Thursday, December 31, 2015

Discerning The Spirits: Principles of Discernment, the Holy Spirit vs. Demonic Spirit, Pastoral Care and Guidelines on Prayers for Healing

A dove, representing the Holy Spirit, and a Catholic Healing Mass

The publishing of today's post is the third and final post in a series of posts dedicated to the subject of, Discerning The Spirits, and is 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. The title of the book does justice to its content; it truly is a comprehensive guide. For those of you who have read this book, I know you need no convincing of this fact. For those yet to read it, a wealth of information awaits you. This book is one of "the" resources to purchase for anyone who is serious about understanding the subject matter.

As members of the Mystical Body of Christ (clergy, religious and laity), we all need to become better informed about the obstacles we face in our efforts to follow Christ. Our earthly pilgrimage isn't just about following Christ, it's also about knowing and understanding what is working against us and how the Evil One and his demons try to interfere with our journey, attempting to draw us away from God and into their deceptive world of darkness. Noonan and Feaster's book sheds light on many aspects of "the battle."

What follows is selected content from chapter eight, Discerning the Spirits: principles of discernment that includes references to St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica and the Catechism of the Catholic Church; a comparison between the Holy Spirit and the demonic spirit; pastoral care and recommendations that challenges the Church to a new level of awareness and evangelization; and guidelines on prayers for healing that includes a few key Vatican documents.

Principles of Discernment

The authors begin this section of chapter eight by spotlighting the main principle of discernment so often heard by the faithful; that is, the scriptural reference, "By their fruits you will know them." (Mt 7:15-20) Noonan and Feaster ask a very important and intriguing question, "But what do we do if the fruit seems good, as it did to Adam and Eve?" (152) The authors provide resources to help the reader discern the answer to that question that includes: explanations from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which they help clarify with the example of Reiki, scripture and a quote from Saint Pope John Paul II.

The authors begin by reminding the reader that Satan has the ability to confuse and deceive us in two ways: either he tries to convince us that what he proposes is good, or even worse, that his ways are better than God's.

To further explain the deception of Satan, Noonan and Feaster continue to draw from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, spotlighting in the process how the counterfeit gifts of the New Age and occult can appear to be good and even miraculous. Saint Thomas Aquinas has stated demons can appear to work miracles, but cannot do so in the strict sense of the word because a miracle is something done outside the order of the entire created nature, under which order every power of a creature is contained. Only God can work miracles, which is some times misunderstood. To clarify this, the authors quote St. Thomas Aquinas:
But sometimes [the word] miracle may be taken in a wide sense, for whatever exceeds the human power and experience. And thus demons can work miracles, that is, things which rouse man's astonishment, by reason of their being beyond his power and outside his sphere of knowledge. For even a man by doing what is beyond the power and knowledge of another, leads him to marvel at what he has done, so that in a way he seems to that man to have worked a miracle. (152)
To help readers differentiate between real miracles and demonic signs, the authors continue to quote from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica
When magicians do what holy men do, they do if for a different end and by a different right. The former do it for their own glory; the latter, for the glory of God: the former, by certain private compacts; the latter by the evident assistance and command of God, to Whom every creature is subject. (152)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is often referred to throughout this book, and the authors make no exception in chapter eight, including it as another important source in the discernment process. Prior to citing references from Article 4 The Morality of Human Acts, the authors intrigue readers with two well known expressions, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," and "The end justify the means." As Noonan and Feaster point out, these popular expressions are rooted in Catholic moral theology.

Article 4 The Morality of Human Acts, begins by stating that, "Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgement of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil. (1732)

The morality of human acts depends upon three constitutive elements: the first, the object chosen; the second, the end in view or the intention; and the third, the circumstances of the action. 

The catechism states regarding the object chosen, "The object chosen is a good toward which the will deliberately directs itself. It is the matter of a human act. The object chosen morally specifies the act of the will, insofar as reason recognizes and judges it to be or not to be in conformity with the true good." (1751) Noonan and Feaster have used the practice of Reiki, as an example to clarify the explanations provided in the catechism.

