Today I have finished reading Fr. Gabriele Amorth's An Exorcist Tells His Story, which I read on the advice of one of my favorite people, an extraordinarily devout layman. Frequently shocking and sometimes frightening, you have to admit that it's an entertaining read.
The book is a collection of several representative accounts of the possessions, obsessions, and supernatural illnesses that Amorth has encountered in his own ministry as exorcist, presented thematically so as to offer the reader what he has learned about the strategies and behavior of the devil and his demons. Along the way one realizes that the book is also an extended and sustained rant against the pastors of the Church for not taking the problem of supernatural evil seriously, and for not taking up Jesus' commissioning of his disciples to expel demons.
I have to say that I have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, I agree with the accusation that the church does not treat supernatural evil seriously. My own experience and my brief work in the care of souls have convinced me that struggles with demonic presences and diabolical temptations are not as unusual as you might think. People just don't talk about it much, and still less do they tell priests about it, which is surely a testament to their common sense.
On the other hand, it is also my experience that many times those who complain of supernatural evil do so in such a way as to absolve themselves of responsibility. It is much easier, for example, to blame troubles in one's marriage on the presence of imps or harpies hiding in the bedroom than on denial, addiction, or the unwillingness to communicate. I once asked a spiritual director if he thought a particular temptation I was going through was of diabolic origin. He said, "What does it matter where it's from? Your task is the same."
Above all, when we are reflecting on these questions, we must be careful of the temptation to imagine the universe in a Manichean way, as a kind of raging, balanced struggle between good and evil, both of which have being in their own right. One has to look to further than Star Wars to see how easily we are charmed by this model of reality. "The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural," said Chancellor Palpatine. Unnatural or not, this is not the conception of good and evil taught by Christianity. Evil does not to lead to any abilities at all, but only to misery, death, and non-being.
The good news of Christianity is that there is no cosmic battle between good and evil because it's over. The Resurrection is the revelation of the victory of divine humility over the arrogance of sin. The Resurrection not only awaits us as the final, blessed, victorious destiny of creation, but has broken backwards into history in the Resurrection of Christ to snatch up into the first fruits of the new age anybody who is willing. From now until then there are still skirmishes and even souls that are needlessly lost, but the struggle itself has already been won.
As we read in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
A brother asked Abba Sisoes, 'Did Satan pursue them like this in the early days?' The old man said to him, 'He does this more at the present time, because his time is nearly finished and he is enraged.'
P.s. As evidence of my earnestness in this matter, I bet I'm the only priest you know who has a copy of the new De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam.