Friday, October 18, 2013

The Expulsion of The Devils From Arezzo: The Spiritual Battle

 Giotto di Bondone's Fresco - The Expulsion of The Devils From Arezzo
If you haven't recognized it by now, the image associated with this post is the famous Franciscan fresco from Giotto di Bondone, depicting the Franciscan Friar Brother Sylvester expelling demons from Arezzo. I had intentionally included this image because it draws attention to the spiritual battle we are in engaged in on this earthly pilgrimage. The aforementioned fresco is also the cover image for Father Gabriele Amorth's book, An Exorcist Tells His Story, which I will be referring to regarding the spiritual battle. Father Gabriele Amorth was Rome's former Chief Exorcist and the co-founder together with Fr. Jeremy Davies, exorcist for London's Westminster Archdiocese, of The International Association of Exorcists.

First, let me provide you with the story behind the fresco, which comes from St. Bonaventure's Major Life of St. Francis (CH VI, NO.9.), 
The Expulsion of The Devils From Arezzo:
On one occasion St. Francis arrived at Arezzo when the whole town was being torn with faction fights and threatened with destruction. There he was given hospitality in a village near the town and he could see the devils rejoicing over it and urging the people on to mutual slaughter. He was anxious to put the malicious powers of evil to flight and so he sent brother Sylvester, who was a man of dove-like simplicity, telling him to approach the town like a herald. "Go up to the town gate," he said, "and in the name of almighty God command the devils in virtue of obedience to go away immediately." Sylvester was a genuinely obedient man and did what he was told. There and then the town was restored to peace and the townspeople set about reforming the laws governing their mutual rights peacefully. Once the malignant and presumptuous influence of the demons which encompassed the town like a besieging army had been counteracted, it needed only the wisdom of a beggar, that is, Francis' humility, to restore peace and save the day. By the heroic practice of humble obedience Francis had gained complete authority over the rebellious spirits, so that he could crush their frantic efforts and put an end to the violence they attempted.
The above anecdote describing the spiritual troubles of Arezzo, Italy is what Father Gabriele Amorth refers to in his aforementioned book, as the "ordinary activity" of the devil and the other fallen angels, that is, temptation. The extraordinary activities of Satan are: external physical pain, demonic possession, diabolic oppression, diabolic obsession, diabolic infestation and diabolic subjugation or dependence. The spiritual battle is real and should be taken seriously because our souls are at stake and let us not forget the primary reason for living this life on earth, the salvation of our souls! As Father Gabriele notes in his chapter on The Power of Satan, he quotes Pope John Paul II who referred to this spiritual battle in May'1987 during the late pontiff's visit to the Sanctuary of Saint Michael when he stated:
The battle against the devil, which is the principal task of Saint Michael the archangel, is still being fought today, because the devil is still alive and active in the world.  The evil that surrounds us today, the disorders that plague our society, man's inconsistency and brokenness, are not only the results of original sin, but also the result of Satan's pervasive and dark action. (31)
For most of us, the spiritual battle is simply a matter of the ordinary activity of temptation, but for some it is much more than this. This is partly due to their vulnerability, both in terms of not living a Catholic life, and/or a high level of skepticism regarding the power and existence of Satan and the option that some take of having recourse to him. Unfortunately, recourse to evil spirits is a reality and some do take such an option, sometimes unknowingly. Examples of open and direct recourse to evil are in the forms of black masses, sorcerers, curses, casting of spells and other elements of witchcraft. Examples of disguised, hidden and very subtle recourses to evil are in the form of: ouija boards, seances, astrology, tarot card reading, yoga, reiki, tai-chi and a host of new age elements that has greatly contributed to and become part of today's main stream "culture of death." 

If you are one of those skeptical individuals, allow me to cite an example that will be sure to dispel your skepticism. In 1949, a young American boy from Maryland, upon the prompting of a visiting Aunt who was involved in the occult, played the ouija board in his parents' basement. What resulted was the boy's demonic possession. The actual case was detailed in a book written by Thomas B. Allen entitled, Possessed. It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand the truth about ouija boards and the ramifications of inviting evil into your life. It was this particular case of possession that became the basis for the 1973 movie, The Exorcist. 

As to why people select the option of recourse to evil spirits, Father Gabriel's points out in his book that evil is sought after as a result of envy, jealousy, maliciousness, a desire to obtain a job, marry a certain desired individual, break up a relationship or marriage, cause a business to fail and many other reasons. The result of such evil invocation is the disturbance of people's mental and physical health, job status, family unity, overall stability, and many other issues that Amorth cites from his vast 30 years of experience in the field.  

Identifying and understanding evil is not all that Fr. Gabriel discusses in his book. Amorth provides a Prayers of Deliverance section at the back of his book, which includes the following prayers: Kyrie Eleison, Anima Christi, Prayer Against Every Evil, Prayer For Inner Healing and Prayer For Deliverance, all of which can be recited by the laity. In addition, Amorth also provides encouraging and helpful notes so that the reader, not only does not fall into a state of despair or fear, but clearly understands the reality and limitations of evil. As Amorth states in his book, The Curse chapter:
 ...curses are often unsuccessful for many reasons, for instance, because God does not allow the evil, or the intended victim is a person of deep prayer and union with God...It would be a most grave error to live in fear of falling victim to a hex. The Bible never tells us to fear the devil; instead we are told to resist him in the certainty that he will flee from us (James 4:7) and to remain watchful against his attacks, by remaining firm in our faith. (1 Pet 5:9) We have been given the grace of Christ, who defeated Satan with his Cross; we have the intercession of Mary, who has been an enemy of Satan since the beginning of humanity; we have the help of the angels and the saints. Most of all, at baptism we have been sealed with the Holy Trinity.  If we live in communion with God, it is Satan and all of hell who tremble at our presence--unless we ourselves open the door to him.(135) 
Amorth's message is clear, it is important to live a faithful life. Some of you may be asking, "what exactly does this mean?" Living a faithful life is fundamentally, a sacramental life. That is, the frequent reception of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. The faithful life is not limited to, but certainly includes deep prayer, daily recitation of the Rosary, adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, reading of the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the lives of saints, devotional readings and prayers. It also includes putting faith into action with: works of charity, awareness efforts such as Life Chain, defending the sacredness of human life and working to promote the dignity of the human person, fighting against injustice and immorality, acting as proper stewards of God's creation, and living in communion with others as sincere gifts of self.

When we live a true Catholic life, we are close to and connected with God and this is of fundamental importance when it comes to protecting yourself against evil. Left to our own devices, we are no match for the fallen angels. Originally created as superior beings by God, they possess knowledge, understanding, capabilities and power that is much greater than what comprises us, as human beings. The devil and his legions of demons direct their efforts at interfering, disturbing and destroying God's plan for humanity, including bringing to hell as many souls as possible. The good news is that we have available to us, Our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the angels and saints to come to our aid at all times.  

Thank God for St. Francis of Assisi, the brothers God gave him and the artistic gifts He bestowed upon Giotto. The fresco associated with this post is a wonderful reminder for us all on our faith journey to not forget the spiritual battle we are in. Let us remember the words of St. Peter, "...Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering..." (I Peter 5:8-9)

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