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Last week, I saw the new film everyone is talking about — Nefarious. It brought to mind a couple of encounters I've had with evil and, more importantly, reminded me of the importance of having at hand a binding prayer of spiritual protection.
An early encounter I had with evil occurred in the fall of 1980 when I was an 18-year-old Franciscan Franciscan at the friary of Duns Scotus in Southfield, Michigan.
A classmate and I were assigned to assist the faithful Fr. Wayne Stenzel, OFM, with a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class. The class was composed predominantly of about 20 young women about to be married to Catholic men.
Father Wayne had to leave momentarily to retrieve something he had forgotten at the friary, leaving my classmate and me in charge of starting the session.
In the middle of the opening prayer, one young, unbaptized woman suddenly fell out of her chair and started cursing and writhing on the floor.
So frightening was the sight, the other participants immediately bolted to the doors and ran out of the church hall. My classmate also left, ostensibly to find Fr. Wayne.
I knew that I was witnessing a demonic manifestation in this woman with whom I was now left alone.
The woman continued writhing on the ground, spinning around and scattering chairs. She spouted curses — some in English, some in a strange guttural language, but all curses.
At one point, the demon realized I was the only one left and, through the woman, turned its hate on me directly. Knowing I had been sexually abused as a boy, the demon mocked and tormented me about what had happened seven years earlier.
It screeched obscenely, "You know you liked it, boy. It was not all that bad in the car that night with William! You would like to [expletive] again. It was all just so fun! Was it not?"
The demon gloated over my pain, bringing back to the forefront of my mind the horror of being sexually abused. The woman and I became victims of the Evil One's hate. The demon's diatribe seemed to last an eternity, and I was left paralyzed by the torment.
Finally, Fr. Wayne and my classmate arrived, hurrying down the steps into the undercroft. Father Wayne quickly assessed the situation and, in a clear and authoritative voice, proceeded to exorcise the demon by commanding it to shut up. Father Wayne didn't have a formal exorcism book in hand, but as a veteran friar who had spent his life in the trenches of the spiritual battle between good and evil, he was able to stymie the demon.
Father Wayne ordered:
I command you to leave this daughter of Eve alone. Begone, and never return here! Never molest this poor child again. She was made in the image and likeness of God Almighty and redeemed by Jesus Christ. Leave this place, and leave her, never to trouble her ever again. I forbid you to utter anything through her. Be silent. Leave her. Begone!
Immediately, the demon left, and complete calm was restored to the room.
Father Wayne helped the young woman up off the floor and into her chair. Stunned, she began questioning as if she had no recollection of what had just transpired.
"What happened? Where did everyone go?" she queried.
The good priest told her that the class had experienced "a little bother by an evil spirit" but that it was gone and would not return.
"Some evil spirit thought that it would use you to scare us. But God is much more powerful than any evil spirit. Be at peace!" he reassured.
Meanwhile, my classmate went outside and convinced the other participants to return to the undercroft. After Fr. Wayne calmly talked to the women, they righted their chairs and took their seats.
After class that night, when everyone had gone, Fr. Wayne prepared my classmate and me to be ready for unexpected situations like this. His words are still ingrained in my brain:
When you get an inkling of the presence of an evil spirit, just bind it. Forbid it to talk, and command it to leave. Both of you have all the power necessary to send any of these demons packing. You have both received all of the Church's sacraments. You go to Mass daily. You go to confession regularly. In the praise of God, the Devil will flee.
Father Wayne then gave us both a stern look and asked, "Got it? Both of you?"
It has been 42 years since that night, but I still remember the lesson, and I have the prayers of binding at the tip of my tongue.
The following Easter, the once-tormented young woman was brought into the Church and received from Fr. Wayne all the sacraments of initiation.
Years later, while I was a parish priest in Chicago, another demonic encounter occurred outside a notably evil place.
