Father Dwight Longenecker
The Aurora Murders and Demonic Possession
The final stage of demonic influence is possession. This is when the malevolent spirit does not manifest itself any longer, but hides within the personality rather like a parasite. The person will appear to return to normal, but there is a shadow within. Even if they do so in a respectable and "normal" manner, they will live only for themselves and the darkness within.
In analyzing these levels of demonic influence, one must remember that each level builds on the former and there may be no sequence, predictability or diagnostic tests. In dealing with the interface between the paranormal realm and the complexities of the human person, the exorcist often feels like he is walking blindfolded through a minefield set in quicksand. He is wrestling with a pool of oily octopuses. He is on the edge of chaos where there is no foothold.
Is James Holmes demon possessed? It is impossible to say without a detailed diagnosis. Even then, it is a slippery question. We are dealing with a reality that is rubbery. In many ways this is the wrong question. Better to ask, "Was James Holmes taken over by Evil?"
Yes. Something happened to the mild mannered science geek. He turned into a monster. Something twisted in his mind and heart, and Evil made an entry. Evil infested his life. It took him over. Whether the twist was through mental illness, some inner wound or some terrible dark intelligence, we cannot say. The fact that we can't say what went wrong and don't have a neat and tidy answer is the key to understanding the terrible conundrum of evil.
When faced with mindless massacres, we don't have a rational answer—and that is the rational answer. What I mean is that the further one goes down the path of Evil, the more it becomes irrational and mindless. Evil, by its very nature, is a lie, a subterfuge, a deceit and a vast web of contradictions and inconsistencies. Evil is, by it's nature, the darkness and the chaos—where what seems reasonable is only a smoke screen for the absurd, and what seems logical is a pretext for irrationality.
A friend of mine who is an exorcist says this is why the ministry of exorcism is so exhausting and grueling—because the demons constantly lie. Whenever evil is manifested, it wears a mask. The evil ones squirm and hide. They flatter one moment and hiss with rage the next. They are one moment obsequious and aggressive the next. Because they are liars, reason and trust can find no grasp. Pure Evil is random, violent and unpredictable.
Furthermore, Evil is, by it's nature, perverse and twisted. Evil has nothing positive in itself. It can only ever twist, pervert and destroy what is good. Consequently, Evil seeks innocent victims. Goodness is the fuel and fodder for Evil. Evil kills and feasts on the good.
This is why evil feels so bad. We wouldn't mind so much if bad people got gunned down by a vengeful killer. But Evil doesn't work that way. Evil seeks innocent victims. That's why it's evil. We wouldn't feel so bad if vile, genocidal dictators get their just reward and hang, but evil seeks out the helpless old person, the vulnerable woman, the child yet unborn.
All we can do when faced with mindless evil is recognize that it is mindless. The only answer is that there is no answer. The murders in Aurora and the crazed face of James Holmes remind us that real evil is random and meaningless. It is deadly and ruthless and cruel simply to be deadly, ruthless and cruel. All we can do is gaze on in fascinated horror at the senseless suffering.
Then we can pick ourselves up and also remember that goodness always overcomes evil. Evil is the absence of rationality, the absence of good, the absence of love. Evil is the dark compared to light. Evil is cold compared to heat. The cold and dark feel bad, but they are the absence of light and heat. Likewise, Evil is the absence not only of Good, but the outgoing power of Good which theologians call Love.
The true answer to the absurdity of evil is the supernatural rationality of love, for love is the outgoing goodness that counters evil. By "love," I do not mean merely sentimental or erotic love. I mean a power that is positive and creative and dynamic and pro-active in the world—the power which Dante said "moved the Sun and the other stars."
Love is the divine force of rationality and goodness. Love is the force which empowered three murdered men in the cinema in Aurora to shield their girlfriends from harm. Love is the force which makes the meaningless meaningful through the strange power of forgiveness, and which brings sacrifice in the face of insane self-love. Love is the light in the darkness, and Love is the meaning that makes us remember in a compassionate connection that this dark act took place in a town named Aurora, which holds a hopeful meaning: "Daybreak."
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Catholicism Pure and Simple. Visit his blog and sign up for Faith Works! his free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith here.