Another Reason I'm Impressed with Bishop Nickless
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
Three priests of the Diocese of Sioux City recently attended a conference on exorcism and deliverance. They learned that while the Hollywood version of Catholic exorcisms are rare, the need for and use of deliverance can be more readily applied as it is a healing ministry intended to free people of their suffering.
Father Jim Bruch, pastor at St. Boniface in Sioux City; Father Harry McAlpine, a retired priest of the diocese; and Father Patrick O’Kane, pastor at St. Bernard in Blencoe, St. John in Onawa and St. Joseph in Salix – attended the Fourth Annual International Conference on Healing – Exorcism and Deliverance held in August at Mundelein Seminary, Chicago.
These priests expressed interest in attending the conference after a brochure was sent out from the chancery to all priests of the diocese.
After reading the information on the conference, Father McAlpine questioned if this was something that he wanted to get involved in. Eventually, he felt drawn to check it out and see what it was all about.
“It was a good experience. It was a very intense week of listening to lectures,” he said. “A lot of it makes a lot of sense.”
He acknowledged that exorcisms today are few and far between, but he added that evil spirits do exist and influence people harmfully - thus the need for deliverance.
“A lot of people are hurting and floundering,” said Father McAlpine. “Jesus wants to heal us and this healing ministry is a significant step to bring freedom to those who are suffering.”
Father Bruch also expressed interest in going to the conference to learn more about this form of ministry.
“It was something that I had never really thought much about or had much teaching on,” he said. He also found the conference to be intense and compared it to going into the third grade with the expectation to learn subtraction and division and then having the instructor present calculus. “It was pretty high-powered.”
While this is not a gift or ministry to be used lightly, Father Bruch said all prayerful, baptized people are empowered to deliver people from evil spirits. He has witnessed how praying with people can bring relief.Father O’Kane said he was interested in attending the conference because he felt it would help him in giving spiritual direction and help him to be a better confessor in the sacrament of reconciliation.
“I was very interested in the topic,” he added. “I know that the evil one is very active in the world. It’s part of our ordinary healing ministry to help people in areas where healing is needed. When the evil one gets involved in our lives, we need to know how to deal with it.”
The devil is not something that is often discussed in this day and age, but Father McAlpine said there is no doubt that evil spirits are at work and that can be manifested in sinful behavior such as abuses of drugs and alcohol, pornography, sexual abuse and abortion.
“I think we have to call a spade a spade. Truly this behavior is the work of the devil,” said Father McAlpine, who continues to study about exorcism and deliverance. “It’s not a question of one, but many (demons) as indicated in the Gospels. Delivering people from evil spirits, along with forgiving sins and healing of the sick isan essential part of responding to the Gospel message.”
Part of Jesus’ ministry
Exorcism and deliverance was part of Jesus’ ministry and he passed that on to the apostles as a healing ministry. Father McAlpine said deliverance is a great way for the church to help people overcome whatever it is that has a hold on them – whether it’s sinful behavior, a loss of hope, pride or greed.
Father O’Kane agreed that deliverance can not only be used for habitual sin but for anything that people hang on to, even some addictions could be looked at in light of the presence of evil.
“One of the things I like to do is ask people what in their lives is keeping them from experiencing God’s tremendous love for them and prevents them from feeling really good about themselves – a whole person,” said Father Bruch. “Invariably, they are able to come up with something that stands in the way of that.”After helping people reflect on what is standing in the way of their relationship with God, he said if they are open to it, he prays a prayer of deliverance, asking the evil spirit to depart, if one in fact plays a part in it.
Father Bruch said he plans to use it mainly during the sacrament of reconciliation and in pastoral counseling sessions. He believes that most priests are already doing some form of this ministry in their own way.
He pointed out that even if a prayer of deliverance is offered asking for evil spirits to leave, the people must follow through with prayer and receiving the sacraments – especially the Eucharist and reconciliation.
“It’s not a magical thing. It takes work, on the person’s part,” said Father Bruch. “We (priests) too, need to be people of prayer.” He also stressed the fact that this isn’t a “cure-all.” People with mental, emotional and physical illnesses will continue to be encouraged to seek professional help for their problems. Additional prayer support could then be provided after they receive needed help.
Father O’Kane noted that he also plans to use this form of ministry during the sacrament of reconciliation as well as when he is counseling people and in spiritual direction of priests, seminarians and lay people.
Some people have somewhat forgotten about the wonderful gift of the sacrament of reconciliation, said Father McAlpine, where the faithful are offered forgiveness and deliverance.
“Because some people’s problems go much deeper, they need to renounce – under good spiritual direction – the evilness that is going on in their life and be freed from it,” he said.
Since going to this conference, Father McAlpine found that it has been personally helpful and insightful for him to be able to reach out to the people who are hurting. While there may not be time in the confessional to go into this in greater depth, he said it can be used as an invitation to seek further spiritual guidance.
“A person can come in and be really hurting and they are not possessed per se, need an exorcism, but they arecaught in demonic activity and need to be freed from it,” he said. “They need prayer and spiritual guidance to bring them to personal wholeness. Even priests that are involved in this are called to real holiness – to beable to accomplish this in the name of Jesus.”
This healing ministry has served as a good reminder to Father Bruch of the trust that people have to come in and unburden themselves and to believe in God’s forgiveness.
“It has given me so much more confidence in my own self for dealing with these things,” he said. “I’m not afraid of it.”
It has also helped Father O’Kane in his personal faith life, he said as he “heeds the call to become holier and more focused on the Lord.”
Father O’Kane pointed out that through ordination priests have received special graces to assist them in dealing with the evil one.
“Another reason why I wanted to attend the workshop, so I wouldn’t be afraid in dealing with it – so I could understand it more and be better equipped to engage and know what to do,” he said. “I know people are suffering because of this.”
The conference gave him more confidence and more skills.Father McAlpine acknowledged that with the busy schedules of priests, it probably prohibits most of them from becoming totally involved in this type of ministry, however, “I encourage them to at least pursue a background knowledge of the ministry, knowing there’s support for this healing within the diocese.”
These priests are open to having other priests call them to ask about this ministry. If people are struggling with sinful behavior, they encourage them to go to confession and speak to their pastor.
“Let’s open our hearts in receiving reconciliation and the Eucharist. These amazing gifts will change our lives forever,” said Father McAlpine. “Evil can be defeated through prayer, fasting and forgiveness. Satan has no power when we come forward in the name of Jesus. Exorcism and deliverance – if needed – can set us free.” He stressed the fact that good Christians can be oppressed and burdened.
“Don’t hesitate to come forward to receive God’s healing gifts of love and mercy,” said Father McAlpine.