With regard to the "end in view or the intention," the catechism states the following:
In contrast to the object, the intention resides in the acting subject. Because it lies at the voluntary source of an action and determines it by its end, intention is an element essential to the moral evaluation of an action. The end is the first goal of the intention and indicates the purpose pursued in the action. The intention is a movement of the will toward the end: it is concerned with the goal of the activity. It aims at the good anticipated from the action undertaken. Intention is not limited to directing individual actions, but can guide several actions toward one and the same purpose; it can orient one's whole life toward its ultimate end. For example, a service done with the end of helping one's neighbor can at the same time be inspired by the love of God as the ultimate end of all our actions. One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it.   
A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just. The end does not justify the means. Thus the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation. On the other hand, an added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving). (1752-1753)
Following the authors' example of Reiki, the end in view or the intention would be the achievement of good health, relief from pain or something similar.

As to the circumstances, here is what the catechism tell us:
The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil. (1754)
Applying this third constitutive element to the example of Reiki, the authors include how some might choose Reiki after conventional medicine failed or the person could not afford a health plan or some other circumstance that attempts to rationalize the practice of Reiki.

In order for a human act to be morally good, it must satisfy all three constitutive elements, which the catechism clearly confirms, "A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together." (1755)

As the authors note in the case of Reiki:
"...[T]he object or practice of Reiki in itself is evil. In principle, it relies on diabolical sources, or spirit guides, which are not from God. It goes directly against the First Commandment. The good intention of health or relief from pain can never justify the intrinsic evil of calling on spirit guides for healing, 'even if this were for the sake of restoring their health.' (CCC, 2117) If we consider the consequences, Reiki may offer some temporary, illusory healing but in the long run people will be worse off physically and spiritually, since they have opened themselves to demonic influence. (153)
In essence what Noonan and Feaster have expressed regarding Reiki is that this human act is immoral, regardless of the intention and circumstance, which is completely in line with the teachings of the Church. Here is what the catechism states regarding this:
It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. (1756)
Concluding the section on Principles of Discernment, Noonan and Feaster stress that it is important not to judge the state of anyone's soul, but at the same time we do need to be prudent. Quoting from scripture, the authors state that we can seek evidence of what fruit will be produced by looking at the "tree" of a person's life, "For from thorns men do not gather figs, neither from a bramble do they harvest grapes." (Lk 6:44)

Noonan and Feaster put a fine point on discernment by quoting from Saint Pope John Paul II's document, Veritatis Splendor, "The Spirit of Jesus, received by the humble and docile heart of the believer, brings about the flourishing of Christian moral life and the witness of holiness." (153)

Holy Spirit vs. Demonic Spirit

In this section of Discerning The Spirits, the authors have dedicated three pages to explaining the Holy Spirit and identifying how he works in our lives. With the many examples they provide, the authors also contrast the work of the Holy Spirit to that of the demonic spirit. 

Noonan and Feaster begin this section by spotlighting one of the fundamental differences between the Holy Spirit and demonic spirit. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, will only lead us to the truth and brings clarity to our lives. In direct opposition to the Holy Spirit and our sanctification is Satan, the father of lies, who seeks to lead people away from God and deeper into sin.

A sincere surrender to the Holy Spirit brings humility into the life of the person He indwells, giving glory to Jesus in the process. Demonic spirits hate Jesus and human beings, and bring people to a self-glorification. Demons take the glorification of self, and eventually lead people to a worship of Satan. Pride is the underlying character trait of demonic spirits, which is directly opposite to the virtue of humility.

The Holy Spirit respects human free will. The Holy Spirit never attempts to empty our minds, as is the case with the New Age practices such as yoga and other Eastern meditative techniques. The Holy Spirit will at times choose to bless us with consoling and holy thoughts, but He never takes control of our mind, never interfering with our free will. The Holy Spirit always wants us to actively cooperate with Him; we never have to empty our minds for the Holy Spirit to speak to us. Our busy and active minds do not present a barrier to the Holy Spirit's love and ability to move our souls. It is our responsibility to decide to pay heed to His voice and discern what He is telling us. Demons have absolutely no respect for human free will and desire to completely control our minds. The authors identify one of ways in which the demonic try to override an active an strong mind; that is, "...[T]o encourage periods of mental passivity, such as those of Eastern meditations and occult practices." (154)

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins. The Holy Spirit leads us to repentance, forgiveness, redemption and peace. Demons attempt to have us rationalize our sins, and justify them in some way. Demons also attempt to remove hope in God's love, mercy, and forgiveness with attacks of crushing guilt of our sins, tempting individuals with despair in the process.

