When I was 19, and away from home for the first time I became close to Monsignor Edward Sutfin, the university chaplain. Like myself, he had first studied and practiced engineering, but later received a master’s degree in sacred theology. He had also studied fine art and had a doctorate degree in this field, which led to his role as a respected professor and head of the Philosophy, Religion, and Fine Arts department. I had watched the film, The Exorcist, and was troubled by what it depicted I went to him to ask, does demonic possession actually exist in the modern day and are exorcisms actually performed in the Church? I saw him as a man grounded in the practical and concrete realities of science and engineering. I was skeptical life and I figured he would give me the answer I expected.
What I did not know until then was that during his long career as a priest, Father Sutfin had once served on a diocesan board that evaluated reported cases of demonic possession. What he shared with me more than convinced me that, though rare, genuine cases of demonic possession do exist. He had direct experience of just such a case during his tenure on that board. As you can imagine this conversation did not allay my fears stirred up by the film. Fr. Sutfin did comfort me by grounding me in the belief that there is a remedy for evil in the world. Whether the evil we face is by the rare case of direct involvement of a demon or through the actions of persons under the influence of serious sin, we can turn to God and the Church for solace and healing.
In my work at the Justa Center in South Central Phoenix, I have seen many persons who suffer greatly because of poverty, violence, and drug addiction. It is sad and more than a little frightening that so many of our young people are being wasted by illegal drugs and illegally used prescription drugs. Prevalent are such drugs as crack, heroin, and crystal meth, but one of the most insidious drugs is synthetic marijuana. This drug is smoked like marijuana and goes by the name of “spice.” It is also called the zombie drug or demon drug because it leaves the person in a state that resembles what you might imagine the person looked and acted like in the demonic stories from the Gospels. The one young man I saw recently was experiencing convulsions, hallucinations, incoherent screaming, and self-mutilation. Though I did not believe that this was a case of demonic possession, it was certainly the result of someone producing a drug for profit from the suffering of others. This is definitely evil, and evil in the world comes from one place and one place only. Evil becomes incarnate when we allow the sin of greed to drive our lives. Greed, to the point, that profit is gained at the expense of other’s lives is sinful.
Many believe that the answer to drug addiction is enforcement against the manufacture, sale, and distribution of illicit drugs. Others believe that the users must be also be arrested and imprisoned. I believe that these have a part in combating drug use, but treatment must be included with the prison term. But more importantly, the root cause of addiction is something much deeper and a thornier problem. I believe that addiction, in whatever form it takes, is primarily a spiritual problem. This demands a cure that is offered by Jesus in his ministry to the poor and marginalized persons if his time. Many of the persons who turn to drugs today are like “sheep without a Shepherd.” Many do not know that there is an answer to the darkness they face in their lives born of a society bent on greed, consumption, and thrills. Life is hard and spending one’s time trying to deny it and medicate is not the answer. We must sign our children with the cross and teach them to accept its weight for Jesus promises that “ my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28)
When our young people feel that their life is out of control we must lead them to the truth of turning control over to God. Do what they can, but there is a limit to their own abilities, and when they reach that limit to let go and let God take care of the rest.
We often spend too much time telling our children how special they are without letting them know that life is not all about them. This is OK for a small child but at some point they must see that they are a part of something much bigger than themselves. We want them to feel important, and how they must attain everything, but we fail to tell them that humility is a virtue and that a false sense of self and an attitude of entitlement can never be satisfied in a healthy way. Life lived for others is the call of our faith and Jesus shows the way to true happiness by the way he lived.