Today's post is the first in a series of posts that I will be publishing on the subject of spiritual deceptions and discerning the spirits based on a book, Spiritual Deceptions in the Church and the Culture: A Comprehensive Guide to Discernment, written by Moira Noonan, OSB, Oblate and Anne Feaster. With so many aspects of today's modern culture inundated with the New Age and occult practices, some of which has infiltrated into the Catholic Church, I thought it fitting to continue to draw from this comprehensive guide and write about how Catholics (and Christians alike) can not only identify the New Age and occult practices, but also "discern the spirits" and better recognize what is from God and what is not. For those who have been following my blog, you may recall my initial post on this book, New Age Alternative Therapies and Medicine - A Need For Discernment, published in November'2014.
The content of today's post focusses on chapter eight, Discerning The Spirits, which has an extensive amount of information and serves not only as a warning against the New Age and occult practices, but provides the reader with the practical help to recognize the workings of the Holy Spirit. By providing the truth about the New Age and occult practices, the authors have better enabled readers to fight the good fight against the deception and enticements of the demonic in the "dramatic situation," the spiritual battle we all live in.
Included in Discerning The Spirits, are personal testimonials to illustrate the cultural influence of the New Age and the occult in the workplace, education, fitness and recreation centers, Catholic retreat centers and parishes. By co-authoring this book, Moira Noonan has also drawn from her own personal experiences with her involvement in the New Age, providing readers with a first hand account of how the New Age deceives many unsuspecting souls.
It is my hope that this book will encourage Christians and all people of good will to adopt a preventive approach against the New Age and occult practices by becoming better informed and knowledgeable of the many dangers, some of which I have written about and published on my blog, listed under the labels of: "New Age," "Occult," and "Demonic Investigation." If you are new to the New Age and occult practices, may I recommend my post, The New Age - A Basic Introduction.
Need For Discernment
Discerning The Spirits begins with scriptural references that set the tone for the remainder of the chapter. I have included one of the four scriptural references that in my view best reflects our current society, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in after times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of the devils, speaking lies hypocritically, and having their conscience branded." (1 Tm 4:1-2)
Discernment couldn't be more necessary in today's world with the New Age and occult practices rampant in mainstream culture. It doesn't take much effort to discover this within your own community, if you haven't done so already. A ten-to-fifteen minute drive within your community's business, medical and community centers, will surely result in the discovery of the New Age and occult practices: psychic readings, yoga, tai-chi, reiki, acupuncture, holistic and preventive medicine, and homeopathy just to name a few. Perhaps you might recognize some of the euphemistic language and deceptive titles specifically associated with "health" such as: oasis, sanctuary, mind body and spirit, wellness, holistic therapies, remedies, weight loss, massage therapy, natural and herbal, preventative and alternative medicine. This is but a partial list, and one that is growing.
New Age: A Counterfeit Response to Spiritual Thirst
It is proper for us as human beings to have a spiritual dimension in our lives, one that includes a thirst for an encounter with the divine. Seeking that encounter does require an understanding that due to original sin, the devil has acquired a certain dominion over man even though man does remain free. Noonan and Feaster instil in the reader the importance of this basic human condition by quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "...Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action, and morals. (CCC, 407) The Church calls it the "dramatic situation" of the whole world being in the power of Satan (1 Jn 5:19), making our lives a battle. (CCC, 409)" (117)
To further spotlight the importance and reality of this basic human condition, the authors have also quoted from Second Vatican Council document, Gaudem et Spes:
The whole of man's history has been the story of the dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God's grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity. (117)So how does the New Age fit into this battle. The authors answer this question with the acknowledgment that the New Age and its growth in the world is primarily a result of man's uncertainties, which they expand upon on by quoting a key resource, the Vatican document, Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age:
...[O]perates more often than not on the level of feelings, instincts, and emotions. Anxiety about an apocalyptic future of economic instability, political uncertainty and climate change plays a large part in causing people to look for an alternative, resolutely optimistic relationship to the cosmos. There is a search for wholeness and happiness, often on an explicitly spiritual level. (117)The authors state that the New Age Movement seeks to exploit man's desire for the transcendence by supplementing the Christian response to human desires and longings, considered by New Age proponents as deficient and transitory, with one that is focused on the self and answerable to no authority.
