Saturday, August 21, 2010

Popular Catholicism

Trends and crazes.
Thanks to Diane at Te Deum, who sent me a link to Mark Shea's column in that other NCR, I might have thought I'm the only one who thinks exorcists coming out to discuss their work is a bit unusual.  I know we live in an age when not very many people believe there is a devil, while quite a few who do believe he exists, think he's pretty cool.  Of course, most people who believe in God also believe in the existence of the devil - but regardless of their faith, a vast number of people are absolutely titillated by the idea of exorcists and exorcisms.  I came to know of at least one priest who makes sure everyone knows he is an exorcist right off the bat - perhaps to insure his credibility. 
[In the Roman Church, the order of exorcist was part of the minor orders conferred upon candidates preparing for Holy Orders.  Nevertheless, it is only with the permission of his bishop that an ordained priest can be authorized to perform an official exorcism.]
"Exorcist groupies"
Diane coined the term in an email concerning Shea's column - and it works for me.  As she points out, we've lived through several trends in the past few decades.  I consider the Charismatic renewal to have reached cult status at it's pinnacle, just as apparition chasers arrived on the scene.  Actually the apparition followers predate the Charismatic renewal with Neceedah, Wisconsin.  What was before that however?  Communists!  The McCarthy era captured the imagination of Catholic faithful everywhere and coincided with popular piety. 
I'm not sure how many people today realize that the apparition enthusiasts, currently influenced by Medjugore have the Charismatics to thank for promoting that devotion.  Medjugorje actually unified both groups - to an extent.  Die hard Baysiders stayed with Garabandal.  All too much for you?  It's too much for me to write about, that's for sure.  But I'm just pointing out the biggest trends and crazes I've observed in popular Catholicism.  Not forgetting, as Diane pointed out, neo-angelism, or the angel craze; remember the "Touched By An Angel" TV show and figurines, and John Travolta as a shirtless angel?  Very hot trend.  But I digress - my purpose here was to share with you some of what Mark Shea had to say about the latest trend:
In a head spin...
What attitude do we take as faithful Catholics when the headlines periodically swell with tales of credulity and incredulity over such matters as demons and exorcists?
The first thing to remember is St. Paul’s counsel that we “may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Paul has in mind the various fashions and fads that whip people up with excitement about the Latest Thing.
Sometimes such fads are conscious deceptions by people out for power or a buck. But more often we are faced with people who think they are telling the truth. So, for instance, while Dan Brown was clearly lying when he told us that The Da Vinci Code was based on fact and careful research, it is not at all clear that the millions of suckers who bought the hype were lying when they repeated it around millions of water coolers.
Much the same goes on in the periodic enthusiasms over other spiritual matters. Your friend Bob reads a book about exorcism by an enthusiastic priest. Bob’s a good guy, you figure, and smart, so it must be worth a look. Because Bob’s your pal, you’re already predisposed to trust and defend the book, even when the priest claims to have performed 30,000 exorcisms in a nine-year period. In case you are counting, that’s nine exorcisms per day for nine years. Later, he ups the count to 50,000 exorcisms. This seems rather a stretch, and your atheist co-worker snorts at the book and at your friend. So you get defensive for Bob and for the priest, as though some sacred part of Holy Church is under threat if you don’t buy that 30,000-to-50,000 exorcisms claim, sight unseen.  [...]
.’s okay to listen when your skepticism bells go off...
In all this, my point is to stress the need for prudence and sound judgment in discussing the demonic. The trouble is: Prudence and sound judgment are in short supply in modern media — which is why I think it inadvisable for Catholics to spend too much time discussing the demonic in the public square. Such discussions tend to generate far more heat than light.
In this, I think I have the backing of Tradition, which tends to give short shrift to Satan, not parade him in lurid tales. Jesus’ exorcisms more or less consist of advising possessors to buzz off. The Lord’s Prayer shunts Old Scratch to the final line and addresses not him, but God the Father (“Deliver us from the evil one.”). Paul scarcely mentions him at all, and only in passing as a hindrance and as a thing Jesus is about to tread underfoot.
In short: If you want to drive Satan nuts, keep your eyes on Jesus. - Mark Shea, content editor at

