Fear of the demonic

Question: I am quite anxious about all the talk of demonic possession recently. Is it possible I could get possessed? I fear I have been cursed. How are demons cast out?

— Name, location withheld

Answer: Significant fear about possession is misplaced. One does not become possessed easily or through some arbitrary decision of a demon. Some degree of consent is almost always necessary on the part of the possessed person at some time prior to possession. While curses may bring misfortune, they do not alone bring about possession. Curses can be turned back by blessings and prayers.

Demons are opportunistic and look not merely for the nearest person to possess but for those who are easiest to possess. Those easier to possess would include those who have engaged in occult practices, called on demons, engaged in satanic rituals, dark magic, voodoo, divination or summoned the dead, sought out palm readers, tarot card readers and the like.

Possession, which is rare, most often occurs in stages. If caught early, it is not difficult to end through the Rite of Major Exorcism. Since possession is so rare, an exorcist, prior to engaging in the rite of exorcism, must be sure that there are no medical causes for the problems, and that other natural causes are not at work. Only then, and with the permission of the local bishop, is an exorcism performed. In many cases, the exorcism can be accomplished in a few sessions. In more difficult cases, an exorcism can take a year or more to accomplish. It is a difficult process to be sure but also one that increases the faith of those assisting who witness firsthand the power of God and sacramentals such as holy water, the crucifix and so forth. The rite works essentially by shining the light of truth on the demons, reminding them that Christ has conquered and that they have lost. The light of truth torments demons who prefer the darkness of lies and are also prideful and narcissistic and do not like to be reminded that they are fallen and defeated, a shadow of their former glory.

As for why demons possess people, the number one reason is hatred and the desire to inflict fear and harm on others. There also seems to be a kind of mockery of the incarnation and/or the indwelling the Holy Spirit in the baptized. But much of the inner life and motivation of demons is mysterious and caught up in what St. Paul called the “mystery of iniquity.”

Babylonian exile

Question: When did the Babylonian exile of the Jews occur, and why?

— Dorothy Perez, San Antonio

Answer: The Babylonian exile of the Jews took place beginning 587 B.C. and ended in 538 B.C. Despite repeated warnings by the prophets, the people of Judah did repent of their sins. Thus weakened, the Babylonians defeated them after a long war, destroyed Jerusalem and led the survivors to exile in Babylon. Among the significant losses at that time was the Ark of the Covenant. The prophets saw and described this period as a purification for the Jews.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.