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(Rev. Michael P. Orsi) — Demonology is a subject awash in irony. The idea that people can be possessed by malevolent spirits has been the basis of countless books, movies, and TV shows, many of which were, and remain, enormously popular.

Others assume that incidents such as the one described in a recent Gospel reading — Matthew 15, where Jesus frees the daughter of a Canaanite woman from possession — are artifacts of the distant past.

“That was Bible times,” they’ll say. “Such things don’t happen anymore.”

Yet, the Church insists demons are indeed real, and that they’re as active today as they were in Jesus’ time. They work at the behest of Satan, and their intention is to make bad things happen. Really bad things.

I had occasion to meet the priest who consulted with Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist. He told me the actual possession case Blatty portrayed in his fact-based novel included elements that were even more shocking than those shown in the film (for which Blatty later adapted his 1971 book into an Academy Award-winning screenplay).

In the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, demons are described as beings who “prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” What they’re prowling after are openings through which they can enter into the unwary.

In Jesus’ time those openings were a lot more obvious. The Canaanite people (of whom the woman in Matthew’s Gospel was one) worshiped a variety of gods, each of which personified some force of nature.

The Bible talks about the shrines, altars, and high places of worship at which the rituals of Canaanite religion were carried out.

Those sites dotted the countryside, constant reminders of pagan presence in the land of Israel. The rites practiced there could open the hearts of participants to demonic influence (which may explain the daughter’s problem).

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Nature worship still exists — though more subtly, with a “scientific” gloss — as Environmentalism. Established in the late ’60s/early ’70s in opposition to air and water pollution, the Environmental Movement has elevated concern for “Mother Earth,” a created thing, over devotion to God who created it.

Environmentalism has become an alternative religion, a set of beliefs and emotional commitments around which some people order their lives. It’s got its own sacraments, the most visible of which is recycling. And it has its own set of moral ideals. Buying an electric car and adopting “green” energy systems are less practical choices than they are salvific acts. In place of a cross, the symbol of this modern paganism is the windmill.

But environmentalism, in the extreme form to which it has mutated, is a false god. And the worshipping of that false god has opened many people’s hearts to demonic influence, prompting numerous evil acts.

We may laugh at some situations, such as at those nature worshippers who “marry” trees. But what about the eco-warriors who sabotage construction projects, or who try to injure lumberjacks by driving spikes into standing timber scheduled to be cut?

This preoccupation with “Mother Earth,” often to the exclusion of human need and safety, is just the kind of opening after which demons prowl. Another is involvement in the occult.

Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, seances, crystals and pyramids, astrology — such devices have long been of great popular interest. They’re usually practiced casually, and not always with very much seriousness. Checking the day’s horoscope is often nothing more than a source of chuckles around the water cooler.

But they’re specifically intended for contacting a world outside of conscious life. And when people become absorbed in them (which happens more frequently than may be apparent), such practices can come to dominate someone’s thoughts. People can begin to make important decisions on the basis of “signs,” “influences,” and “messages” from the beyond. Behavior, even personality, can be altered significantly.

These too are false gods. And giving oneself over to them can provide an opening to malevolent spirits.

It’s easy to pooh-pooh the idea of a demonic realm. The “scientific” outlook of our time encourages us to be skeptical. But in this modern era, we’ve seen evil of such magnitude that psychological illness (or even politics) is not sufficient to explain it.

I would suggest two excellent books that explore this reality: Glimpses of the Devil, by M. Scott Peck, and Demonic Foes, by Richard Gallagher.

Both these men have brought psychiatric perspective to the study of human evil. Both approached the topic with reservations about demonic explanations. And both witnessed inexplicable evil, becoming convinced that the demonic is real.

Don’t provide an opening to evil spirits in your own life. Reject the false god of extreme environmentalism and keep away from the occult.

Focus on the Creator. What He’s created calls for human concern, not worship.

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