Following is my May column that appears on the book page of this week’s edition of The Catholic Post.
When I first heard Father Mike Driscoll had written a book, I was thrilled for him and excited to read it. Our family has known Father Driscoll for years, and he’s a kind, intelligent, and devout priest.
The subject matter—demons and deliverance—made me a little nervous.
Why? My first experience with this type of book was back in the late 1980s, when a dear friend and Catholic co-worker in the pro-life movement lent me a book about exorcism. He sincerely meant it as a way to edify me and strengthen my early 20s faith, but its chief effect? Freaking me out.
Most of the reaction might have been a result of spiritual immaturity, but the book, with its drama and horrifying details of actual exorcisms, didn’t help. It had the good effect keeping me away from anything related to the occult, but it didn’t do much for my faith.
But Father Driscoll’s new book is not “that” kind of a book at all.
Demons, Deliverance, Discernment : Separating Fact from Fiction about the Spirit World is a sensible, highly readable book about some complex and sensitive areas.
He writes in the book that he wants to write a “different sort of book” about this topic, and he succeeds impressively.
C.S. Lewis wrote in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, his book imagining letters between demons on how to tempt humans, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
Father Driscoll’s book walks the line between these two extremes. As he writes, “Although we may not face the more dramatic demonic attacks, the devil tempts everyone—he even tempted our Lord.
We would be mistaken if we acted as if demonic possession were commonplace. We would be equally mistaken, however—as well as foolish—to ignore the presence of the devil, and to neglect the means of resisting his activity in the world.”
*the book provides some fascinating background about various cultures, nearly all of which have a belief in spirit possession, and how that can relate to a Catholic vision of the “unseen world.”
*Father Driscoll also relates Catholic teaching and practice when it comes to exorcism, pointing out the not-uncommon misconception that mental illness is caused primarily by demonic possession. As a licensed counselor, Father Driscoll wants to help readers discern the difference between mental health issues and true exorcism, and provide some general background about the differences.
The book shares how truly rare demonic possession is, and also how the many people who struggle with mental health issues can be helped through modern medicine and counseling, and good general mental and spiritual habits to promote health.
*Father also cautions a healthy skepticism about self-proclaimed “deliverance ministers” either Catholic or general Christians, who perform quasi-exorcisms outside the guidelines of the church.
*the helpful appendices. One appendix is of prayers for protection against demons. This isn’t a do-it-yourself exorcism advice, but rather a general, healthy advice to “pray always” and some of the powerful prayers the Church has to protect people from the enemy of our souls.
Here’s the importance distinction Fr. Driscoll makes about these prayers “these are not imperative formulas that address demons directly. They are prayers asking God, his angels, and his saints to protect us against the attacks of evil spirits.”
Rather than a scary book about demons and exorcisms, Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment provides helpful background, cultural perspective and prudent guidance for all readers.