The Triumph of Death (detail) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder c. 1562
When someone is possessed, the "out front" activity of Satan is clear. The demons torture the person. They may sexually abuse them. On their bodies, they burn upside down crosses, leave claw marks, branding signs, and more. Fortunately, God does not allow Satan directly to kill or maim. But these physical tortures are not the most difficult or dangerous part of the spiritual battle.
Satan subtly inflicts the minds of the afflicted with the dissipation of hell. Most notably, their minds are filled with despair. They feel hopeless. Satan whispers in their ears again and again: "There is no hope for you;" "God doesn't care;" "Your sufferings will never end;" "You are doomed to hell." It is one of Satan's most dangerous weapons.
This is one of the greatest sufferings of hell, and Satan's own suffering-- a hopeless despair. In Sr. Faustina's vision, she described it as one of its seven major tortures of the damned. Their despairing state can never change.
As exorcist enters a bit into the world of those to whom he ministers, particularly in difficult cases. With the severely possessed, the exorcist is surrounded by hundreds of demons and face-to-face with one of hell's princes. We try to be careful, but invariably some of the stink of hell sticks. This week I have been surrounded by much hopelessness that the afflicted bring. Breathing in so much despair is debilitating.
In the journey toward liberation, hopelessness can be the greatest of hurtles for the possessed. They become convinced they will never be free and that no progress is being made. Their minds have sunk into a deep pit. Session after session, we encourage them, support them, cheer for them, and pray for them.
As I look around me in our world today, I see the same signs of hell. As faith flickers out, hell's despair spreads. What I see is a waste land of despair. People clamoring for possessions; power and position; passions inflamed...and so much violence and anger. Underneath it all, there is a pervasive hopelessness fueling it all.
It is often said that being possessed is rare. I am not sure that is true.
*See T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land