The authors also spotlight the two main errors man may fall into, quoting from C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." (117) Not everyone involved in the New Age considers themselves to be in either group, nor are they aware of what New Age principles actually are about. Many engage in these practices and accept these therapies without having acquired the truth about them. Some may only occasionally purchase or use a New Age product, unaware of the dangers of dabbling in the New Age.
Noonan and Fester also stress that the New Age offers a counterfeit response to the longing and desire for the transcendence, where the goal is not to experience an encounter with God, but rather to become gods. The authors note that the New Age rejects the reality of sin, absolute truth, and the need for redemption through the Cross. The New Age presumption is that man can achieve union or "oneness" with God through our own power, by using proper techniques and follow prescribed practices passed on from "enlightened" masters to disciples. This is in sharp contrast to Christianity which believes and teaches that union with God is a gift from God, and not man's accomplishment; it is a gift given to us through grace.
The New Age Movement and its Influence in Modern Culture
The task of documenting how the New Age has influenced our culture could be a separate book on its own. Noonan and Feaster have concisely captured this phenomena within a few pages, giving the reader but a glimpse of the vast influence of the New Age.
Drawing from the Mission Theological Advisory Group in London, England, the authors point out that the New Age is on the rise. Amongst this group's findings was that, although many Britons profess a belief in God, Church membership had declined while at the same time there was a growing interest in the New Age with practices such as horoscopes and soothsayers (psychics and fortune tellers).
The Mission Theological Advisory Group suggested that such a finding stems from a well known pattern that when truth is neglected and dismissed, a counterfeit spirituality fills the void. The result, as history tells us, is that when man turns away from God our Creator, he ends up falling prey to the most irrational and primitive forms of idolatry. Every decline in authentic religious beliefs and practices is accompanied by a corresponding rise in the beliefs and practices of superstition, occultism and divination.
Noonan and Feaster argue that the New Age has influenced every area of modern culture: business, religion, health care, the military and education. They cite many references to substantiate their argument, made simple and easy for readers to verify at their extensive endnotes section, which spans twenty pages and is categorized by chapter. One example in particular, a California school district had accepted over a million dollars in grant money to expand a student yoga program in its elementary schools. The program was funded by the K.P. Jois Foundation, who brings in Ashtanga Yoga teachers to teach children these practices. The authors specifically address the dangers of yoga in chapters four, Yoga-Spiritual Dangers, and five, Effects of Yoga and Martial Arts.
The Church has always heeded the warnings of our Lord and is endowed with the gift of discernment; a gift of the Holy Spirit which leads to the truth. From the time of the apostles, to the desert Fathers, to the great mystics of the Middle Ages (St. John of the Cross, St, Teresa of Avila, and St. Ignatius Loyola), we have available to us, sound guidance that we can apply today.
