Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good reading for Catholics--thought provoking for all others

Here is a book on a subject that is perennially interesting to the general public--exorcism. As a Catholic myself, I have never had any doubt about the reality of the demonic. I believe that the Enemy of mankind and his minions are active in the world and it is through the willing acceptance of the Sacraments and the Grace offered by Christ that we are protected from their constant temptations and ultimately brought to salvation.

For this reason, I picked up this book with no little trepidation. Many books of this variety feed people's unhealthy fascination with the demonic and may indeed serve as a gateway to the occult. I am happy to report that The Rite by Matt Baglio is not such a book. It is mainly the story of one American priest, Father Gary Thomas, who went to Rome to train as an exorcist. Over the course of his training, Fr. Thomas got to experience dozens of exorcisms first hand as performed by experienced Italian priests. Many of these as described were fairly mundane with the victims experiencing only fits of coughing during the rite or foaming at the mouth. But a few particularly long-suffering victims had dramatic and violent reactions displaying incredible strength and incidents of the demon actually speaking.

It's hard to read a book like this and not come away with the conclusion that something supernatural is actually going on here. That said, Baglio is careful to point out that most exorcists do not make knee-jerk assumptions that everyone is possessed. In fact, one of the Italian exorcists that Fr. Thomas visited sent most of the people who came to him away with a simple blessing. When Fr. Thomas returned to America to begin his role as exorcist in his California diocese, the policy stated that anyone seeking exorcism must first have a psychiatric evaluation by a practitioner who acknowledged the possibility of possession. That struck me as a sensible way to approach the problem as most exorcists freely admit that many people who worry that they are possessed are actually suffering from a readily identifiable mental illness of one kind or another.

One item that stands out loud and clear in this book is that cases of true possession are on the rise around the world. This is due to the increasing influence of the occult both in Europe and America as many occult practices are direct gateways for demonic entrance into people's lives. Given the suffering displayed by the victims of possession as described in this book, it would be well for people to avoid even seemingly innocent occult practices such as messing with tarot or ouija boards.

The book also makes clear that there exists a dearth of priests available who can properly and licitly perform the rite of exorcism. Indeed, to their shame, many priests don't believe in possession--or the devil, for that matter--at all! Fortunately for the victims, this is a situation that is currently being rectified by the Church.

As a work of literature, The Rite is a quick and easy read. The flow of the narrative is a bit disjointed as the author introduces whole chapters on related tangents throughout the book. But as these subjects are usually interesting in their own right, this was not a major problem.

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