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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

On Exorcism and Psychological Disturbance

I ended my second blog with a case who was believed to be possessed, but who turned out to be stressed out by her board exam review as well as exposure to rape. In this blog, I would like to share another similar case with a "family flair", and compare it with a real exorcism which I happened to join sometime in 1985 before my first vows.

The Exorcism Case
It was a Sunday afternoon in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro about 5PM shortly before the sun had set. I was playing the organ in the parish church in preparation for our apostolate the next day. I saw my classmate Emil rushing to the garage. I asked where he was going, and upon knowing he was going with the priests in the parish for exorcism, I felt curious and hurriedly gathered the musical pieces and joined him in the car. The bishop was there, so were the three priests in the parish. Fr. Vic Panaligan was the parish priest then, so was my M.A. in Philosophy classmate Fr. Gerry Causapin, and another Fr. Vic. The bishop was Fr. Vic Manuel, SVD.

It was dark when we reached the place somewhere in a subdivision. The house was rather isolated and surrounded by a rice field. As soon as we were about to enter the house, I could still remember the girl was by the window of the hut with one feet on the base of the window about to jump off. She would have succeeded were she not held by her father and uncle by her shoulders. When the bishop came in, he immediately greeted the place with "The peace of Christ be with the people in this place." I saw the girl fall to the ground while her father and uncle restrained her in the shoulders. The parish priest then made the assessment. He held the crucifix before her, asking if the girl could identify who or what he was holding before her. But the girl's head wouldn't even face the crucifix but turned to the side away from the crucifix. She was actually an earlier case of the parish priest, hence there was a clear sign that it was a case of demonic possession.

The bishop held his pastoral crucifix, and greeted the family and us again: "Peace be with you." We answered, "and also with you." Then he told the parish priest to do the exorcism while he was there at the side. The parish priest immediately told the family to be strong in faith, and that we will all pray only one prayer, repeatedly, the Credo or I Believe in God. As soon as he started to exorcise the girl, we prayed the Creed. I still remember seeing the girl's closed eyes roll like marble, and then opened a little. I saw her eyes, red as coal on fire, and as I was praying the Creed, I remember some voice in me saying "You won't win. The Lord will win." I was holding the left leg of the girl, my classmate her right leg; the father and uncle in the same position as when we had just entered the house while she was on the floor. The girl was lying on the floor, and on her head was the bishop with his pastoral crucifix; the two priests assisted the parish priest, one was holding the oils, while the other was holding the small book of rituals.

The first to be anointed was the ears: to let the girl hear, then the nose so she could breathe fresh air, and I saw her hands closed so tightly no one among the adult men could force open them. But with the holy oils anointed on the hands, they opened so freely. I was really so shocked to see the power of the holy oils and the whole rite itself. As soon as the girl was seated, she asked why the bishop was around, and the other priests: "Bakit po kayo nandito, bishop? Fr. Vic, bakit po? ANong nangyayari?" ("Why are you here bishop? Fr. Vic, what happened?") Fr. Vic took from the pix (container for for sick calls) the Blessed Sacrament and holding the consecrated host, Fr. Vic asked the girl, "Neneng, kilala mo ba Siya?" (Girl, do you know who this is?") My hair stood as I heard the girl answer, "Opo, siya po si Jesus." ("Yes, He is Jesus.") Then Fr. Vic said to her: "Sabihin mo iha, Jesus huwag Nyo na po akong iwanan. Samahan Nyo na po ako lagi." (Tell him, girl, Jesus don't leave me. Stay with me always.") As soon as the girl said the line she started to cry.

Then the bishop took the holy water and had the surroundings of the house blessed. I went with the bishop holding the flashlight as he went aruond the house. I still remember him tripping by a soft land near the pig pen. I thought the devil must have had his last kick.

Psychological Disturbance Case
It was also a Sunday afternoon sometime in 1996. Fr. Reyes was on the phone asking for Fr. Greg Pinto, SVD. I told Fr. Reyes that Fr. Greg must have been out since there was no answer to my loud call. Then he told me that he needed a holy priest. I told him, "yes Fr., I am a priest but am a little hesitant to admit I am holy. I am still young." Then he told me that a confrere's sister was in his office asking for help for a neighbor who was believed to be possessed. Although hesitant to go, the persistent word of Fr. Reyes made me decide to go.