The authors further spotlight the Church's gift of discernment by quoting from St. Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), regarding the benefit that lay people and religious can receive from the Church's tradition in the area of the discernment of spirits:
...[T]he Church's Magisterium continues to carry out its task of discernment, accepting and living out the admonition addressed by the Apostle Paul to Timothy: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry." (2 Tim 4:1-5) (121)False Prophets
Noonan and Feaster include a much needed reminder of the scriptural warning against false prophets, who come to us in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Mt 7:15) The authors note that Satan seeks to deceive and catch us when we are most vulnerable and searching, offering false answers to life's deepest questions. Satan is extremely subtle and cunning so as to catch us off guard. One way that he attempts to do this is by masquerading as an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:14)
Further spotlighting Satan's deception, the authors cite from St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, the Rules for Discernment of Spirits:
It is a mark of the evil spirit to assume the appearance of an angel of light. He begins by suggesting thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his own. For example, he will suggest holy and pious thoughts that are wholly in conformity with the sanctity of the soul. Afterwards, he will endeavor little by little to end by drawing the soul into his hidden snares and evil designs. (121)The Church has responded in many ways to the increasing spiritual problems caused by Satan and his ministers, one of which is the annual course, Course on Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation, available since 2004 at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. It is a much needed response to the growing interest in Satanism, especially amongst the youth. The younger generations have also been heavily influenced by the New Age and occult practices in the media. Noonan and Feaster point to a prime example, the Harry Potter phenomena, that has contaminated an entire generation. It is a phenomena that I have written about in my post, The Dangers of Harry Potter - The Occult Controversy.
What has resulted from the media's influence upon the youth has been the inability of many to distinguish between right and wrong due to a "universal climate of moral relativism." For unsuspecting children and teenagers (adults as well), the Harry Potter phenomena (book and movie series) has desensitized many to occult practices, which in itself, may be a "stepping stone" to further involvement, tempting many to take their interest to the next level. It is understandable that children and young teenagers, who due to their age and inexperience, can not recognize what is Christian and what is not, but this should not be the excuse for older teenagers and adults. Sadly many parents have failed to recognize the truth about Harry Potter's character; that is, he is a sorcerer and the story of his life is essentially a manual on witchcraft. Noonan and Feaster elaborate on the Harry Potter controversy in detail in chapter nine, Doorway to the Occult: Popular Culture, Media and Youth.
The authors also stress the importance of recognizing Satan's deception by noting the ability of Satan and his demons to mimic the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is especially dangerous for those who engage in occult practices, who fall into the trap of accepting demons masquerading as "spirit guides."
In striving for a holy life, it is essential to know how the demonic operate because they seek to place obstacles on our spiritual path, to steer us off it and entice us into their world of darkness.
New Age Techniques: Gateways to the Demonic
Scripture tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), but sin defiles those temples and allows demons to wreak havoc in our lives. The New Age and occult practices act as the doorways to the demonic, which scripture refers to as divination: astrology (star gazing), consulting psychics, New Age counselors, and energy healers, wizardry and sorcery, necromancy, seances and calling up the spirits of the dead.
The ouija board is perhaps one of the most well known forms of a seance (the calling to a demonic spirit to be communicated with), the dangers of which I have written about in my previous post on demonologist Ralph Sarchie and his demonic investigations (Halloween Horror case). Below is a partial list of additional New Age beliefs and practices to avoid:
[A]strology; astrocartography; tarot cards; yoga; Eastern meditation; visualization and guided imagery; spirit guides; rock music (heavy metal, acid rock); use of crystals/pendulums; extra sensory perception (ESP); long distance healing; channeling; astral-projection; Transcendental Meditation; using mantras (names of demons); psychics; clairvoyants; chairaudients; clairsentients; trance mediums; Human Potential Movement; The Anthony Robins Teachings and Werner Erhard's est and the Forum and Neuro-linguistic Programming; Life Spring; Arica Training; Enneagram; Christian Science and its off-shoots such as Science of Mind, Scientology, Unity Church, Unitarian; chakra balancing; reiki; bio-energy therapy; aura cleansing; some Native American practices (Shamanism); Ekankar soul travel; I Method; Higher Self meditations or meditation journeys to meet your angel or spirit guide; pendulum dowsing; psychic surgery; automatic handwriting; table tipping; Wicca or white witchcraft; fire walking; hypnotism/creative visualization; numerology; rebirthing; past-life regression therapy; palm reading; face reading; tea leaf or coffee ground readings; out-of-body meditations; UFO seeking, and many computer and video games which have Satanic themes, teaching young people that evil is good, desensitizing them from moral discernment. (123)God has warned us through scripture that the above practices are the offspring of the same mortal sins: idolatry, lust, pride, and rebellion. Even though God grants us his free will, we as his created beings do not have to succumb to the demonic deception of psychic phenomena and mind control; instead we can choose to do God's will which comes with it, true freedom. As the authors note, "Living in the truth leads us to living in God's will and in the overflow of goodness that God has given us, in the power of the Holy Spirit." (123)
All occult activities steer man away from God's will and true freedom, seeking to empty and influence a person's mind, or give power and authority to any source other than the Triune God. This opens up individuals to diabolic activity, as the author's note, "When the mind is unguarded and open, the Devil can weaken a person's will and use it to his advantage." (123) They note that this can also occur with addictions to mind-altering drugs, alcohol, and pornography. The guidance of St. Peter (1 Peter 5:8-9) serves as well here, in that we should remain sober and alert to the workings of the devil who would like nothing more that to have us enter his camp. We must resist the devil, solid in our faith and disciplined in our prayer life.
