“Let us put on the armour of light” – Romans 13:12

On this great feast of Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit, it is instructive to recall the nature of the Spirit sent. The second letter to Timothy says: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control (2Tim 1:7). The Gospels present Jesus in constant opposition to any force of darkness he encountered: sickness, possession, death, unjust rulers, and so forth. He was not timid, but combative.

The gospels recount many times when Jesus expelled demons from people who were “possessed”. Nowadays we might think of these as examples of various ailments, epilepsy, and the like; but the generic term in the gospel times was “possession” and what was needed was an exorcism. It is instructive to note some details. (1) the “demon” is always to the detriment of the person, it is not a source of good, but of misery; (2) the person so assailed is never blamed. No, that person is looked upon as a victim, someone to be set free; (3) Jesus has an uncompromising attitude to demons: no discussion, just “Leave the person”, an unapologetic antagonism towards any semblance of the powers of darkness. And, of course, Jesus sent out his followers specifically with the power to cast out demons (Mk: 6:7; “he began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits”). We moderns may think all this talk of demons to be so much mumbo-jumbo, but it would be exceptionally naïve to imagine that there are no forces of darkness, affecting both individual lives and wider society – whatever you may wish to call such forces.

I have had my own experiences of battling against the powers of darkness (admittedly not as stark or exciting as the gospel accounts). I offer two such accounts, one in which I was the loser, the other in which I was witness to a minor success. And I finish with a current Irish example of trying to battle what some of us see as very dark forces.

I was relaxing in the monastery having returned from some weeks in the hills. It was 8pm, the secretary had gone home, I was enjoying a cool beer with my colleagues.The doorbell rang, I answered it. It was a wealthy glamorous lady, dressed to kill. She said that she lived nearby and that one of her maids was possessed by an evil spirit, and would I come with her to perform an exorcism. I said to myself “zero training in exorcisms in the seminary”, but to her I braved it and said that I’d change into something more formal and be with her shortly to perform the necessary anti-diabolical rites.

We travelled in her car, something very expensive. The chauffeur was in the front, Madame & I in the back, she with Chanel 5 and diamonds to boot. Frank Sinatra was crooning out his hits on the CD player. The air-conditioner was at full strength, so we were all nicely cooled. At last we arrived at the mansion. I made to climb the steps to enter through the front door, but she said that the maids’ room was below ground.

I entered into a terribly stuffy, windowless bunker, with 3 or 4 beds. It was an unsettling scene: 3 or 4 of her fellow-maids, male and female, were gathered around the “victim”, praying and offering various invocations for her wellbeing. At least 3 rosary beads were placed around her neck. If the poor girl was in any danger it was  not from any diabolical possession, but from Marian strangulation! (Actually this was quite a calm scene and the protagonists were acting quite reasonably, if a little excitedly. One of my colleagues told me of his witnessing a most distressing scene, harrowing in fact, when a teenage girl, clearly having an attack of some sort, was being pinned down by 4 or 5 grown men – all of whom were convinced that the unfortunate lass was in the possession of truly satanic powers).

I gently but firmly asked those present to vacate the area, which they did, and then I sat beside the “possessed” girl, on the edge of a bed. She was about 15 or 16, but she had the strength of a boxer; she was clearly in some distress and it was manifest in her altered state. When I put my arm around her shoulders to calm her, she resisted initially and emitted some quite scary moans, still being  in a stressed state. I was a little unnerved, but after a few seconds, she relaxed, and then we had our conversation and thus I diagnosed the cause of her distress.

Speaking her dialect, I asked her where she was from and she mentioned some remote mountain area (with which I was familiar, from previous missions). She had been in the employ of Madame for many months, but had not returned to her home village. So naturally she was lonely for her parents & family and her usual surroundings and habits. She had a heavy workload in the house and the food allotted to her and her fellow maids was insufficient. Furthermore, her salary was pretty dismal. So, she was lonely, overworked, under-nourished and underpaid. No wonder she had temporarily lost her way and had slipped over the edge. In my opinion, if there was any “demon” involved in her misery, it was in the person of her glamorous employer.

