During this month of November the Church invites us to rejoice with the Church Triumphant in Heaven and to pray for the Church Suffering in Purgatory. By engaging in this practice, we are forced to consider our own mortality; to “remember death” and how to live our lives in order to achieve what we were created for, which is unity with God in heaven.
“We believe that the multitude of those gathered around Jesus and Mary in Paradise forms the Church of heaven, where in eternal blessedness they see God as he is and where they are also, to various degrees, associated with the holy angels in the divine governance exercised by Christ in glory, by interceding for us and helping our weakness by their fraternal concern” (Paul VI, CPG § 29).
Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.
By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.
Conversely, what do we believe is the fate of those who die without being in a state of grace? St. Thomas Aquinas defined the beatific vision in Heaven as the human being’s “final end” in which one attains to a perfect happiness. So the reality of Hell is the perfection of misery and despair.
Following the example of Christ, the Church warns the faithful of the “sad and lamentable reality of eternal death” (GCD 69), also called “hell.”
Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
As the saying goes “Misery loves company.” When Christian principles and virtues wane, Satan’s sway over mankind gains ground. When we reject God’s spiritual presence, a void is not left for long; it is soon filled with the ape of God, Satan. Jesus confirms this in this parable: “When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest but, finding none, it says, ‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.” (Lk. 11:24-26)
Our concupiscence is a willing ally in this – judging by the proliferation in television, movies and media that mainstream the occult and trivialize demonic influence. Increases in demonic oppression and possession are the inevitable result.
To counter this, for the past 15 year, the Church has been quietly adding to its ranks of exorcists. To give credit where credit is due, our current pontiff Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly about the reality and danger of Satan which has further encouraged an increase in exorcists. In August of 2014 the International Association of Exorcists was recognized under canon law by the Congregation of Clergy.
Unfortunately, due to the “Francis effect” exorcism seems to now be emerging as the fashionable thing. Even more concerning is the apparent cooperation and inclusion with the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements that historically were toward the fringes of the religious spectrums.
I tend to struggle with this broader inclusiveness, but at the same time remember that Jesus admonished his disciples when they objected to non-followers casting out demons: John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:49-50
Are we at the threshold of exorcists having a type of “celebrity status” like the revival movement preachers in the early 20th century? Does popularizing exorcisms have the end effect of making demonic oppression or possession less mysterious and dangerous, where one can dabble in the occult and easily get deliverance by the exorcist on the street corner? Personally, I’d prefer the Church to keep the rite hidden and preserve the solemnity. After all it is a matter of eternal life or death.