Another consideration.
Shea's precaution is very wise, but I have to wonder who or what came first, the exorcists or those "exorcist groupies".  The first exorcist blockbuster book and movie "The Exorcist" might have actually launched the market for amateur demonologists.  As most people know, Medjugorje spawned several similar apparition claims elsewhere in the world, as well as near cult obsession with the other world in books such as "Get Us Out of Here" by Maria Sima - consisting of crazy stories revealing just who is in purgatory right now, and so on.  And don't forget the cult film "Emily Rose" and the supposed authentic transcripts of that exorcism which accompanied the film.  So just maybe, at least with the credible exorcists such as Fr. Euteneur, some of the books by credible authors may bring necessary catechesis on the subject.  I don't know.


  1. wise words. it's the seduction of darkness, isn't it? and if you have a curious bent like do, you just wanna 'know about it,' - ya know? i know a good, faithful, jesuit theologian who actually knew the real exorcist from st. louis. whenever i ask him about that case or for details, he simply says he's rather not discuss it, it's not worth it, and he'd rather focus on Jesus. there you go.

  2. I think all this exorcist craze, this apparition chasing, this conspiracy theory crap involving Masons and stuff, even the TOB America Train (thank you, Fr. Angelo for that term) ... it's all like some sort of Gnosticism in the sense of getting all worked up about 'hidden knowledge' cause the Bible and actual Tradition is just too 'boring' ... it also fans the flames of pride (one person on Catholic Answers: 'why would I trust what the Pope says when Our Lady said something else?'). I wish we could give out cards assuring that someone has read the whole Bible and the whole Catechsim before opening their mouth about such stuff.

    Then again, it's nothing new. Didn't Pope Gregory the Great himself produce a book on Purgatory that was basically nothing more than anecdotal ghost stories from dudes he knew? I think Trent even has a canon condemning such crap like that as confusing to the faithful. Or I can think of the perennial optimist Fr. F.X. Schouppe from the 19th century...

  3. Yeah--ya gotta be careful what you mess with..

    A couple of years ago my work building had a "presence" made people sick, it made people mean, sniping at each other, etc. One of my Evangelical can "sense" these things a lot better than I, she said there was a spiritual "heaviness" like ablack cloud over everything (she said she could pick up a real "stale, sour" smell too) and she was the one who approached me about sprinkling some Holy Water around. I had also heard that Blessed Salt helps too (I do need to say that since I work in US government building we have employees that are Hindu, Wicca, New Agers, and a White Witch--we are a EEO organization). We prayed for about a week on what we were to do. We decided on a late Friday afternoon when hardly anyone ws around, cuz if we got caught we could be in REAL trouble--as in lose our jobs. Also the janitors wouldn't be in until Monday so they wouldn't be sweeping up behind us... We also weren't sure if we would stir up OTHER BIG trouble, so we put on spiritual armor for a week

    First we started outside the building with a decade of the Rosary to invoke Our Lady's Protection, then we went inside and at each office and door sprinkled Holy Water and Blessed Salt, said the Prayer for th eBLessed Salt, and an Our Father. When we finished inside we hit all the exterior doors. We finished up with a final decade of the Rosary, collected up our belongings, and went home. WE didn't name the presence or the Devil or told it to go away. We just prayed these prayer and us ed the Sacramentals. It was still pretty scary. But the two of us kept each other strong.

    Monday morning my coworker--who arrives a little later than I--came running up to me. "Can you smell it?? There is the wonderful smell of roses here, all throughout the building...did anyone bring in roses today??" Nope.. I told her that Our Lady often leaves the sign of the smell of roses. We didn't say anyone to anyone, but we did notice that seemingly over the weekend the attitude of the place had did a complete 180. People were cheeerful and happy, actually said Hello and Good morning to each other instead of being a bunch of grumps.

