Friday, October 31, 2014

Pope Francis, the Devil and Hollywood

Little children get scared easily, it's not a remarkable aspect of Halloween. Of the 'boo' hands on the shoulders category, there is little danger of lasting effects upon impressionable minds. We can categorise the physical joke side of the holiday as mere fun. However, there is another, far more sinister type of fright that can be had, mostly sitting in front of the television screen. And that is the type of fright which disturbs the sense of normalcy within the physical realm, which puts forth for the first time a real notion of the paranormal and supernatural, and of them as something inherently threatening and unmanageable.

The films which mostly instil this into children are not slasher films, where a psychotic killer brandishes a knife for some illogical personal vendetta or pursuit of fame, but films of the supernatural violence inflicted by demons, evil spirits and even Satan himself.

In most cases, these films involve a Catholic Priest being summoned to duel with the evil forces that are seeking to take apart the individual in question or commit havoc in wider society. What is so compelling about many of these stories, the classier ones at least, is the manner in which they can diverge away from simply glorification of the occult or settling for cheap thrills, and develop instead a commentary (however oblique) on the effects of spiritual and moral decadence and religious indifference. The tacit acknowledgement that only a Catholic Priest, speaking in Latin, could be considered worthy of opposing forces of seemingly overwhelming power. A contrasting argument could of course be made that they regard Catholicism as a silly superstition worthy of being grouped with physical possession by demons, however, this would be at odds with the facts behind the makings of films like The Exorcist. 

That film in question, whilst maintaining a cult following centring mainly around occult fascination, is in actuality a prime example of a powerful piece of Catholic storytelling. The author of the novel upon which the screenplay was based, William Peter Blatty, is a practising Catholic and based the story upon a disturbing story of physical possession from 1949. The film deals only on the surface with thrills and cinematic frights, but on a more serious level it concerns the frightening effects that a mother's atheism and a dalliance with the occult can have. All the main characters, including the Priest, have lost their faith in God. But the essential message of the film is that it is their return to their faith in God that saves them. 

Blatty recently hit the headlines for petitioning his former university, which features in the novel and film, Georgetown University, in protest for it having abandoned its Catholic ethos, stating I want my beloved university back, not just alive, but totally beautiful — and healthy. One could argue that such films and the fascination around them, are a visceral means of evangelising for some, a blatant foray into the grotesque and violently repugnant as a contrast to find something that can oppose it, namely, the Catholic Church and its holy sacraments.

By their fruits you will know them however, and to whatever extent we try to find some recognition of good in a small fraction of Hollywood produced horror films, we must face the reality that both they and Halloween in general are often far more damaging in their actual effects. For every child trick or treating, there are other individuals committing crimes against their fellow man, engaging in self-degrading debauchery and harming defenceless animals. 

Our much criticised Pope Francis, has made a point since the beginning of his papacy of mentioning the Devil as much as possible. Speaking at a convention of exorcists this week, he spoke worryingly of a rise in interest in Satanism and those who dabble in all manner of occults practises. In keeping with the theme of The Exorcist, Dr. Walter Cascioli, a psychiatrist at the International Association of Exorcists, said that People whose faith is lukewarm don't pay enough attention to demonic activity and the temptation to engage in it. The Pope has said that treating such people is a way for the Church to show its affection towards the oppressed, even the oppressed of spirit. Another of the exorcists said that there are always more evil rituals, animal sacrifices, desecrations of cemeteries and thefts of sacred bones at the time of the 31 October. The same priest, Father Aldo Bounaiuto, called on the day to be replaced with children dressing up as saints instead.

For all the bad that we hear about our Church and its failure to confront serious moral issues, we should remember how often and how gravely the Pope has spoken of Satan as well as the significance of a meeting such as this being attended by him. But, one feels that it all misses the point.


We cannot make it seem as though God will be light to punish certain sins so long as the world opposes Him enough. 

We should not think that going easy on people or gradualism are ways to turn people into saints.

And we certainly should not allow people to think that a flippant comment signalling our indifference to their lives, be they Freemasons or Homosexuals as Pope Francis was speaking of when he spoke infamously, is tantamount to bypassing the judgement that God will impose upon them. There are more concerns out there other than Hollywood films or people visiting psychics or other sinister practises, there is the ignorance and apathy that leads them there first. This dabbling is not easily undone. Ask Blessed Bartolo Longo, who defected from the Church of Satan to Catholicism, and spent the rest of his life saying the Rosary, out of devotion to Our Lady and as a remedy for the horrific attacks upon his person and soul by the forces of evil.

I love Pope Francis, I love the Catholic Church. But I wonder if the Devil is breathing down not only his neck but also the necks of the cardinals and other ringleaders of the Synod. To the point where they cannot see what is happening, but have the small spectre of goodness to still know the perils of the occult and the damned.Something is blinding them from seeing the devastation since the Second Vatican Council. A diabolical disorientation if you will.

St. Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in battle. 
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. 
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, 
and do thou, 
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, 
by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan, 
and all the evil spirits, 
who prowl about the world 
seeking the ruin of souls. 

The remains of Blessed Bartolo Longo 

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