The Holy Spirit will never give us any communication that contradicts God's Work in the Bible. Demons will twist and turn God's Word, and take it out of context to justify sin. A prime example that the authors refer to, and one that I have included in my previous post, is the New Age courseA Course in Miracles. Perhaps you may have heard of it. This course has deceived many people including well known public figures such as Oprah Winfrey and Shirley MacLaine. 

The Holy Spirit uses us as He chooses. Demonic spirits will come upon the summoning of individuals with New Age and occult practices such as channeling, necromancy, and calling up spirit guides, and are at the disposal for those who use them for counterfeit healing such as Reiki and energy healing.

The Holy Spirit never goes against our free will. God does not want us to be puppets; instead He patiently awaits for us to respond to His love with our free response of love. Demons seek to immediately take control of our free will with the end goal of destroying our souls. Once demons control our free will, they are swift to retaliate against anyone who defies them. 

The Holy Spirit loves us and desires to bring us to eternal salvation. Demons hate us and desire to bring us to eternal damnation.

The Holy Spirit leads those whom He indwells with the desire to read Sacred Scripture. Demons seek to discourage and even harass people from reading scripture. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand scripture, demons try to block people from seeking the Church's interpretation of scripture.

The Holy Spirit gives us a yearning to pray. Demons seek to obstruct prayer. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states that "Prayer is a battle." Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God." (2725) Quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the authors include his prayer recommendation from the 2005 International Congress commemorating Dei Verbum, in which stated:
I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about the intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart. If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church---I am convinced of it---a new spiritual springtime. (155)
The Lord promised to send us the Paraclete, a Consoler, the Spirit of Truth. We become open to the gift of discernment from the Holy Spirit, to discern the truth, when we are right with God. The Holy Spirit protects us from spiritual deceptions.

Noonan and Feaster conclude this section with a recommendation and a few reminders: that we consecrate ourselves to the Holy Spirit in order to remain close to Him; to remember as St. Paul tells us, to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to earnestly desire them (1 Cor 14:1); that the gifts of the Holy Spirit flow from grace, which enables us to collaborate in the salvation of others, and in the growth of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church; and how the principle ways of obtaining grace are through prayer and the sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist). (155)

Pastoral Care and Recommendations

Noonan and Feaster begin this section with an emphasis on mercy; mercy that needs to be extended in particular to those who have been spiritually wounded by their time in the New Age and occult practices. It a mercy that should be accompanied by a compassionate and loving approach that will surely be well received by those in need of healing.

The authors suggest that what is needed in this "spiritual battlefield," is for greater training and ongoing formation in the areas of exorcism, inner healing, and deliverance in every diocese, in seminaries, and at bishops' conferences. With the ever increasing use of the New Age and occult practices, there is a growing need for priests trained in exorcism and spiritual direction.

Many of the laity who have come to realize the need for a spiritual dimension in their lives, have sadly sought New Age spirituality to help fill the void. Noonan and Feaster quickly point out that the, "Leaders in the New Age movement are only too happy to fill the gap, whether they call themselves counselors, life coaches, spirit guides, or even prayer therapy groups." (156)

The authors emphasize the great need for Catholic spiritual direction due to the fact that many have not received the proper Christian formation in their lives, nor are they gifted with the charism of discernment of spirits. Two great saints, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Frances de Sales, confirm the need for spiritual direction; that it is a necessary inclusion in the spiritual path of those who are serious about growth in the spiritual life. Noonan and Feaster further emphasize the importance of spiritual direction by quoting from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who while addressing members of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum on the occasion of their 75th anniversary, recommended spiritual direction for all the faithful:
As she has never failed to do, again the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ...Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God. (157)
Drawing from Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico, the authors have included what they refer to as "excellent recommendations," as noted in the Cardinal's document, A Call to Vigilance---Pastoral Instructions on the New Age. Noonan and Feaster stress how important it is to become informed about the New Age, its philosophies and practices. They actually refer to this as an obligation, which I wholeheartedly agree with. It is with knowledge and understanding that we will be able to identify the anti-Christian philosophies and practices of the New Age. The authors especially call upon parents and Catholic educators to be "...[V]igilant about the ideas and fashions promulgated by the New Age, especially in the media." (157) What follows is a summary of Cardinal Carrera's recommendations.

