Whenever a difficult case is assigned to me, I would often jokingly tell Fr. Jocis and the team "I did not sign up for this." And they would respond: "We too." Then we would all laugh to our hearts content. But honestly, as a young dominican and later a priest, this part of the dominican and priestly ministry was never discussed to us. In fact even during our theological formation no one among our professors presented this in the classroom nor in informal talks and discussions. Back then I wanted to understand about the reality of evil spirits and how they affect us, and how the Catholic Church deals with cases involving them. Unfortunately, except for that small gesture of tracing on the forehead of a child to be baptized the sign of the cross in what seemed to be an exorcistic gesture, and the renunciation of the Devil and all his works prior to the profession of faith and reception of baptism, nothing else would be discussed about the devil and his legions. My theory then was either it was a topic not worth discussing or that no one among my illustrious professors really thought about it. How I wished really now, looking back, that our professors would have discussed this topic of angels and demons and freedom in Christ at great length, if not in dogma, at least in Christian Spirituality. Had we the appropriate background, perhaps our view of the priestly ministry would be a lot different, allowing more priests to help those who are being afflicted by the evil one.
Now, I just shake my head in disapproval, whenever I hear some of my brother priests' fearful view of the ministry of spiritual liberation and exorcisms. They have so many pre-conceptions and misconceptions often based on what they remember they saw in horror movies like The Exorcist. I would immediately say to them: "Why do you allow your faith to be shaped by Hollywood?" For indeed their fear of encountering the devil to the point of "let us not discuss him or the ministry of spiritual liberation" undermine the very faith they profess, preach, and celebrate. How does really one understand the meaning of Jesus' words: "...[I]f it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you;"(Matthew 11:28) when the priests who preach the Gospel and who believe that their priesthood is an anointing from Christ to "preach the gospel to all creatures"(Mark 16:15), fail to minister to people who will come to them for spiritual solace because the evil one has taken hold of their life? I guess I would be accused of being overly simplistic, but I believe that if we had been properly taught angelology and demonology and the spiritual battle during our seminary years, things would be different. And if we had talks from priests who are involved in the charismatic renewal share their thoughts, insights on the deliverance and spiritual healing ministry, our horizons may have been more open.
It is for this reason that drove me to to include it as part of the course in "Creation and Christian Anthropology" when it was offered to me to teach it in 2009 at the Faculty of Sacred Theology of the University of Santo Tomas and later at the Graduate School of Theology at the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary. The joy of teaching the subject lies in seeing my students be intellectually transformed from fearful ones to interested students to enlightened ones. I have the happiness of seeing some of my students volunteer to assist me in the ministry whenever they are able. A dominican student brother in fact because of his involvement with the ministry as a volunteer decided to have for his licentiate in theology thesis topic "The Spirituality of the Exorcist".
However, I do understand the reluctance of many priests to be involved in the ministry of spiritual liberation and exorcism. If I had known from the very beginning exactly what the ministry would demand of me, I would probably have second thoughts on accepting it when Fr. Jocis Syquia came to my office one day to invite me to be part of their team. Had I known how much time and effort it would take to minister to simply one spiritually oppressed or possessed person; how in closing the spiritual openings of an afflicted person that allowed the evil one to have access to their life would also take me to discover and close my own openings; or how in encouraging a spiritually afflicted person to persevere in prayer and the practice of virtues, it would challenge me to do the same; or in telling the afflicted and their troubled families to have faith in God and hope in His mercy and love, I would be required to do the same in the face of the enemy; or that they need to have patience and trust in the Almighty even if they did everything asked of them and healing seems to be not yet within sight, I would also need to do the same when after following all the prescribed prayers and going over them over the afflicted several times nothing significant is happening; or that after being liberated they would need to be vigilant so that the evil one would not retaliate or return, I too need to be vigilant in own my life so that retaliations would have no effect on me and my loved ones; or that the afflicted would need to live in habitual sanctifying grace henceforth in order to prevent further attacks in the future, I too would need to strive to remain in the grace of the Almighty so that His protection over me would remain, for it is His love alone that shields me from the perilous attacks of the enemy. It is much simpler if priestly life is about celebrating the holy sacraments, teaching in a classroom, administering in an office, preaching a retreat, directing a few souls. These are important and one can truly be holy by being faithful to these apostolic works. But involvement in the ministry of spiritual liberation and exorcism goes well beyond these.
Moreover, it is not about being passionate of anything one does nor of making it crusade-like. As one cannot simply say this is my apostolate or my ministry. Rather, it is allowing the Lord to really work beautifully and powerfully through this ministry, me who is most unworthy of all priests, to save souls from the clutches of the noon-day devil because this is intricately part of the reasons I was ordained and why I am a dominican. As it is now with what the Lord taught me and shown me in this ministry for two years, I have embraced it as part of my being a son of St. Dominic, the Doctor of Truth and Preacher of Grace. St. Dominic de Guzman, my father in the Order of Preachers, when he saw the terrible effects of the Albigensian heresy over the Catholic populace of Southern France and how the Devil who is the father of all heresies is sending many souls to perdition, asked the Lord: "Lord, what would happen to the poor sinners?" Hence, he made it his life work to combat heresy with truth in charity through preaching and teaching. And when in the apostolic work of preaching or teaching, he encountered the devil obstructing the preaching of the Truth, he had no fear in casting him out. In fact he used such opportunities to show the Truth of the Catholic Faith, much as the Lord Jesus showed His listeners that indeed he speaks the Truth by showing His power against the unclean spirits.
In fact, I have come to look into the Dominican Shield as representing the Order's readiness to do battle with the evil one and its minions. The clarity of the black and white speaks of the clearness of the Truth and the Catholic Faith it proclaims. The shield itself is an instrument of defense against the assaults and attacks of falsehood that the devil throws relentlessly like arrows. The Truth of the Cross is the ultimate weapon that vanquishes the enemy. To Praise God (Laudare) unites the Dominican to the ministry of the Holy Angels before the Most High, singing and glorifying His praises. To Bless (Benedicere) has a double action one that faces the Almighty, blessing His Holy Name, and the other facing the people, blessing them in the name of Him who has saved them from the evil one. To Preach (Praedicare) is the way by which the Order assaults the kingdom of lies, it proclaims Jesus and the Kingdom of God. And that star is the Son of God that shines and is never extinguished in the Order.
After two years in the ministry of spiritual liberation and exorcism, I have seen the reality of the evil one trying to frustrate any endeavor that would steal souls from him. However, it is indeed worthy of our human participation and effort to fight him, not through our human powers, but that of Christ through the Holy Spirit. I have witnessed the evil that the devil is able to do in the life of its victims. But I have seen the mercy, compassion, love, and power of the Most High who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ. I have ascertained and validated the teachings of the Catholic Church in her fight against the evil one. And I would say indeed without doubt: Credo in unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam ecclesiam (I believe in one. holy, catholic, and apostolic Church). This is indeed the Church founded on the rock of the faith of Peter in the Son of God, where the gates of hell shall not prevail.
These are teh fine prints indeed in being a dominican and a priest. However, I have to say with St. James: "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12) And again as St. Paul would eloquently say: "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" -- the things God has prepared for those who love him--" (1 Corinthians 2:9).