God commanded us to "...[H]ave no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3) When asked by one of the Pharisees about which commandment in the law was the greatest, Jesus replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Mt 22:37) Sadly, many have done the opposite with their involvement in the New Age and occult practices, creating false gods in the process. Noonan and Feaster note that, "Satan and his demonic agents descend upon those practicing evil just as tenaciously as Our Lord watches over his faithful ones. (123) In keeping with God's greatest commandment, the Church warns the faithful against occult practices in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity. (2115-2117)The prayer of St. Michael the Archangel, given to the Church during the papacy of Pope Leo III at one point reads, "...[T]hrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen." By referring to this prayer, Noonan and Feaster alert readers the the strategy of the Evil One, "The Devil desires to deceive us and, through his lies, confuse us to such an extent that we are unaware of his existence, do not believe that he is real, do not know that a spiritual battle exists or that he is the real enemy." (124)
The authors go on to explain that this confusion and disbelief in the enemy helps explain the emphasis on self-improvement and self-motivation in modern culture. Most of the New Age principles are based on self-idolatry, incorporating self-actualization, self-realization, and self-enlightenment with the belief in self-redemption. (124) Eventually, idolatry of self leads to the worship of Satan.
Authentic Spiritual Gifts and Their Fruits
In this section of the chapter, the authors shift the focus to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What follows is a brief summary of the Catholic understanding of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
So what are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These can be found in Isaiah: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirt of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of fear of the Lord." (Is 11:1-3)
These gifts are extended to all through Baptism and especially Confirmation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1303-1304) and are meant for the sanctification of the individual. The catechism states that, "The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit...They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations" (1831)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit also prepare us for the reception and practice of charismatic gifts and help us to grown in virtue. These gifts must be nurtured through prayer, the Sacraments and an active life of charity, part of which entails the need to be detached from the world and on guard against worldly wisdom. Charismatic gifts can be found in 1 Corinthians 12:
...Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Cor 12:4-11)The above list is not the only charisms found in scripture, but due to their extraordinary character, a lot of attention is given to them, which makes the need of discerning these gifts greater as people are more prone to illusion.
Charisms are distinguished from the Isaian gifts, even though some do overlap. The gifts listed in Isaiah are meant for personal sanctification; the gifts found in Corinthians are gifts given to build up the Church.
Fruits of the Holy Spirit vs. the Works of the Flesh
Scripture tells us, "...[D]o not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1) One way to test the origin of a spirit is to look at its fruit, what it produces. Jesus told us this, "By their fruits you will know them."(Mt 7:16) Saint Paul identifies what are works of the flesh and those of the spirit:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucifed the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Gal 5: 19-26)My next post will focus on a section of the chapter that Noonan and Feaster have given considerable thought to and written about in great detail; the counterfeit gifts of divination and magic and St. Thomas Aquinas Three Species of Divination from his well known work, Summa Theologica.