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January 22, 2017

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

JMJ

There have been two significant deaths in the recent past, and I’ll bet that most of you would be hard-pressed to recognize who they were. They probably did not know each other and yet they were linked in a very special way. Just a few weeks ago, William Peter Blatty died. He was the author of a novel that was made into a movie. The book was called The Exorcist and it was based on an exorcism that took place back in the spring of 1949—I was in my mother’s womb at the time—which involved a young boy who was possessed by the devil. In a recent interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN, which marked the anniversary of the publication of that book in 1971, Blatty said that part of his intention in writing it was to counter what he believed was a growing dismissal, even within the Church, of the reality of the devil and his influence in our lives and in our world.

Blatty was a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington DC, and as you may recall, the story was set in that neighborhood and on that campus. People from all around the world still visit the famous steps where that final dramatic scene in the movie took place.

The book and the movie exerted an influence on me in my late teens and early 20’s. First off, I was amazed that I even read the book. The Rocus family were not readers, and so I was kind of mystified that the book even ended up in our house and in my hands, and furthermore, that I should actually read it (or would it be more accurate to say that I “devoured” it ?).

And then the movie came out. I was equally surprised that I went to see it, knowing what the topic was. I was kind of a scaredy-cat back then, but, again, mysteriously, I also enjoyed the movie. I did not run out of the movie theater as many others did. But the subject matter intrigued me so much that I continued to study the phenomenon of possession. However, it wasn’t until 1990, when I got my initial call to the priesthood, that I began to put two-and-two together.

The other person who died recently at age 91, was Fr. Gabriele Amorth. He was for many years the chief Exorcist of Rome. Fr. Amorth wrote three books on the subject and admonished the bishops of the world who, in many cases, did not have a designated exorcist in their diocese. He considered this a scandal. His opinion would have been similar to that of Blatty’s in that he believed that many bishops no longer believed in a personal being called the devil, let alone a process by which it might be cast out from individuals who might suffer the terrible misfortune of possession or oppression by that being.

The combined works of these two men have changed the world in some interesting ways. For all of those who have seen the movie in the last 45 years, many were scared out of their wits, and I’m sure they had to ask themselves, “Why?” I think the answer had to be that it must have seemed too real to them. In other words, “You don’t suppose the devil really exists, do you?”

And with Fr. Gabe, his contribution was more academic in that he addressed the history of the devil, his adversarial role with Jesus in the gospels, and with the Church throughout the ages, as well as his ongoing influence in the world and in our very lives. I think his books have had a positive impact within the Universal Church with more and more bishops assigning men to be exorcists and more providing opportunities for training in this very important ministry.

Addenda:

In a subject for another bulletin article, William Peter Blatty may also become known for an initiative that he started before he died. He was extremely concerned that his alma mater, Georgetown University, a Catholic institution run by Jesuits, had lost its Catholic identity. He began a petition to be delivered to the local bishop requesting that the word “Catholic” be removed from the University’s name. We’ll see where that goes.

Trivia night coming up on Saturday, February 4th. Always a fun event. Hope to see you there.

Our Saint has been invoked, a search committee has been formed, and advertising has begun to find a new principal for Holy Spirit school.

Did you know that we are chapter 61 of the Universal Archconfraternity of St. Philomena? Check this link (https://goo.gl/Ta3sYR) to learn something about the oil of St. Philomena. I will be adding links to this place as I receive them, which are also on our website. Might I also mention that we should consider it an obligation to support the shrine of St. Philomena in Italy. It is old, of course, and always in need of maintenance and repair. Instructions for how to donate can be found in the article.

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