The devil is much smarter than we are, says Father William Goh. He explains how the devil influences or attacks people, and how the church heals them.
Left, Father William Goh refers to church documents during a talk on exorcism and deliverance. He told the audience that belief in the existence of the devil is part of Catholic doctrine.
SINGAPORE - "Recent happenings have made people conscious of the possibility of the existence of the devil. This is actually a blessing in disguise, because it gives the church the opportunity to speak about evil," said Father William Goh to a hall packed full of interested Catholics. The talk at CANA - The Catholic Centre on Sep 13 was so popular that it was repeated two days later, again to a full hall.
Although many of the 300 people who attended the talks were there to learn about the devil, Father William stressed that the centrality of Christianity is about Jesus Christ, and his redemptive work. Fortunately, as he explained, "we cannot talk about the devil without talking about God".
Being a theologian and resource person for the diocese on doctrinal matters, Father William was asked to speak on this subject which has attracted widespread interest after a woman sued two priests and seven of their helpers for what she claimed are the side effects of exorcism performed on her. The priests and helpers are defending the suit.
Father William is also the rector of the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, and the spiritual director for the Catholic Spirituality Centre, and the Singapore Archdiocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal (SACCRE).
"Deliverance and exorcism are very much related to the charismatic renewal movement," he explained to the entranced audience. In charismatic renewal, Catholics experience first-hand a renewal of their experience of the risen Lord, and become more sensitive to the presence and working of the Holy Spirit. This brings about a consequent sensitivity to the presence of evil spirits.
"The devil is much smarter than us," Father William reminded the audience, before telling them of the two ways in which the devil influences the world. The first way is by convincing us that he does not exist, "so that we are not on our guard".
The devil does this by appealing to beliefs such as secularism, which asserts itself either in thinking and behaviours which are free from religion, or that human activities and decisions should be based on evidence and fact alone, free from religious beliefs, which include beliefs in the existence of spiritual beings.
"In the world of secularism, the devil is at work â€¦ without showing his face," said Father William, citing terrorism, war, widespread influence of pornography, interest in new age movements and the occult, as various ways in which the devil manipulates people today.
"It is a teaching of the church, not an option," said Father William of the existence of the devil, citing a document produced by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1975 reiterating this teaching. "It is a presumed dimension of our faith because the redemptive work of Jesus does not make sense without the reality of the devil," he said. This is why, Father William explained, throughout his ministry Jesus was always casting out demons.
More recently on Jan 26, 1999, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments presented the New Rite for Exorcisms of the Roman Ritual when Cardinal Jorge Medina, the prefect of the Congregation, responded to the question of a reporter about the doubts of many Christians on the existence of the devil.
He said: "We know there are Catholics who have received good formation and doubt the existence of the devil, but this is an article of faith and part of the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Whoever says the devil does not exist is no longer a believer."
Once a person is aware of the devil's existence, the devil moves on the offensive, said Father William. This manifests itself in three ways - opposition, obsession, and possession.
Types of spiritual attacks
The first and most common form is by demonic opposition, which is "to be attacked from all sides" by ordinary temptations, described Father William. The opposition takes place for no reason, and it can even be physical opposition such as visible torments and sicknesses. This is faced by "those who live holy lives," he said.
The second manifestation of the devil's influence is through demonic obsession, which is when an illness - be it spiritual (relating to one's faith), emotional (relating to one's mind or emotions), or physical (relating to one's health and body) - becomes a weakness of ours causing us to sin frequently.
It then becomes an entry point for the devil to occupy that part of our faculty. This is most apparent in addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, masturbation, and so on. The third form, which is the rarest of all, is by demonic possession.
This is when the human body and its faculties are taken over by the evil spirit. To Father William's knowledge, there has been no case of demonic possession in Singapore, "at least not in the past ten years".
Father William however cautioned against what he called "devil mania" which is when a person believes that everything that occurs is the work of the devil. In fact, only when a person has gone through counselling and, if possible, psychotherapy, should he, and those around him, start to suspect that deliverance might be necessary to remove the cause of the problem. In discernment of demonic influence, "Always ask 'What is the cause?'" he told the audience.
Deliverance and exorcism
For those facing demonic opposition, Father William encouraged personal or fraternal deliverance, which is used for "small spirits". If this doesn't work, the person should seek pastoral ministries devoted towards deliverance.
"Most Catholic charismatic groups in parishes have a healing ministry" which deals with deliverance, said Father William, explaining that deliverance forms part of a healing process which could take a long time. The Catholic Spirituality Centre also has a healing ministry which handles cases of demonic obsession.
"Deliverance is a long and tedious process," said Father William, because it involves counselling, inner healing (or healing of memories), and psychotherapy. Only when these methods fail is the actual deliverance carried out, after which follow-up sessions are required as with the case of exorcism.
Exorcism is required only for cases of demonic possession. This liturgical rite can only be undertaken by a priest, and only by the authority of the local bishop.
When a case is suspected to be one of demonic possession, the bishop appoints a holy priest to carry out the exorcism. The priest then goes into prayer and fasting to strengthen his faith while the case is properly investigated. Once the case is determined to be one of demonic possession, the rite of exorcism takes place.
The liturgical rite itself is focused on humble prayers asking for God's help, and authoritative prayers addressed to the devil commanding him to depart by the authority of the Christ and his church. The prayers are said as the exorcist lays his hand on the individual, and are part of an overall ritual which includes specific blessings and sprinkling of holy water.
The rite also includes the litany of the saints, the reading of the psalms and the Gospel, and a proclamation of faith which may be either the Creed or a simple question-and-answer ("Do you renounce Satan?"; "I do."). The ritual concludes with the kissing of the cross, and the final prayer proclaiming the triumph of Christ and his church.
When either exorcism or deliverance has been carried out, follow-up sessions have to be carried out and it becomes important for the individual to lead a righteous life, to strengthen his or her spiritual life with frequent reception of the sacraments, and to have a community to rely on for support.
In conclusion, Father William called for Catholics to "avoid all sins, even venial sins" because "sins are an opening for the devil to enter our lives and manipulate us". "You have to be alert," he reminded. "Prayer keeps you alert."
Edwin Thomas, 40, one of those who had come to find out more about exorcism, said that the talk was "quite brief", but was "an eye-opener" of what exorcism and deliverance is about.
Suzanne Koh, from the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, said it is important to have talks like this "to counter rumours, especially with the things in the news". She found the talk helpful as she had faced queries from other Christians on the recent happenings.
Gordon Kong, 34, was also curious to learn more about the subject matter as this is one area "that is seldom preached in church". He said that it is important for Catholics to be more informed of "ministries in church that deal with these situations", otherwise they "might seek help elsewhere among non-Christians", which might cause even more problems.