"God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good, and healing all who had fallen into the power of the devil" (Acts 10:38)
It was in 1976 that I had my first case of Exorcism or Deliverance. We had just celebrated on 16th July, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patron of my parish of Mt. Carmel, Bandra, Mumbai. (It was also a very special day for me, since it was the anniversary of my having received the cassock or soutane, as a seminarian and cleric of the Diocesan Seminary of Bombay). As a souvenir of our Parish Feast, we had distributed to every parishioner a beautiful picture of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as well as a Prayer to the Holy Spirit, so that the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary would now come down upon the parish, priests and people, as by a New Pentecost.
A few days later, I went to a town in Central India, called Secunderabad, to give a charismatic retreat to the Sisters of St. Ann of Providence. I had hardly retired to my room for a much-needed rest, after the solemn Mass and festive lunch on the last day of the retreat, 26th of July, the Feast of St. Anne, when, to my annoyance, there was a knock at my door. The Provincial, the Superior and the Novice Mistress, apologised for disturbing me but they said that two women, blood sisters, of a well known Catholic family in the parish, wanted me to come and pray over the son of one of them who was hospitalised in the mental asylum in the city. For, after hearing my talk on healing at the outreach the previous evening, they felt very strongly that the young man was not mentally sick but possessed.
I just laughed quietly to my self, since I could not accept that in these modern times people could get possessed, and said that I would not be able to come with them to pray over the young man, but that they should pray by themselves. They went on, however, insisting that the many physical sicknesses and emotional disturbances tormenting their families were due to the affliction of a popular demon goddess, whose high priests their pagan ancestors had been, and that in spite of attending daily Mass and saying the daily family Rosary they were not getting any better.
I did not believe then that such demons really existed. In fact when I received the minor order of exorcist at the Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide, in Rome, I took it very lightly, not foreseeing that this would turn out to become for me a major disorder in my life, so to say. Moreover, I must admit, I was even somewhat irritated with the Sisters and the family for disturbing my siesta. So I just told them to keep on praying even more. As the last resort they pleaded, "But can't you pray for us now." I retorted that I would, hopefully, pray for them later by myself. But just then it seemed as if the Lord was speaking to me, "Rufus, these people have come asking you as a priest to pray for them now. You pray for them NOW." Well, I was somewhat annoyed with the Lord. Anyway I did pray, rather reluctantly and casually, I am sorry to say, and softly, that Jesus would free this family from that demon — again if he existed.
The reaction was instantaneous and most unexpected. The shorter woman, the pious one, who had been narrating to me all their woes while continuously fingering her rosary beads, was hurled to the ground with great force, and — for the first time in my life, I came face to face with the evil one. I hid behind the nuns, as it screamed obscenities at me and shouted at me to return to Bombay — in English, which she did not know, and tried to spring on to me and throttle me. I did not know what to do — since I was not trained in the seminary for such unexpected hazards. I just felt powerless to do anything at all. I had no courage to ask it to come out of the woman — I presumed by now that it was the devil himself or herself. The 20 young novices did come to my rescue as they poured bottles of holy water onto the woman — but to no avail.
Suddenly I felt a reassuring anointing of the Holy Spirit, empowering the grace of my priesthood, and guiding me to pray softly but confidently in tongues, the doorway, I had been told, to the charisms of knowledge and power. I realised later that I had been unwittingly duplicating the experience of St. Paul, "The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words" (Rom 8:26). There was an equally instant transformation in the woman, from a devilish face of hate and claw like hands, to an angelic countenance of gentleness and hands lifted up in praise of God — even though she was still flat on her back on the floor. She was now so weak and lifeless, but peaceful and joyful, that the family had to take her home in a vehicle.
A week later I was once again in Secunderabad for a retreat to priests. As I was praying for the general public one by one at a healing service on 4th of August, the feast of St. John Mary Vianney, the patron of priests in the pastoral ministry, victorious in his daily conflict with the Evil One, suddenly there stood in front of me the same two women, that had come for prayers in St. Ann's Convent the week before, and their families. On noticing them, I said to myself, "Oh, not again!" and spoke rather curtly, "But, I have already prayed for you." They said that they had come this time not to ask but to thank God for the great deliverance and healing that they, even as a joint family, had experienced.
The daughter of the woman, that had been oppressed and was now freed, related how their father had left the family when they were very small, and they had blamed their mother for his desertion, since she was just impossible to get on with. But ever since that day of liberation she had become a totally different woman — so gentle and caring, and then they knew that the family break up had not really been her fault. They added that their mother had lost complete vision of one eye and had only 50% vision in the other, due to a thorn poke. But ever since that day she had recovered complete vision in both her eyes. The nuns also confirmed that the whole family had become thereafter a healthy and happy family.
This was my first case of deliverance, and it was a case that ended so quickly and completely — only with the authority of Jesus and by the power of his Holy Spirit (and, I believe, through the intercession of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and of St. Anne), and like St. John Mary Vianney, not through my intelligence, knowledge, experience, training or special gift. There was a time when I myself was afraid of evil spirits, even though I was not sure if they existed, till I realised right from this first case that they are more afraid of the power of our Baptism and especially of the power of the Priesthood, just as the seventy-two could say triumphantly, "Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name" (Lk 10:17).
It is sad that today many of our people in their many and diverse needs go either to unquestionable spiritists or to questionable neo-pentecostal healers. Fortunately the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has been helping in this spiritual warfare through a renewed ministry of deliverance, activated by the emergence and manifestation of this specific charism of the Holy Spirit, when the priest, or layperson exercising this ministry under ecclesial authority, prays for a person that is presumably under demonic influence.
This is because, in preparation for Vatican Council II, Pope John XXIII had led the Church in a prayer, "O Holy Spirit ... Renew thy wonders in this our day as by a new Pentecost." That prayer has been answered in an incredible manner, by a revival and profusion of charisms, which, as the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church states, "are useful for the renewal and expansion of the Church." This is what Pope John Paul II meant, when in 1983 he called for a New Evangelization, new in zeal, in methods and in expressions. This is what he had in mind, in looking forward with glorious expectation to the New Millennium becoming "a great springtime for Christianity" (RM 86).