I have to admit that I'm fascinated with the topic of exorcism -- not with the spectacular and sensationalized Hollywood version of the deeply religious rite but with the reality of evil in our world and the possibility of pulling that evil out of another person.
Exorcism is one of those topics that makes people sit up and pay attention. I was giving a workshop at a conference in New Jersey this weekend (on spiritual friendship, not exorcism) and one of the attendees happened to mention that her son's secular college held a lecture on exorcism given by a Catholic priest and more than 600 kids showed up for it. Sure, some of it's simply curiosity about something that seems so far removed from our everyday lives, but I think part of the response to a lecture like that is a recognition on some level that there is still deep-seated evil in our world -- just look at the headlines -- and that the devil is very much among us.
This week, CNS is running two separate stories on exorcism. One story is about a priest whose life sparked a major motion picture -- "The Rite" -- soon to be released, starring Anthony Hopkins. The other story is about a conference on exorcism being sponsored by the USCCB next week.
In response to growing interest in the rite of exorcism and a shortage of trained exorcists nationwide, the bishops are sponsoring a two-day conference just prior to their 2010 fall general assembly Nov. 15-18 in Baltimore.
Interest in the Nov. 12-13 Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism proved great. When registration closed Nov. 1, 56 bishops and 66 priests had signed up.
Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, told Catholic News Service he knows of perhaps five or six exorcists in the United States. They are overwhelmed with requests to perform the rite, he said.
"There's this small group of priests who say they get requests from all over the continental U.S.," Bishop Paprocki said.
Bishop Paprocki went on to say: "The sacrament of penance is much more powerful than an exorcism. The work of the devil is much more regular and our response to that should be rather regular. It's not that you need a special exorcism to deal with the devil."
The CNS story outlines some signs of demonic possession:
-- Speaking in a language the individual does not know.
-- Scratching, cutting, biting of the skin.
-- Profound display of strength.
-- Lack of appetite.
-- Aversion to anything holy, such as mentioning the name of Jesus or Mary, or the act of praying.
-- Strong or violent reaction to holy water.
I think a lot of us read that and tend to get a little uneasy, even if we acknowledge the presence of evil in our world. Hearing symptoms spelled out like a spiritual version of the latest strain of flu can almost seem more than a little unreal, and yet, according to Church officials, the need for exorcists is so great that more are needed to ease the load on the five or six men trained to perform exorcisms in this country.
So what's your take on all this? Do you believe in the need for exorcism in the world today? Or do you think it's an ancient ritual best left in the past?