw that one candidate for exorcism had been suffering needlessly in this way for years and years, suffering terribly I might add, the worst case of possession I have seen to date still today. This person would have to come at the same time on the same day every week, but only for about forty five minutes. I saw something very frightening with this: Satan was mocking the exorcist, knowing how to make him laugh at the most horrific blasphemies against our Lady and her Son. Satan knew he would only have to endure a certain number of minutes every week. He played the exorcist very well. Sad, that.
There might be good reasons to string someone along, of course, such as medical conditions which make a session of exorcism a rather burdensome experience, so that the longer the session is, the more dangerously exhausted the person becomes. Of course. But this is not what I’m talking about in this post.
At any rate, some exorcists string along an exorcism very much on purpose, even though they have only one person instead of a multitude clamoring at the door. These exorcists use the expanse of time to catechize the person, teaching them to stay away from sin, to participate in the sacraments, going to confession and receiving Holy Communion frequently. They spend a great deal of time on family dynamics and other bits of spiritual direction. That’s nice. Some of this is necessary to say if it is possible to relate such things. HoweverI’ve seen people go into their “I’m possessed now” trance when the priest is trying to teach them otherwise useful things. Those who come for an exorcism may well and truly need exorcism as a priority so as to be able to take in such teaching. I’ve mentioned in a previous post to this series that it would be good for the possessed person to go to confession if at all possible, and that remains true despite what I say in this post. Confession may not be a possibility. Going to confession doesn’t necessitate making unending return visits. Moreover, none of this catechizing necessitates stringing the exorcism itself along. Again, while you might have some preliminary meetings with whatever candidate for exorcism, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to finish off an exorcism once you have, in fact, begun the exorcism itself.
Now, having said all that, I’m not talking about the time that an exorcist may need in order to discern that a person needs exorcism. This may take many meetings which may appropriately be scheduled according to everyone’s circumstances. But this discernment may take no time at all. Each case is different. More on that in future posts.