    I did talk to the priest on base as to what we did, and although he wsn't particularly happy with what we did, he did say that on our military base there was probably alot of stuff that happened when the base was associated with WWII, test pilots dying, industrial accidents, etc. as well as the "alternative religions" things. The ground could have been cursed by some unknown reason. And the building we are in is a WWII building.

    It was a scary thing to do, and something I'm not real anxious to do again. And if so I would like some priestly support, and especially prayer chain and Adoration folks. And I'm definitely not encouraging anyone to try this. But since then our building has been clean.. Even my boss noticed that hardly anyone has been calling in sick anymore..

    I don't tell a whole lot of folks about this as most folks would think I was crazy..and most people think I am anyway with 3 puddy tats :)

    God Bless... Sara

  4. I agree with Shea, up until his last paragraph. Fact is, we don't live in the time that Jesus walked the earth, or the time of St. Paul. Obviously, let's not focus in the wrong area. But why should I assume that the devil's influence is just the same throughout all ages? Because it's not. It's not because of what people allow in their lives throughout time. And what people are allowing doesn't qualify as saying: but people have always done evil.

    Or take torture for instance. If Shea were to go on about exorcisms the way he goes on about torture, well...the things is, the same devil that is behind torture is the same devil behind possessions. My point is that the reality of possession brings home the reality behind all these other evils that we proclaim to fight against. But we like our evils nice and stupid to render us such good fighters. Like having some squat, slow, fat guy as your opponent in sword battle.

    Malachi Martin's book "Hostage to the Devil" does a good job of covering five different cases of possession which mirror the trends happening in the culture at large. But people like Shea don't like that, because then that makes you look like a conspiracy theorist. You're seeing devils everywhere!

    No, lets be prim and proper.

  5. Hi Anonymous - quick reply before I'm off to church. I never read Shea or the other big guns - but I know people have issues with Shea. His post resonated with me because of the post I did with Vassula's promoter Fr. Aberton in the UK. I can't endorse everything Shea said but he raised a couple of good points, there was a blogger who once called into question Amorth's count of exorcisms he performed - I thought it was a lot too - but I just shrugged my shoulders - so when I see someone like Shea question it, I thought well maybe it should be questioned. I'm not against the books on exorcism - but I just hope they are credible and do not lead to an unhealthy fixation on the diabolic. Actually Paul Stilwell left an extremely insightful comment and so I refrained from adding anything. All that said - I do think books such as Euteneur's latest provides good catechesis on the subject. I wonder if I should read Malachi Martin's book Paul recommends? As it is, I sleep with 2 crucifixes, a rosary, with holy water and exorcism salt next to my bed...

  6. There are various Malachi Martin videos on youtube.(might give you a taster, before you buy the book I mean.

    'As it is, I sleep with 2 crucifixes, a rosary, with holy water and exorcism salt next to my bed...'

    Not dissimilar to myself, except for the scapulars and miraculous medals too!

  7. Shadowlands - I wear the scapular and miraculous medals too. I should have explained why two crucifixes - one is a St. Benedict's medal crucifix under my pillow - the other is a larger crucifix on my side table I can see. I suppose some people think that is over the top but I'm sure they do not have backgrounds like myself, or possibly you. I could tell stories.

  8. Aceman11:28 AM

    See, exorcists coming out!? It only proves straight people want to be gay too! Ace ;-)

  9. Ace...Me?? gay???? There is absolutely NO WAY...I love men WAAAYYY too much...and definitely prefer link sausage over patty sausage.. ;)

    Plus I'm surrounded by stunningly handsome fighter pilots every work day..and that NEVER gets old.. :) One of the perks of my employment :)


  10. Aceman11:50 AM

    Sara--well, not all straight people then, just the ones who love drama!

