Everyone keeps asking me about the movie “Nefarious,” and everything I hear is that it is a great depiction of exorcism. That’s good. Accuracy is badly needed in this area.
They are asking me because of a personal story I shared on a recent episode of “The Extraordinary Story,” my podcast on the life of Christ. “I’ll share some common myths about the devil,” I said in the introduction. “I’ll share the marks of the demonic in culture. And then I’ll end with a personal story?”
The last part was a question because, even as I recorded it, I wasn’t sure I would share my personal story.
I asked a trusted priest if I should tell the story publicly. He said to pray about it, so I did — and got an unexpectedly direct answer.
I happened to have a commentary on the Gospels by the Fathers with me in the chapel, and I opened up to Mark 5:39. There I read these shocking words from St. Gregory the Great:
“A legion of demons has been, as I believed, cast out of me. I would prefer merely to forget all of this that I have known and simply to rest at the feet of the Savior. But lo it is said to me, so strongly as to compel me against my will, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.'”
My own story
Alright then. I guess I should share my personal story of how much the Lord has done for me. Here it is.
For my entire adult life, I have had recurring visions of my suicide. It was always the same violent image, and it was always accompanied by accusations of worthlessness.
Now, I should stress here that I never, even once, felt tempted to commit suicide — not in the slightest. The images kept coming, though, and I got in the habit of just ignoring them.
But then it started happening more and more. It got so bad that for more than 10 years or so, I found I could no longer sleep without loud white noise, and that I had to constantly find ways to occupy my mind, avoiding all silence outside of church. Silence in church posed no problem — and I can’t recall ever suffering from this phenomenon in a church, even during my weekly 3 a.m. Eucharistic Holy Hour.
But then, during a particularly difficult time in my life, the situation became practically unlivable. The image was coming multiple times every hour, with these phrases about my worthlessness repeating. It became cacophonous.
Trying deliverance prayer
So, finally, I went to counseling and was enormously blessed to find a Catholic counselor in a neighboring diocese who immediately, upon hearing my story, asked, “Have you ever tried deliverance prayer?” It had never occurred to me, but as soon as he asked the question, it made so much sense.
An incredible confluence of events happened next: In addition to the direction from his diocese, I got local permission and secured the help of a leading exorcist at another U.S. diocese. It was fascinating to watch the exorcism process from the inside: The thorough inventory of questions I was asked made it clear that demons don’t intrude in your life uninvited. You have to open yourselves up to them.
I hadn’t, though, I thought. At least, I hadn’t done any of the things listed — no Ouija board, no witchcraft, no fortune tellers. But then when “body lifting” was given as one of the gateways, it all came back to me.
A past encounter with the demonic
We did a fun and amazing thing in college that turned out to not be much fun after all.
A friend, a sizeable guy, sat in a chair, and we repeated a particular phrase over and over again like an incantation — I won’t say what it was — and a few of us, each sticking just a single finger out, lifted him up in a chair over our heads, effortlessly. It was like he was floating. Then we brought him back down easily. It was incredible.
Then a Catholic guy from our floor saw what we were doing and angrily made us stop, saying it was demonic. So we stopped. But it really was amazing. I had no idea how we were able to lift that guy. I guess I found out 30 years later. The exorcist wrote down the words of our incantation and incorporated them into his prayers later.
St. Thomas Aquinas, known for the precision and truth of his theology, dedicates a number of questions to the demonic. One is: Can the demons know our interior thoughts? No, Aquinas determines. Another is: Can demons affect our thoughts and imagination? Yes, he says. That, it seems, is what happened to me. I opened myself up to a demon, and he stuck around, making ugly contributions to my thoughts and imagination.
Then began a monthlong process of preparing for my session with the exorcist.
Two priests had me spend 30 days going through daily prayers forgiving people, one category of person after another. It took me an hour each day to do it thoroughly.
That process in itself was amazing and freeing. The exorcist explained to me that the devil thrives on unforgiveness. I have put the Forgiveness Prayers on Benedictine College’s Media & Culture site, and I return to them frequently.
So, after 30 days of forgiveness, I met with two exorcists for the service.
No one called it an exorcism. But it involved me sitting in a chapel with a priest saying things in Latin, putting a stole over my head and anointing me.
Afterward, I remember walking out into the sun and just being overwhelmed with gratitude. I can’t remember another time I felt as elated — as free and unencumbered — as that.
The visions stopped altogether. Now, if I remember the image, it’s because I am grateful that it isn’t occurring anymore. The accusations of worthlessness stopped also.
The real proof for me is that I can sleep now, without blasting white noise — that was unthinkable before. I’m still amazed when silence is peaceful at night.
So, that’s my story. I hope it helps someone. I learned a few lessons from it.
The first lesson is: Don’t be afraid of the devil. I’m not.
Here’s how I explain it: Cars are incredibly dangerous and are whizzing by at fatal speeds not far from you right now, probably. But you aren’t afraid of them because you know enough not to step in front of one. After going through this process, I am less fearful of the demonic than I ever was before. I just know enough not to step out in front of demons.
Second lesson: Never stop praying.
I thank God that I always had a very strong prayer life, with a weekly — sometimes daily — Eucharistic Holy Hour, daily (or nearly daily) Rosary, and frequent confession and Communion.
That’s another great reason not to fear. Even when the worst happened, my prayer life saved me — for decades. Like I said, I was never even tempted to imitate what I was seeing. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had no prayer life!
Third: Forget Hollywood’s devil.
The victims of demonic activity are not having fascinating experiences. They aren’t playing the guitar better, and they aren’t surrounded by intense pleasures and drama. If anything, their lives are more mundane than yours, because they are bothered by an insect that won’t leave them alone or give them any peace. An insect on the inside.
And that’s just what the devil is, compared to Jesus and Mary — an insect. Don’t let him tell you otherwise.