All Catholics must become active in the defence of the Catholic faith and values. Catholics can put faith into action by: not participating in the activities of institutions and businesses that promote the New Age; not watching television programs that spread the New Age ideas, and not purchasing products from sponsors; and challenging public figures, educators, and politicians who publicly support New Age practices or ideas, by writing letters, and articles in the press.

Parishes and Catholic educational institutions can offer courses and conferences on the most controversial themes of the New Age; and establish awareness efforts that boldly and effective disseminate information to communities.

Priests, as shepherds of our soul, can renew their efforts to evangelize in the work of education, awareness and defence of the faith. I consider the following an especially important point for priests:
Pastors must confront the expression and aggressiveness of the New Age Movement as in John Paul II's exhortation at the inauguration of the IV General Conference of the Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo: 'After the example of the Good Shepherd, you must pasture the flock that has been entrusted to you and defend it from ravenous wolves,' which the Pope referred to as 'pseudo-spiritual' movements. (158)
Pastors are obliged to pursue a continuous formation so as to understand the New Age and its attraction. Here is what the authors included regarding the Cardinal's thoughts on this:
We must 'give witness to and preach the inexhaustible richness and penetrating truth of the Catholic faith in an increasingly accessible and attractive way to all those who ask us about the reason for our hope. May the Catholic faithful, with our help, discover that everything they yearn for (a real spiritual life, inner healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, an encounter with the unfathomable mystery of the one true God and his saving plan) is already incomparably present in the Catholic faith, into which they were initiated at baptism...Our faith is deep...A Catholic who experiences his faith, knows it, and lives it in all its greatness, will never feel the need to beg for New Age's vain promises and half-truths. (158)
Catholics must always remain faithful to our history and identity, to Christ, who continues to be our hope and our goal; and to our Blessed Mother, the protectress of our people and an example of Christian life.

The universal Church can confront the New Age Movement through education, prayer, and fasting. Fasting may not be so well practiced and understood, but the authors make clear how important this spiritual weapon is in the spiritual battle against the New Age. Citing the example when the Apostles approached Jesus as to why they could not drive out a demonic spirit from a boy, Jesus replied, "This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting." (Mk 9:29) As for various forms of prayer, the Eucharist is the most powerful, followed by the Rosary. These as well as Holy Hours of Adoration and novenas can all be offered up for those entrapped in the New Age Movement.

Noonan and Feaster note that the most important way to draw people back to the faith is by our Christian witness. In support of this point, the authors cite from the Vatican document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age:
To those shopping around in the world's fair of religious proposals, the appeal of Christianity will be felt first of all in the witness of the members of the Church, in their trust, calm, patience and cheerfulness, and in their concrete love of neighbour, all the fruit of their faith nourished in authentic personal prayer. (158)
There are so many references included in this book that are sure to spawn additional reading. One such reading that I highly recommend is the aforementioned Vatican document, which I have written about in three posts, beginning with The New Age - A Basic Introduction.
Guidelines on Prayers for Healing

Although included in an earlier part of the chapter, I thought it fitting to end the series of posts on Discerning The Spirits, with this section on Guidelines on Prayers for Healing
Noonan and Feaster begin this section with a bit of a historical account as to how the guidelines were formed and also draw from the Second Vatican Council's teaching which was incorporated into the guidelines.

The Pontifical Council for the Laity in 2001 organized a colloquium together with the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS). The two formed a Doctrinal Commission for the purpose of establishing practical guidelines for healing ministry, based on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's document, Instruction on Prayers for Healing. The commission produced a new document, Guidelines on Prayers for Healing. What follows are selected main points from this document, which as the authors note, may be applied to the discernment of all charisms. 

