Though dramatic representations of demonic possessions, as seen in Hollywood, can make them appear to be the primary method of the devil, one Dominican priest and exorcist has warned that the greater and more common threat to a person’s salvation is the temptation to sin.
“The most common manifestation of the demonic is temptation, which is much more significant than possession,” Fr. Francois Dermine, OP, told CNA May 10.
An exorcist for over 25 years, he explained that possession is not a spiritual threat in the same way temptation is, and that a person who has been possessed by the devil may still make “extraordinary spiritual progress,” and could even one day be a saint.
This is because demonic possession of a person’s body occurs without that person’s knowledge or consent. The possession in and of itself does not make the victim morally blameworthy.
“We must not undervalue the significance of temptation. It’s not as spectacular as possession, but it’s far more dangerous [to the soul],” Dermine said.
“To resist temptation is simple,” he encouraged, although it might not always be easy. “You must avoid the occasions of temptation, of course, and you must have a Christian and spiritual life. You must pray, you must try to behave correctly, and to love the people you meet every day and the people with whom you live.”
Dermine said the next most common form of demonic activity is oppression. Sometimes, people can have many problems, often of a health, business, or family nature, which cannot be explained by natural causes.
If the cause is deemed to be demonic oppression, these problems are called “preternatural,” and may require the assistance of an exorcist.
“This is the most common extraordinary action of the devil,” Dermine said, while temptation is considered an “ordinary” demonic action.
Dermine warned that people should not immediately conclude that physical problems or suffering are a result of demonic oppression, because they are most often explainable by natural causes.
If someone has visited a doctor, or a psychologist if applicable, and no natural explanation could be found, then they may visit an exorcist. “When a person comes and asks for a blessing for a specific problem, the first thing an exorcist must ask is, did you see the doctor?” the priest said.
Dermine, who is French Canadian, has lived in Italy since shortly before his priestly ordination in 1979. An exorcist since 1994, he serves in the Italian Archdiocese of Ancona-Osimo.
He spoke about the life of an exorcist during the 14th course on exorcism and prayers of liberation, which is organized by the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum university and GRIS (The Socio-Religious Information and Research Group).
The week-long course, which ended May 10, does not train new exorcists, but is intended to provide a general formation to priests and lay people on what exorcism is and related topics. Dermine said that many of the laypeople attending the course are there at the request of their bishop, so they can learn how to better support and assist priests at exorcisms.
Dermine told CNA that his lecture will also address some of the common mistakes exorcists make, one of which is to confuse preternatural (demonic) manifestations for supernatural charisms, which come from God.
“It’s a very important difference,” he said. “We have a human nature and cannot know things without learning through our senses.”
“God created us to operate in a certain way. If you have extra-sensorial perceptions, and things like this, and they are not meant to help or to provoke a spiritual result, then they cannot come from God,” he warned. People with these perceptions are often described as “mediums” in secular culture.
These types of preternatural sensations or manifestations can be “a cause of many problems” for people, so they will need some help from an exorcist, Dermine said.
The priest noted that there is a cultural value to holding a course on exorcisms for priests and select laypeople, and this is because the topic is often mysterious, so the desire to understand it is important.
“Most of the people who come here, they come here because they have an intention not to become exorcists, necessarily, but to understand,” he said.