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4 Common myths about the devil


We don't need to fear the devil but we should understand who he is. Here are the basics.

The third myth: The devil wants to possess me.

Watching television and movies you might think that the devil’s greatest desire is to possess people. Not so.

Yes, the devil is real, and yes, he wants to see you damned to hell, but it’s not about you. He doesn’t love you. He doesn’t like you. He doesn’t even hate you. He doesn’t give a damn about you (language which is truly appropriate here).

He just hates God, and he wants to hurt God the only way he can.

He knows how much God loves you, so he tries to hurt God by hurting you.

Now, there really is such a thing as demonic possession.

Diabolic activity generally falls into one of four categories, an exorcist I interviewed told me. The mildest forms are infestation (of a place or object) and obsession (involving intense temptations). Worse is oppression —an external attack by evil spirits on a person. The rarest and most serious form is possession. “Full possession means the devil takes control over the consciousness of the person,” the exorcist said. “It uses the mouth of the person to speak. It uses the hands and legs of the person to do violence.”

There are three kinds of exorcisms. First is the liturgical exorcism that is incorporated in every baptismal ceremony.

Second, there is so-called private exorcism, or simple exorcism. It is as simple as the words, “Be gone, Satan.” St. Faustina would send the devil away with a sign of the cross.

The third kind of exorcism is the solemn, “public,” or formal exorcism. This ritual is only carried out with the specific authorization of a bishop. It’s a serious matter. An exorcist told me he only works with victims who have been given a clean bill of health from a psychiatrist and medical doctor. He doesn’t perform exorcisms on those who merely suffer from mental illness.

So, possession is real. But it is also rare. It doesn’t happen without someone actually agreeing to it in some way.

Exorcists told me that dabbling with witchcraft is the most common way it begins. But another way it can happen is the same way it begins in movies from The Exorcist to Netflix’s new Verónica: Ouija boards. These devices are attempts to directly communicate with evil spirits. Don’t do that.

Why is possession rare?

Because the devil knows he doesn’t need to bother with possession. We give ourselves to him in ordinary ways without all that effort, through sin.

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself,” says the Catechism. “It causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back.”

The devil doesn’t want you, but he wants to make sure God doesn’t have you. The easiest way to do that is to tempt you to sin.

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