The first point is the acknowledgement that suffering has increased in the world, which has brought with it an increased need for physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

The second point, a historical reference, the authors note how the Second Vatican Council made a decision, under the influence of Cardinal Suenens, to include teachings on charisms in the document, Lumen Gentium, the Constitution of the Church. The guidelines from this Vatican document were incorporated into the CDF's Instruction on Prayers for Healing. 

Citing from the ICCRS' document, Guidelines on Prayers for Healing, here is what Noonan and Feaster include regarding what is to be understood about healing:
Healing ministry should be practiced within the context of evangelization. Healings should not be considered isolated, individual events, but rather as moments of grace within a process of conversion. 'Those who exercise healing prayer ministry should always seek to lead the recipients, especially non-believers, toward the fullness of healing, which is salvation in Christ through faith and baptism. (144)
Charisms are not to be attributed to any class of people, be it clergy, prayer group leaders or the laity. The authors quote from Lumen Gentium (12) to help readers understand what is correct about charisms, "...[T]he spirit, 'allotting his gifts to everyone according as he wills...distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank.' " (144)
The authors quote another important section from the ICCRS's document:
A charism of healing is 'never to be treated as a personal possession or used to draw attention to the individual. Those gifted with charisms of healing must place them entirely at the disposal of the Lord for the building up of his Church, and exercise them in a spirit of obedience to ecclesial authority...They should also continuously strive for humility and personal holiness, and seek to draw attention away from themselves and toward Jesus, the source of all healing.' (145)
The final point the authors make answers the question of why God allows suffering. Here is what the authors had this to say about this, "It is important to remember that there are times when God allows suffering for purposes known only to Him. These sufferings, when accepted in faith and united to the Cross of Christ, make us participants in the redemptive suffering of Christ." (145)

I hope that the series of posts on Discerning The Spirits, will bring many people to a new level of awareness. Sadly, many individuals remain unaware that the practices mentioned in these posts are in fact anti-Christian. In that lack of awareness and understanding, I often wonder how many intend to continue with the New Age and occult practices, such as: yoga, acupuncture, kinesiology, tarot card readings, attend seances, "play" with the ouija board, and read horoscopes at coffee breaks, and yet, still go to Mass without having gone to confession first.

With the New Age and occult having gone mainstream, together with so many Catholics having waned in their faith or all together abandoned it, would it really surprise anyone to know that many in "this group" are within your own family, circle of friends, neighbours, those who you communicate and come into contact with, and colleagues at work.

I pray that 2016 will bring with it a new awareness level for Catholics, and the moral courage and certitude to reject all that is anti-Christian, and in so doing, to make no compromises against the truth.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Counterfeit Gifts of Divination and Magic and Saint Thomas Aquinas' Three Species of Divination

Divination (Palm Reading) and St. Thomas Aquinas

Today's post is a continuation from my previous post, Discerning The Spirits: Warnings Against the New Age and Occult Practices and How To Recognize the Action of the Holy Spirit, and is the second in a series of posts 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. The content for today's post continues to draw from chapter eight, Discerning The Spiritsand focusses on sections that further expose the deceptions of the New Age and occult practices.

What follows is information that identifies divination and magic, and how the source of both, Satan, deceives many; how divination and magic are contrary to God's FIrst Commandment and the virtue of religion; a summary of the Three Species of Divination from St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica; many examples of the New Age and occult practices; and testimonials including Moira Noonan's experiences during her time as a "New Ager." 

I hope that today's post will encourage you to include this comprehensive guide in your discernment process. The need for greater awareness makes this book an indispensable resource on a subject that is becoming increasingly necessary in Canada and many other countries where so much of the New Age and occult practices are apart of the mainstream culture.

Counterfeit "Gifts": Divination and Magic

This section in, Discerning The Spirits, comes directly after a preceding section entitled, Authentic Spiritual Gifts and Their Fruits, which you can read about at the last part of my previous post. I encourage all to do so who have not done so already, to better understand the reading ahead.

