CONWAY — Queue up the latest horror flick about a person possessed by a demon and get ready for a terrifying, sensationalized ride of a priest going to battle with evil. The question of who is going to win, Christ through the priest or the devil, is anyone’s guess.
“Baloney,” said Catholic evangelist Dave VanVickle, who has assisted priests in the ministry of exorcisms since he was 16. “In an exorcism, a priest just comes in and ‘body slams’ a demon over and over again until they weaken enough until a person can say, ‘OK, I don’t want this anymore. I want to cooperate with what God is trying to do in my life.’”
While various forms of demonic possessions are a terrifying reality, the ministry of exorcisms is about evangelization, a powerful sign of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
“I think that exorcism is the perfect lens to see the power of the priesthood and the saints. It’s a great lens to look at the power of the Church,” Dave Vanvickle told Arkansas Catholic ahead of his “The Catholic Truth Behind Angels, Demons, Ghosts, Exorcisms and Hauntings” Nov. 14 at St. Joseph Church in Conway.
VanVickle, an author, retreat leader and co-host of Acension Press podcast “Every Knee Shall Bow,” led the two-hour presentation, which included a Q&A and relics display.
The first exorcism happened outside of time, when St. Michael the Archangel and the other good angels went to battle with angel Lucifer, who viewed himself as a god and was banished from heaven.
Every day temptations are the “ordinary action of evil spirits.”
“Their goal is very simple. They want you estranged from God and dead as soon as possible,” VanVickle said.
Extraordinary action of evil spirits enters an individual in three common ways: Oppression, pointing to the plight of Job in the Bible as a “classic story of demonic possession,” with a series of unbelievable and unfortunate events.
Demonic obsession is a thought being taken to extreme levels, unable to get it out of their mind. A demon pushes them to a point of desperation, tricking them into thinking they no longer are in control.
With possession, a person’s will is weakened and an exorcism is needed.
Infestation happens when a demon or demons take over a place, object or animal. In a home, people may begin to see black shadows, desecration of sacred objects, horrifying smells, objects missing, all pointing to a dangerous demonic presence, he said.
Permission is needed for a demon to attack, VanVickle said, which can be born out of long relationships with mortal sin, a serious childhood trauma where God is no longer seen as a loving father and a violation of the first commandment, looking to occult activity — psychics, wicca, voodoo, Satanism or any “attempt to gain power in a non-Christian way.”
“It is a billion-dollar industry, the paranormal industry. There’s retreats with psychics, haunted hotels and train rides and they are happy to take your money and people are eating it up,” VanVickle said, adding he despises the more than 100 fake paranormal shows out there, likening a camera to a Ouija board when supernatural obsessions “seep into our lives.”
The greatest antidote for demonic possession is living a holy life.
“For most people that we encounter, they just don’t understand that exorcism is not something you inflict on someone. Exorcism is the process by which you loosen the grip of a demonic force so that a person can get their head above water and say, ‘I see what Jesus Christ can do in my life and I want to cooperate with that.’ That’s what it is,” VanVickle said.
Because demons recognize authority, including vocations, marriage and parenthood, parishioner Candace Schulze, following the presentation, said she took comfort when VanVickle explained “that we as parents have spiritual authority over our kids no matter how old they are,” she said.
Only a priest with a letter from his bishop bestowing apostolic authority can exercise the ministry of exorcism.
It typically lasts 45 minutes and consists of Gospel readings, prayers, the litany of saints, relics, hymns to Mary and two specific types of ritual prayers: deprecatory, asking God to free his servant and imprecatory, in which a priest using his authority of being “in the person of Christ,” to cast out the demon directly.
“This is Jesus Christ. This is why demons are so terrified of priests and hate the priests. They hate the box,” the confessional, VanVickle said. “I heard a demon say one time during an exorcism that the average parish priest will steal hundreds of thousands of souls from him in their lifetime in the box.”
Psychiatrists evaluate people before exorcisms, sometimes for months, to ensure it is not mental illness. Saints and Mary often intervene, with VanVickle likening Mary to a “mama bear,” in which demons scream in fear when she enters an exorcism.
“They don’t expect to be beaten by a poor virgin who lived in Galilee 2,000 years ago,” he said.
Demons will also identify saints who are present by a nickname. Once, a man was sitting about 15 feet away on a couch when VanVickle said “do you know how much God loves you?”
“Immediately his eyes rolled back in his head and he charged toward me and had his hands like he was going to choke me. He stopped about an inch from my nose and said, ‘If that little dego weren’t behind you I would have killed you a second ago’ because he was talking about St. Gemma (Gogani) protecting me.”
He detailed one exorcism, though typically sealed with confidentiality, because a book is being written by the once 16-year-old who ran away from home and joined a cult. At 18 years old, he was returned to his family, but could not even receive Communion without vomiting. VanVickle attended the daylong exorcism, and in the evening, the demon would not stop growling. The mother retrieved a guardian angel icon from her son’s baptism and the growling stopped.
“We hear the most beautiful singing coming out of his mouth,” VanVickle said. Then, a voice began singing in English, “lauding the deeds of Jesus.” The priest asked in the name of Jesus who was it was.
“‘I am the angel that beholds the face of God for this little one. No longer shall you be ensnared, but tonight you shall go free.’ He made the sign of the cross, his eyes rolled forward and he collapsed on the floor,” VanVickle said.
Following an exorcism, the work is just beginning. People seek counseling, have PTSD and continue toward a holy life. VanVickle said he is often asked if the faithful should be afraid of the devil. He encouraged people to cling to Jesus in the same way sheep cling to their shepherd — though afraid of their own shadow, they will not scatter when a threat approaches if their shepherd is with them.
Parishioner Christine Elsinger said that story “was so precious. I want to stay as close as I can to him.”
“Staying holy is the answer to all of this,” she said.
Correction: The antidote for demonic possession is living a holy life. An earlier version of this article stated this fact incorrectly. The article has been updated.
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