"Temptation of Christ" by Sandro Botticelli 1480-1482
A pious layman told me he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin. He was certain it was the Blessed Virgin. In fact, this gifted soul had truly seen the Virgin in the past and he said, in this new vision, she was exactly the same. The Virgin again looked radiantly beautiful and he felt the same consolation as before. But then "the Virgin" told him that he will die within a few months....hmmmm....that didn't sound right to me. It turned out to be a lie.
A pious religious came with a similar story. She said she has long been receiving locutions from the Lord guiding her spiritual life. She confided that she, too, was given foreknowledge of her death which would supposedly occur within some months. The locutions urged her, in the meantime, to practice much mortification and penance for the salvation of souls, which sounded good. But, her vocation was increasingly troubled and it became clear that she becoming demonically oppressed.
A possessed young man likewise claimed to have been receiving regular visions of his guardian angel and several saints, plus daily seeing the demons attacking him. We advised he ignore these visions, good and bad, until his liberation. He refused and said Jesus himself was leading him. The progress in his exorcism stalled out.
Spiritual people are vulnerable to being tricked by demons with false visions. This is especially true of the possessed who have a strong demonic presence. Such false visions can inflame the possessed's spiritual pride and derail the process of liberation. Moreover, those misled by false visions are unwittingly developing a deepening relationship with the powers of evil.
The Scriptures tell us that "Satan masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14). Even the spiritually mature cannot always distinguish between what is from God and what is from the Evil One; they can appear and feel exactly the same. Satan can well mimic a real spiritual experience.
The antidote? First, "Do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God" (1 Jn 4:1). Are they in accord with the truths of the faith? What are the fruits of these visions? Do the predictions come true? Second, do not trust your own judgment. Rather, rely on wise spiritual direction and obedience to those mature souls whose ministry it is to discern and lead.
In this exorcism ministry, I have witnessed a number of souls deceived by Satan. It is one of his most effective weapons against devout souls, who perhaps take some hidden pride in their spiritual lives.