Exorcists who have attempted to liberate confirmed Satanists are generally of the opinion that these types rarely get free of Satan’s grip. Even when they say they want to be free, that consecration binds them like super glue to the Evil One.

And of course there’s the other little fact that the devil is a sore loser. He will never voluntarily let go of a soul he has his hooks into.

But let’s also be clear about one basic aspect of God’s gift of free will: undoing such a horrible state of soul is difficult but not impossible. We don’t believe the devil is all-powerful. Only God is omnipotent, and God’s grace for salvation is available to anyone – but you have to want it.

Spiritual Super Glue

The real problem with people who have given themselves over to Satan is that they usually don’t want it. Their whole inner life becomes so perverted – turned upside down and inside out – that they emotionally embrace good as evil and evil as good. In other words, Satanists usually like being Satanists.

It’s hard for a normal person of faith to imagine a state like this. What is the core of it? Perhaps it’s the feeling of raw (but illusory) power; perhaps it’s the immediate rewards of flesh, popularity, worldly success, or money? It’s hard to fathom the depths of what the Church calls “the mystery of iniquity”.

What is clear, however, is that Satanists live in a kind of willing slavery to evil. Over time they eventually lose most of their desire to choose a life of grace because their submission to the devil’s power eventually destroys their wills. Like the alcoholic who can no longer choose sobriety after years of addiction, the confirmed Satanist has very little ability to choose Christ.

This is a very frightening state of affairs, and it’s probably more common than we imagine. But few know about it because all the actions of Satanists remain hidden or imbued with deception, as is typical of creatures of darkness.

One Who Got Out

portrait of Bartolo LongoThe case of the Italian lawyer named Bartolo Longo is the story of one who got out of his slavery to the devil. His exit from bondage was miraculous, yes, but it was not as dramatic as a Hollywood movie. It was the function of something much more prosaic: namely, the Church’s treasury of grace and the many humble people who administered those treasures to him.

Bartolo was born in 1841 on what would eventually become the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11th (the Lourdes apparitions happened in 1858). This is not insignificant, as we will see.

His childhood was by all accounts normal, and he grew up in a pious Catholic environment, where he was taught the Catholic Faith. His mother taught the children to say the Rosary every day and to care for the poor. But Bartolo was a rebel by nature and, by his own admission, a mischievous child.

He was only ten when his mother died, and it must have been a great shock to his system. We don’t always appreciate how early childhood trauma can affect a person negatively, and perhaps that was the reason – or at least one of the contributing factors – that led him to get tangled up with the wrong crowd. Looking for love in all the wrong places, as they say.

The Devil’s Hooks

While studying at the University of Naples he dabbled in the fad of the age, Spiritism. Today we would call it the New Age or a satanic sect. He eventually made a serious commitment to the occult lifestyle.

Like a fisherman with a pole who slowly reels in his catch, the devil drew the young man, little by little, into the local satanic sect. Soon Bartolo chose to consecrate himself to the Evil One, and in time, he even became a satanic priest.

All accounts of that terrible ceremony note that the walls of the building where he made the consecration shook as he pronounced his blasphemous vows. It is said cathedral gargoyle of devilthat he was so shocked by the tangible presence of evil in that room that he fainted in horror. From that point on, he began to have serious health problems; yet, neither his horror at the experience nor his poor health stopped him from carrying out his mission of evil. He lived for several years in this darkness.

He became kind of a missionary of Satan at that time, blaspheming the Lord publicly, conducting séances, harassing devout Christians and drawing many away from the Faith. He even presided over Black Masses. The devil really had his hooks into the young Italian.

At the same time, Bartolo’s large Italian family was aware that he had left the Faith and had gotten involved in a very dark lifestyle. Maybe they didn’t know all the details, but they knew. And they prayed to release him from the devil’s hooks. There is even some indication that Bartolo’s deceased father appeared to him in a dream and urged him to get back to his Faith. The voice of his father was perhaps the beginning of the change.

Then the Light

It was not one particular incident that converted Bartolo back to the Catholic Faith, but it was one person who cared enough for the salvation of his soul to speak the truth to him.

One day Bartolo went to visit an old teacher and friend, Professor Vincenzo Pepe, and the professor was shocked at how desperately Bartolo had declined, both physically and mentally. Bartolo was still in his twenties, but he was starting to look like a decrepit old man.

Professor Pepe was good enough of a friend to tell the young Satanist, point blank, that he was destined to live the rest of his life in an insane asylum and possibly lose his soul if he didn’t get out of the dark business. It is not clear whether the professor knew the full details of Bartolo’s enslavement to the occult, but he certainly saw the outward results of it.