I left the girl in a calm state, but I wonder how long it lasted? Because on the trip back to the monastery, once again in the air-conditioned car, I told Madame of my encounter and suggested that, far from suffering any demonic attack, the girl’s trauma had more human and mundane causes; and that her circumstances should change. I recommended that she visit her parents, that her salary might be augmented, and so on. She thanked me for performing the “exorcism”, smiled patronisingly, and said we should pray that the demon would not return. I had lost that particular tussle with the forces of darkness.

The second example found me in a night club, to be more exact a “strip club”. The girls were on the stage and, as the music proceeded, they removed the last vestiges of their skimpy attire. Yes, I’m sure regular readers of Gript will think it somewhat unbecoming for a man of the cloth  to be caught in such compromising circumstances; so let me forthwith redeem my reputation. I had been invited to visit the club by two girls, both of whom were former prostitutes. They said it would be good for me to see the girls in the club and to speak with them, and such was the background of my visit. A few of the girls, after their individual stage display, put on a kimono, and joined us at our table for a few minutes. My overall impression was that they were all from the province (far from the city) and that their parents thought that they were studying at university; but most weren’t. They gravitated to the various clubs because the money is good, especially if a customer takes the girl to a hotel. But it’s a kind-of dead-end livelihood.

So I spoke with my two interlocutors, those who had invited me to the club. Our chat was very enlightening for me. I asked them what the purpose of their group was. They said that primarily it was to entice the girls away from the soulless life of prostitution. I asked what their strategies were. Their replies were quite interesting. First of all, they sought simply to convince the girls of the futility of their way of life. To provide some alternative, they started some livelihood projects: typing, manicure/pedicure, knitting, and so forth. (I said to myself, “very practical for the girls, because their bodies will not always be appreciated as they are at present”).

I asked if they had had much success and, quite candidly, they admitted that they had not. The money a girl could make on a night out of the club (taken out by the client) was too tempting to pass up. But still, they had some successes. They had also given to the girls the number of a very trustworthy lawyer, so that, whenever the club was raided by the police, they could call upon his help. The scenario would unfold as follows: the customers (like me, in the original setting) would be given a tip-off and would high-tail it, and the girls would be arrested. Then they would call or text the lawyer and he would set about getting them free.

I greatly admire the two women, those who had invited me to meet the dancers. High-end prostitution may seem glamorous, but for most of these young women, once the attraction of their bodies began to lose its allure for their customers, they would be discarded forthwith. The two founders of the group were not marching in the streets with slogans, they had no rallying cry for justice, but in their own quite way, with no fanfare but only dogged determination, they were standing up to the powers of darkness, represented by the murky world of prostitution. Earlier I had lost my battle in trying to help the distressed maid; now I was witnessing a small victory by these two latter day prophets.

In present day Ireland, I join a group of people which gathers each Sunday for an hour, at the side of a busy road holding placards. The group is called Hold The Line, and is active in a number of towns in Ireland. Its function is simply to try to bring to people’s attention the reality of our current situation, and not simply to accept uncritically the very limited and less-than-objective picture presented by the mainstream media. We stand calmly, stoically, holding well-made placards with various messages on them (“What are the effects of mask-wearing?”; “No to under-tested vaccines”; “Why is there no debate?”, and others with similar messages). I find being among the group to be an encouraging and uplifting experience. There is no noise, no rancour, just people with a firm conviction that something is seriously rotten, seriously awry. And we simply wish to try to open the eyes of the many who are still sleep-walking through this more than two-year nightmare. We may not have all the answers, but at least we are trying to ask pointed questions – something which has been either ignored or banned since March 2020.

We feel we have a mission to perform: no theatrics, no heroics, just the continual standing by the roadside, hoping that, by our persistent vigil, some eyes will be opened, some response will be made. For me, the group is somehow prophetic; not the prophets of denunciation, but prophets offering illumination (like the two women who had invited me to the nightclub). But, as we keep our  silent vigil each Sunday, we have no control over the outcome. Like Ezekiel, commissioned by God to bring His message to the Israelites, the result was far from certain. In fact he was told, “Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels will know that there is a prophet among them. (Ezek: 2:5).

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