    See what Terry's posts lead to??


  11. Sara, I think what you and your friend did was heroic. More such acts should be done everywhere, and with just as much spiritual armor preparation and seriousness by which you two approached it. And in quiet, as you did, too. The world is so overrun by evil today, more than in any other era, perhaps.

    I hope your friend is Catholic now? (the way I read it, she was an evangelical--is that right?)

  12. Great post, Terry--Tough subject matter.

    I read a book by Fr. Amorth regarding his years of experience as the Chief Exorcist of Rome, and he said quite plainly that he had less than 100 instances of actually casting out demons from people. He's performed the Rite of Exorcism (which are the prayers, not the actual casting out of demons) hundreds of times. I've not read much by or about Fr. Euteneuer as of yet, but he's on my short reading list.

    I'd like to zero in on the apparitions portion of this post...

    I've always been interested in private revelation, and both Garabandal & Medjugorje have been included in my many readings. People get hysterical with regard to both Garabandal and Medjugorje in particular. Either they are so wrapped up in them that they lose themselves (welcome to Bayside!), or they are so radically opposed to them that they become irrationally venomous. Both responses are why I believe that Mother Church is infinitely wise in taking her time studying and discerning private revelation.

    About the Baysiders: Gaining knowledge of the future and experiencing magical, supernatural wonders are like drugs. It's why they are holding on to Garabandal--they are clutching onto the predictions like Louis Vatton handbags.

    I've read about the events and messages at Garabandal, and they are quite compelling. However, the Church deemed the events at Garabandal inconclusive (not invalid--there is a difference). If more evidence becomes available, they'll reopen it--END OF STORY. I'd say that Bayside just needs to let that one go.

    Medjugorje, on the other hand, is currently under investigation. I have read some very miraculous things regarding Medjugorje, and have seen some very questionable things regarding Medjugorje. I have a few doubts about its validity on some levels, but ultimately what I think doesn't really matter. Mother Church's decision with regard to the validity of Medjugorje will be final.

    Until she has judged, though, maybe everyone should turn their attention to the CHURCH APPROVED private revelation from which we can gain extraordinary inspiration.

    Let's see, there's St. Faustina and Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Fatima, Kibeho in Rwanda, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Padre Pio, Sr. Agnes at Akita, Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres, LaSalette,...I could go on. These are far more worthy of our attention and talents.

  13. Be careful with La Salette ... there's a lot of crap that got published that is simply, well, crap. A lot of Sedevacantist and Tradissima websites have La Salette stuff, but the problem is there#s a big difference between what is popularly circulated on the internet and in pamphlets and what is actually approved.

  14. Using sacramentals with faith is a great thing; the Evil One likes to reside wherever folks are attempting to be holy and love the Lord; as well as those who have been subjected to all kinds of evil in their earlier lives.
    As for the exorcist tales: I read them so I can be informed in case I need to use this knowledge; and it, has, in fact, been helpful; as long as it is reliable and consistent with Catholic teaching, I rely upon it.
    I'm no expert; I'm just a dumb-dumb; I hope God will leave me in seclusion and hiddenness forever; I have no great desires to battle Evil in some "Cecile de Mille" kinda way; yucch!
    But somehow, we battle the Evil One here in our little "dovecot of Our Lady" by praying the Divine Office, adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, devoutly assisting at Holy Mass and offering all of our works, sufferings and joys to the Sacred Heart of Jesus each and every day.
    It's a hidden apostolate; it's not very dramatic (we're very ordinary, stupid, clutzy, average kinda people...but we laugh A LOT!)...and I believe, and try to encourage, that by our daily oblation with faith and love, we combat evil in all its forms, whether we know it or not.
    And by being joyful (and laughing at ourselves and one another) we drive that 'damned son of a bitch' away from everyone we love (especially all of you; I mean it!); which as Auntie A. says "is everybody":<)!


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