Retired exorcist reminds students of the power of Jesus within them

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - Msgr. John Esseff, retired exorcist of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., shared his experiences with demonic spirits in a talk to students at Bowling Green State University, but his main message for them was the power of Jesus within them.

"Your power through him and with him and in him is enormous," he told the 400 students in attendance Oct. 22.

In describing one of his exorcisms, he said: "As she came in, she saw me and she shrieked - and the language and the growls - and then she slithered across the floor and was going up the wall. Well, there was obviously a force here, a presence. And I just simply silenced her in the name of Jesus."

He told the students that movies like "The Exorcist" have led many people, including Catholics, to fear the devil and to think he can "come and zap them."

But he believes the opposite is true.

"The devil is afraid of you - if you would just awaken to who you are," he said.

Each baptized person is united to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, he explained. Msgr. Esseff read passages from the Gospels in which Jesus exorcized demons and then sent his disciples to do the same.

Msgr. Esseff said Jesus ultimately defeated Satan through his death and resurrection and then sent the power of the Holy Spirit to his apostles at Pentecost.

"When God looks down, he sees Jesus in you," Msgr. Esseff said. "You have that power as baptized, confirmed Christians. And so when he (Satan) sees you, he hates what you would discover about that power that is within you."

He suggested that each audience member had been tempted that day because temptation is the ordinary activity of the devil.

"Your soul is a battlefield because there is also someone who hates you," he said. "That one is the devil. The devil knows who you are and what you have. God passed him by. God did not choose to become one of the angels. God chose to be one like us."

But just as each person was tempted, Msgr. Esseff said another spirit also was at work.

"In your life today, this very day, has been the Holy Spirit," he said. "God is in you. God the Holy Spirit is operative in you. God the Holy Spirit wants to bring into your heart - love. God wants to bring you peace."

Msgr. Esseff also told students of the power of angels and encouraged them to renew their devotions to their guardian angels.

"His (the angel's) job is to protect you all through this world. And when you close your eyes, he wants to deliver you to God," Msgr. Esseff said.

Earlier in the evening, Msgr. Esseff also invited students to invoke angels to fill the area and make a perimeter around the talk that night to protect it.

The event was hosted by St. Thomas More University Parish and Veritas, the Catholic student organization at Bowling Green State University.

"One of the ways I sold it (the event) on campus was that, regardless of what people believe about good and evil, the devil, etc., this is a guy that has been around the world and experienced some of the lightest and darkest moments of the human experience, and so his is a perspective that everyone should hear out," said JonMarc Grodi, president of Veritas.

In addition to serving as the official exorcist of the Scranton Diocese, Msgr. Esseff has traveled extensively around the world, working in South America and Lebanon and accompanying Blessed Mother Teresa for a period of time.

It was Mother Teresa, he said, who directed him to his current work, which focuses on the formation of priests.

After the talk, freshman Megan Dowell-Howko said she now has a better understanding of how she experiences temptation, and she is going to remember she can say no to the devil.

"I guess I'm taking away a renewed confidence that the devil only has as much power over me as I give to him," she said.

Before the event, Msgr. Esseff said he sees three indications of Satan's presence in the world: money, lies and war.

"I think one of the greatest things he has done is have people forget he exists. People deny he exists," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009