Upon arriving at the house in the subdivision of my confrere's sister, we were brought to the third house from their place. As soon as I entered the gate, I saw images of the Little Jesus (Sto. Ninio), the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels by the side of the gate. Those who were there told me that a religious group in the morning had them placed there instead of the family altar. I thought, "no wonder they didn't succeed." I saw a girl lying on the cot, with an older lady fanning over her. This lady told me that she had just started to sleep, and may be better not disturbed.

When I entered the house, the atmosphere was a little gloomy and dark. Some people were seated, and I was brought to one of the rooms where I saw a girl seated with the Rosary worn in her neck. I was introduced to the girl's father, mother, grandmother, and uncle. The younger siblings were somewhere outside. I introduced myself to the girl. Then she started telling me her story.

The week was particularly difficult for the family as the mother narrated. In fact, the night before, they failed to bring the girl and her cousin (the girl sleeping outside the house as I came in) to the hospital. The two were simply incontrollable. It used to be that Rosa, the girl in the room was the only one shouting in panic for about two days.

I talked with Rosa who told me that a certain Rina whom only Rosa could see, wanted to bring her away to a place she had never been. Whenever the "moment" came, Rosa was observed to be resisting, shouting and saying "No. I don't want to go," and then convulsing, but without froth in her mouth. However when the family members would stop her or coach her to stop, she wouldn't. It happened about three times during the week. The last occurence was the night before.

I asked Rosa what she wanted. She said that she wanted me to help her from being taken by Rina, the girl in her mind. So, I asked her to identify the persons around her. One by one I pointed at the persons in the room, and she was able to identify them perfectly well. And then I saw her look towards one side and started to look scared. She told me "Father, there is Rina. She is calling me to go with her." So I told Rosa: "Rosa, I am here by your side, and so are the persons who love you. Tell Rina that we are here for you, and that she can go away because anyway everyone's here for you." Then she closed her eyes, and started to convulse. I held her by the shoulders, and told her the words I had just said. And as she said them, she added, "Rina, you don't have to come back. My parents won't fight again." WOW!!! I saw the father and the mother start to cry.

When the hysterics stopped, the father knelt before Rosa, saying, "Anak, sorry. Di ko na sisigawan ang nanay mo." (Daughter, am sorry. I won't shout at your mother again.") The mother hugged her from the back, saying, "Sorry anak, di na kami mag-aaway ng ama mo." (Am sorry, my daughter. Your father and I won't fight again.") And then we all prayed together as I laid my hands on Rosa's head, after which I prayed over the family.

The parents narrated to me what was happening in the family. The mother was the one working outside the house while the husband stayed home to cook, and do the woman's (housewife) jobs. Whenever the woman arrived from work, the house was topsy-turvy while her husband was busy cooking in the kitchen. She would shout at him, scolding him for failing to keep the house in order. This became a regular occurrence, up to the point that the husband started to shout back, and even threatened that they would separate. At this point, Rosa started to have her convulsions.

It dawned on me that maybe Rosa was "crying for help" in the midst of a family breakdown that was happening right in her presence. The thought of going nowhere when her parents go away must have been so scary for her, that her psyche must have created a "second Rosa" that wanted to run away from that scene.

The Difference
Maybe this wouldn't be difficult to identify now. The most glaring indication of an authentic case of exorcism seems to be validated by the girl's aversion to the cruicifix. It was simply beyond us why the exorcism case would not even want to see the crucifix. No matter how the father and uncle would try to pin her head and let her see the crucifix, or any of the priest holding the crucifix before her, she would simply turn her head away. The holy oils and the exorcism formula used seemed to have worked their purpose/usefulness. What was more striking was the seeming inability of the girl to know what was happening while she was being exorcised. Up to now, I never knew whether the girl ever learned that she was once exorcised.

The Church, through her bishops, usually undertakes a serious investigation and validation before they would authorize one of the priests (called the exorcist) or he himself to do the exorcism. Cases with a semblance of psychological disturbance may be approached using the ways of psychology. In the first case I presented in my earlier blog (May 31, 2006), I told the seminarians to keep away from the girl's vision the holy water lest the sight would further reinforce a belief that would intensify the hysteria.

In the second case, as in my earlier case, the name and reality of Jesus and/or religious symbols even became instruments for stability or recovery of it. Besides, the girls were relatively conscious about what was happening, and relaxation as well as reassurance were sufficient for them to recover their sense of power over their faculties.

I know these three cases may be insufficient, but these were the "gates" that opened for me how to appreciate Counseling Psychology and how I can use it to help a person in need. Exorcism is something that would need someone higher to authorize before it can ever be used. Whereas, in a counseling case, being with the client sometimes may be sufficient for fear and helplessness to be overcome, recovering one's sense of capability.