This article originally appeared on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog “Standing on My Head,” and is reprinted with permission. Visit his website, browse his books, and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.
I once attended a seminar on the deliverance ministry conducted by the author and psychiatrist Kenneth McCall.
During the questions and answers three rather excitable women told Dr. McCall that there was a witches coven meeting in their town and they wondered how to get rid of it.
Dr. McCall was a very softly spoken man with a deep spirituality. He said quietly, “In my experience, in most cases, all that is necessary to rid a place of evil is for a small group of committed Christians to gather and pray silently together and then repeat the Lord’s Prayer together concentrating on the phrase, “Deliver Us From Evil.” He smile, “That usually works. Any further questions?”
I think the ladies were a bit disappointed. Perhaps they wanted a dramatic exorcism complete with spinning heads, levitations, holy water and amazing signs and wonders.
I have remembered Dr. McCall’s answer and use the Lord’s Prayer as a weapon against evil. I also teach others to do the same.
Sometimes an exorcism is needed. In which case only a trained exorcist can perform the rite with the bishop’s permission.
However, all baptized Christians are called to be soldiers in the spiritual battle, and a conscious use of the Lord’s Prayer for deliverance is a practical, down to earth way to defeat evil.
We sometimes forget that a major dimension to the Lord’s ministry was his battle with Satan. From the moment of his baptism he is thrust out into the desert to confront the Father of Lies. Immediately we see him casting out demons, healing the sick of body, mind, and spirit, and finally through his cross and resurrection he tramples down the ancient foe once and for all.
He has given us the “Our Father” or “Paternoster” as a weapon in the war.
There are three phrases on which to concentrate. The first is “Forgive us our trespasses”. First we ask for forgiveness of our sins, and this is linked with our action of forgiveness directed towards others. As we say “as we forgive those who trespass against us” we are conductors for God’s forgiveness which flows through us to others.
In this double phrase we accept forgiveness and so become channels of God’s forgiveness. This is the important first step and praying the Paternoster this first time slowly brings a focus on that phrase. When this is combined with a good examination of conscience the sins are forgiven and we become the vessels for forgiveness so God can work through us.
In this way the Lord’s Prayer becomes a sincere act of contrition. It should go without saying that if we are aware of mortal sin in our lives, then this act of contrition built into the Lord’s Prayer should be supplemented with the sacrament of reconciliation.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer the second time we focus on the phrase, “Lead us not into temptation.” This phrase is confusing to many people. Why would God lead us into temptation anyway? The problem is with the archaic language we use from a more traditional liturgy. “Lead us not into temptation” can also be translated, “Lead us away from temptation.” By “tempting” we do not simply mean the attraction we feel toward sin, but instead we are referring to the active temptation that Satan puts before us. In other words, “Lord, defend us from the attack of the evil one.” or “Keep us safe from the continued lure of evil. Direct us into the light and away from the dark.”
This second time praying is linked clearly with the third. The third time we pray we focus on the phrase, “Deliver us from evil.” This is the final and most powerful prayer of deliverance. Deliverance ministry is just that: a liberation from bondage to evil.
It is too simplistic to imagine that bondage to Satan is only ever in the form of explicit demonic possession. Many people suffer from bondage to evil. Some are bound to addictions, obsessive sexual behaviors, and an addiction to particular sins. Others are in bondage to toxic, evil relationships. Still others are in bondage to their negative self esteem, destructive habits, depression, fear and anxiety. In all of these difficulties there can be a spiritual dimension. Evil spirits can hold a person back from fullness of health and spiritual well being.
In a very quiet and down to earth way, therefore, we can battle evil through a conscious and intentional use of the Lord’s Prayer to receive and give forgiveness, to pray for freedom from temptation and for deliverance from the dark powers that bind us.
Finally, the Lord’s Prayer can be used in this way not only for ourselves, but as an intercession for others. It is an act of mercy to pray for others who are in bondage and to ask the Lord to set them free.
This prayer unites us with the prayer of Jesus. This is how he prayed. This is what he prayed for. I believe this aspect of the Paternoster is the most important and yet most neglected dimension.
When this prayer is said simply, quietly and slowly we join our prayers with his and so join our will with his for the salvation of the world and the liberation of souls.
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[See also: The Mystical Visions of Mother Angelica]