From there, a cascade of graces began to flow into the young man’s life. The professor introduced him to a strong and intelligent Dominican priest, Fr. Alberto Radente, who instructed Bartolo in the Catholic Faith – or rather, reminded him of all he had been given previously. Father Radente then got him involved in a community of young and fervent believers, which allowed him to experience the grace of God in a new way.

Eventually, he renounced any involvement in the occult, broke the consecration he had made to Satan and actually went back to the sect he had previously led and held up Our Lady’s Miraculous Medal to witness to them the power of Our Lady over evil.

I love that intrepid display of spirit! Can you imagine being in that satanic chamber at the moment Bartolo flashed the Miraculous Medal? It must have been like the scattering of cockroaches when someone turns on a light in a dark room!

The Church Militant

At the age of thirty, Bartolo took vows to become a lay member of the Third Order of Carmelites, consecrating himself as a slave of Mary. It’s hard to imagine a greater victory over the devil than that.

When Scripture speaks of the Christian life as a battle (in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Revelation particularly) the image is not a pious metaphor. It is a real description of the Church’s mission of combat for souls during its long pilgrimage through time and space. The battle will never be over until the end of time.

What evidence do we have of spiritual warfare in the case of Bartolo Longo? Plenty:

  1. The Blessed Virgin Mary chose him and fought for him.Icon of Our Lady of the Rosary and the Child Jesus
  2. His family of faith prayed for him. Allegedly his deceased father even appeared to him (Prayer is a spiritual weapon.)
  3. A caring friend showed enough concern about his soul to rebuke him (Charity is also a spiritual weapon.)
  4. A priest instructed and guided him back to the Faith (Truth is a powerful spiritual weapon.)
  5. A community of zealous souls (lay faithful and friends) nurtured and strengthened him (the communion of saints is a spiritual weapon); and of course,
  6. The Rosary and the Sacraments filled him with grace.

All of these influences are what we call the Church Militant. They all administered in their own ways the Church’s treasury of graces to a lost soul so that he was able to make a free decision to be released from the devil’s slavery. No one else could make that decision for him.

But the battle for Bartolo’s was not over.

basilica of Our Lady of Pompeii_Exterior
basilica of Our Lady of Pompeii_Interior

The Devil’s Claim

Blessed Bartolo’s greatest work was the establishment of the community of Our Lady of Pompeii south of Naples and the construction of the great Basilica in Our Lady’s honor, where he is buried. He died at the age of 85 in 1926 and was beatified in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. We now call him Blessed Bartolo Longo.

For the sake of brevity, I will have to leave it to others to recount all of the marvelous works of faith and charity that Bartolo Longo carried out in the subsequent fifty years of his life. To the very end of his life, however, he attributed the salvation of his soul to the love of the Virgin Mary, whom he had known from his youth and who, for a time, he had lost sight of. Thankfully, she never lost sight of him.

Having once been in the vice grip of Satan, Blessed Bartolo knew that the devil would always have a certain claim on him: perhaps he felt the daily temptations of the Seducer like few of us can appreciate. Much of the saint’s real sanctity consisted in the humble recognition that he could not save himself.

Our Lady’s Rosary was the counterbalancing force to the power of evil – the force that dissolved the devil’s spiritual super glue. He felt that spiritual power deeply. As he neared the end of his life he would often witness to this simple fact:

“My only desire is to see Mary who saved me and who will save me from the clutches of Satan.”

They key to unlocking all those graces, however, was the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Church was fighting for his soul with all the weapons at its disposal. This arsenal of grace brought him back from the brink of death and led it to an amazing spiritual fruitfulness that undoubtedly saved many other souls in years to come.

This humble man who went from Satanist to Saint shows us what our blessed Lord meant when He said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail” against the Church. The weapons in the arsenal just need to be used.

To the greater glory of God!

sliver of stained glass window

Soul Work

Whether we realize it or not, we are all ministers of the Church’s spiritual treasures. Isn’t it nice to know that we can hand out graces to others!

We all know people who are lost in a spiritual sense. They may be prosperous and outwardly happy or even upstanding citizens. But if they have given themselves over to the power of evil in any form, their souls are on the brink of death. You don’t have to be a confirmed Satanist to be in spiritual jeopardy. Like Blessed Bartolo’s family, we know spiritual danger when we see it.

Take a lost soul today into serious prayer. Perhaps you have been concerned about him or her already, but now is the time to exercise that concern deliberately and sacrificially. God will honor every honest prayer for the salvation of a lost soul. Then, don’t stop praying for that person until you see the victory of grace!