Bishop Olmsted Gives Clear Teaching On Devil

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer  

In the latest article in a series dedicated to the Year for Priests, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix takes a thorough look at the devil in the life of the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, and the faithful in general.

“Satanic attacks were commonplace in the life of Fr. John Vianney,” he writes in The Catholic Sun. “For 35 years, the devil taunted and harassed him, not only in spiritual ways but even in tangible and audible ones.”

These latter demonic acts are normally quite rare, the bishop writes. Some of these instances in St. John’s life included moving his bed around, crashing noises, igniting fires, and other harassments. These all occurred in an effort to stop or at least to curtail the saint’s priestly ministry.

Bishop Olmsted goes on to explain the role devils play in our natural and spiritual lives.

“Fallen angels, also known as devils and evil spirits, try to hinder all of us in our pursuit of holiness. Their ordinary ploy is by means of temptations, which God allows so that we can make good use of our freedom in resisting them and thus growing to fuller maturity in Christ.”

In addition to these ordinary ploys, demons resort to other extraordinary acts, on rare occasions. These harassments can be of three kinds: infestations, obsessions and possessions.

Bishop Olmsted explains: “With infestations, the devil makes use of noises, outcries, rattling, apparitions and other extraordinary outbursts of some sensible nature aimed at terrifying people, intending to undercut their confidence in God.”

These harassments were used repeatedly on St. John Vianney, sometimes to prevent him from sleeping, to disturb his peace of mind or to try to shake his trust in God. They usually occurred just before an outstanding action of grace was to take place, such as the conversion of a sinner.

Although the Cure never suffered from demonic obsession or possession, he dealt with them in others whom he served in his sacred ministry.

“With obsession, the devil goes beyond infestations and actually plays on the external senses of the body or influences a person’s memory or imagination,” the bishop explains.

“In cases of possession, which are even more rare than those of obsession, the devil actually uses the whole human organism, with the exception of the mind and will.”

In order to be freed from these harassments, the Church’s sacred power from Christ is needed, the Bishop writes. “This is why bishops appoint exorcists in their dioceses to offer pastoral care for persons afflicted by the devil in these horrifying ways. Through prayers of deliverance and the rites of exorcism, persons are freed from satanic power and their peace of heart and soul is restored.”

Bishop Olmsted goes on to say that the priesthood cannot be fully understood except in contrast with the work of the devil.
“The mission of a priest is linked intrinsically to God’s forgiveness of sins through Christ, and to His mission of defeating the devil and ushering in the Kingdom of God. We see this, above all, in the life of Christ Himself, our eternal High Priest. Recall that Jesus cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene (Cf. Lk 8:2), and expelled a whole legion of demons from a possessed man in the territory of the Gerasenes (Cf. Mk 5:1-20).

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of Him, ‘Christ reveals Himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: He ‘binds the strong man’ to take back his plunder. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of His filial love for the Father’ (#539).

Bishop Olmsted reassures us all that “the influence of the devil can never overcome the power of God’s grace. Jesus assures us of this when He tells Peter (Mt 16:18), “I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” But the evil one, nonetheless, continues to tempt and test all of us during our life on earth.”

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