After being installed as pastor at Resurrection Parish in 2009, I made it a practice to say my morning prayers every Saturday at the American Women's Medical Center, an abortuary near my parish.
Due to my routine of offering these prayers, volunteer prayer warriors regularly came to join me, and it was not uncommon to have a dozen or so of them offering prayers of praise to God to end abortion.
Due to the many prayers we offered routinely, abortions were no longer offered on Saturdays, and the facility even drastically cut its business hours. These small successes, however, were not met without opposition from the Evil One.
During the numerous hours we spent in prayer, individuals would pass by and the spirits would manifest themselves in some way to harass them. These spirits were met with a quick binding prayer and a command to be quiet. I was reserving for God the sidewalk and bus stop.
Of the thousands of people who came and went those Saturday mornings, almost all were indifferent. However, those passersby who stopped to curse at those praying may have been demonically obsessed to some degree.
As Fr. John Bartunek, LC, notes:
When demons exert external influence that affects a person's mental state, causing some kind of mental disturbance, this is traditionally called "obsession." Obsession can take the form of extraordinarily persistent or intense temptations, or it can even provoke or intensity [sic] natural pathologies or tendencies (phobias, depression, etc.).
It was no coincidence that satanists came to draw diabolical symbols in the freshly poured concrete when the city of Chicago repaved the sidewalks in front of the abortuary. They thought they were marking their territory. However, the city workers had to repave the entire section just a week later.
As a priest, it was my duty to mark God's territory and not let any evil spirit take over. This was my parish, and I was not giving any evil spirit permission to talk. Conversations with evil spirits never end well, as they are much smarter than any normal man.
One Saturday morning, a large group of young people from the parish joined me in observing the 40 Days for Life campaign, an international effort that employs fasting and prayer to end abortion.
During our prayers in front of the abortion mill, an evil spirit showed itself in a man who began cursing us — no holds barred. He uttered the filthiest language and showed no discretion whatsoever despite the presence of young people in the group.
Quickly remembering Fr. Wayne's lesson, I bound the evil spirit with a binding prayer, and just like that, the man walked away mute. The youth, in turn, increased the volume in their recitation of the Rosary, and calm was restored.
Later that day, our prayer group met for lunch at the local Burger King. "Hey, Fr. Paul, isn't that the man who was cursing at us this morning?" one of the young people asked.
I looked over and indeed recognized the man from numerous tattoos on his neck and face. I went up to him and asked him sincerely, "You were quite agitated this morning. How are you doing now?"
The man looked at me and, without even blinking his eye, said, "What are you talking about?"
As I motioned to the large table with our group from the parish, I asked, "Don't you remember our group over there?"
He responded, "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know any of you."
So I excused myself and returned to our table and finished the meal with our youth prayer warriors.
What transpired was not unusual. Often, individuals are taken over by the Evil One without their knowledge. Oftentimes, individuals don't realize when an evil spirit manifests itself through them or uses them to speak.
But the binding prayer I learned from Fr. Wayne sufficed to keep the evil spirit silent for the whole day.
Evil spirits typically only reveal themselves as a last-ditch effort to scare off anyone who threatens them with goodness. As a postulant, I learned early on the importance of binding them through prayer and not engaging them in conversation. After all, evil spirits only tell the truth when forced to by a trained exorcist.
For all lay Catholics, I recommend Deliverance Prayers for Use by the Laity by Fr. Chad Ripperger, a Catholic priest and exorcist. This book is worth every penny you spend on it. With all the evil playing out in this fallen world, it's hard to know when you may need to enter into spiritual warfare. In fact, nowadays, we're always in the middle of it.
For fellow priests, I recommend keeping handy Fr. Philip T. Weller's Volume II: Roman Ritual + Christian Burial, Exorcisms, Reserved Blessings.
Lastly, always strive to remain in a state of grace and to be holy. As a disciple of Christ, the Devil will flee from you. Recall what the Apostle James said: "So submit yourselves to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).