The late Father Malachi Martin on the problem of evil … and exorcisms

Like a mongoose playing a cobra, the priest will attempt to work the demon into a position first of disadvantage, then of vulnerability. He begins by demanding, with the authority of prayer, to know its name.

The demons, says Father Martin, are not always willing to play this game. They lie silent, sullen and hidden. When this happens, the exorcist must provoke them into breaking cover. “You have to tease them out,” he says.

“The demon does not physically inhabit the body; it possesses the person’s will. We have to compel the thing to reveal itself and its purpose. It can be slow and difficult, with the demon taunting, scorning, abusing you – speaking through the mouth of the possessed, but not in his or her Voice.

In the end, though, it does come out – and when that happens you experience the sensation we call ‘presence’. At that moment you know you are in the company of the purest evil. I have felt the claws of invisible animals tearing at my face. I have been knocked off my feet, blinded and winded.

But it is then, when you’ve sensed the ‘presence’, that the real attack on the demon can begin.”

The theory of exorcism holds that once the demon has been drawn out of the body it can be vanquished by the power of prayer. “The whole nature of the thing changes,” says Father Martin. “The demon knows it’s losing. Instead of screaming abuse, it begins to plead for mercy. It says it’s sorry, it begs to be spared. It promises to go home.

But the Bible says that only on the last day can the followers of Satan return to Hell. Where they go, I do not know. We do not destroy them, we drive them out. Sometime I encounter the same ones again. As the demon disappears, the person it has possessed is ‘cleared’, and a wondrous wave of peace comes over them.”

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