In the most recent column of Pastoral Answers, a reader asks, “Why has God allowed…
Are demonic attacks on the rise, and why?
Question: Why are so many afflicted by demons today? It seems the number is up. But, from my perspective, I know many people who are decent people and can’t understand why God allows them to be tormented or possessed by demons.
— Name, location withheld
Answer: There are several ways to answer your question. In the first place, we can see it as a version of a wider question: “Why does God allow anyone to suffer or be attacked?” For indeed, people are not attacked merely by demons, but even more so by fellow human beings. And, whereas demons cannot kill or maim, human beings can and, in many cases, do far worse harm than demons. We can also suffer from injustice, war, famine and any number of natural causes. Spiritually, demons can attack us in different ways and at different levels, such as temptation, oppression and, more rarely, possession. But we are also afflicted spiritually by our own fears or by disordered and sinful drives. Hence, we can only answer in similar ways about demons as we do about the problem of suffering and evil. God permits suffering in order to draw some greater good out of it.
Further, moral evil exists in this world because of an abuse of human and angelic freedom. God seldom intervenes in the free-will choices of human beings. Regarding demons, though God limits their power over us (cf. 2 Thes 2:6), he does not wholly cancel their freedom. We can only but trust that God dispenses graces and blessings on those who suffer unjustly and will permit suffering to produce future glory for them.
A second issue that you also raise is whether and why demonic attacks are on the increase. Most exorcists and pastors will tell you that demonic attacks and incursions are more common today. They are also severe and far less hidden. It is not hard to understand why, however. When people in our country in large numbers turn away from the sacraments, holy Scripture, the limits and wisdom of the Commandments, and the whole spiritual life, it is evident that they open themselves far more to demonic influence and attack. When the people of a nation prefer the darkness to light and seek to limit — even scorn — the Lord’s teaching, demons find many openings.
But, as you point out, some people who seem to be living a decent life are also attacked. This may be akin to the sad truth that, as a nation becomes more violent, innocent people are sometimes shot or killed in gang violence or mass shootings. Similarly, as a nation becomes less spiritual even people who are less guilty of this may also suffer. In addition, we must recall that many people have wounds from past trauma and family issues. With the breakdown and dysfunction of families, the loss of childhood innocence, the sexualization of children, and the rise in sexual and physical abuse, many wounds exist deep in the psyche that can provide doorways for demonic oppression if left untreated.
Hence, while it is natural to ask why God allows things, it is ultimately a question we must turn on ourselves: Why do we allow things to get so bad in our nation and culture, and why are we surprised that demonic activity is on the rise? Furthermore, God offers remedies in the sacraments, the truth of his word, holy fellowship and the care of the angels. Exorcism and deliverance prayers along with spiritual direction and counseling can also go a long way for those strongly afflicted.
Question: I have noticed one of our priests says some quiet words at the end of the Gospel. In our big parish, I cannot directly ask him what they are, and no one else seems to know.
— John Norman, Manassas, Virginia
Answer: Most likely he is saying in English or in Latin, “Through the words of the Gospel, may our sins be wiped away.” The priest or deacon is instructed to say these words quietly at that time. Sadly, many omit them. It expresses the wish that the Lord’s words will be fulfilled in us: “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you” (Jn 15:3). For, if we listen with devotion and heed in obedience the word of the Lord, it has a cleansing power for us. It is not said aloud largely for historical reasons since it was an element meant to develop priestly piety and influence his preaching.