Noonan and Feaster begin by identifying the author of all counterfeit gifts, Satan. Quoting scripture, the authors refer to what Jesus told us about Satan, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie he speaks from his very nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (Jn 8:44)

The authors elaborate further about Satan's nature by identifying aspects of his character, methods and strategy, all of which are aimed at destroying man. Satan mocks God by making his dark works appear as authentic gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as he made the forbidden tree and its fruit appear good to Eve and then Adam. Satan hates us because we are loved by God and although he has been given limited power, it is nothing compared to God's unlimited power, which He has given to His faithful ones through Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. God's gift is given to us according to His will and plan for us, to spread His kingdom and draw everyone to Himself. Satan is quite the deceiver and it is important that we always remain alert to his snares. Noonan and Feaster provide that much needed reminder from scripture,"Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour." (1 Pt 5:8)

The need to remain sober and watchful could not be more necessary in today's society. It is a necessity that has been made urgent by the waning and abandonment of faith; a lack of knowledge and understanding of "these practices" leaving many unsuspecting souls in a vulnerable state; the media; and the reintroduction of many occult practices under new names by the New Age so as to appear innocuous, all of which have greatly contributed to the infiltration of these practices into mainstream society. The power in these practices is real, and never derived from God, but always a manifestation of demonic spirits summoned by practitioners who in the process, place their souls in great peril.

Divination and Magic

Further in the chapter the authors define and distinguish divination and magic. Divination is the practice of seeking knowledge of future or hidden things by inadequate means, which includes superstitious practices and the invoking of demonic powers. Magic is the interference with the usual course of physical nature by inadequate means such as the recitation of formularies, gestures, mixing of incongruous elements and mysterious actions. Any knowledge acquired from these practices and the hope to work "miracles," does not have God as its source.

Magic aims to do, divination aims to know. The authors note, "Whereas divination is a quest for unlimited knowledge, magic is a quest for unlimited power and ability; both seek to accomplish these goals through recourse to the demonic." (127) The teachings of the Catholic Church specifically forbid all forms of divination and magic, which is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
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. (2116-2117)
Noonan and Feaster have also quoted Fr. M. Piotrowski, the Society of Christ Provincial, and editor in chief of Love One Another magazine. The authors have done so in order to help explain the "why" behind Church teaching. Here is what Fr. Piotrowski has contributed to Catholic understanding of divination and magic, "Anyone who makes use of a pendulum or tarot cards, who consults palm or card readers, psychics, touch healers, or acts through a spiritist medium, expresses thereby a lack of faith in God's love and opens himself up to the influence of evil spirits." (128)

After the authors clearly illustrated the interrelation between divination and magic, they proceeded to introduce and explain St. Thomas Aquinas' Three Species of Divination, which was used as a framework to elaborate on the many forms of divination still used today, while contrasting them with the authentic gifts of the Holy Spirit found in the lives of saints. 

St. Thomas Aquinas' Three Species of Divination

Noonan and Feaster begin this section of the chapter by immediately quoting St. Thomas Aquinas from Summa Theologica, "...[A]ll divinations seek to acquire foreknowledge of future events, by means of some counsel and help of a demon, who is either expressly called upon to give his help, or else thrusts himself in secretly, in order to foretell certain future things unknown to men..." (128) Saint Thomas groups all forms of divination into three species: express invocation; tacit invocation through signs found in nature; and tacit invocation through signs prepared by man. 

First Species: Divination by Express Invocation

Saint Thomas Aquinas distinguishes this first species as follows, "When demons are expressly invoked, they are wont to foretell the future in many ways. Sometimes they offer themselves to human sight and hearing by mock apparitions in order to foretell the future...when demons are invoked openly..." (128) Divination of this species includes: fortune telling (pythonism), channeling, mediumship, spiritism in all its forms including necromancy, telepathy, and all psychic powers. Noonan and Feaster note that most of the New Age practices discussed in chapter eight's Discerning The Spirits, fall into the category of St. Thomas' first species. Below are a few examples of these practices including Moira Noonan's testimonial of her time as a "minister" in a New Age church.

Fortune Telling (Pythonism) vs. Authentic Prophecy

To spotlight the difference between fortune telling and authentic prophecy, the authors provide a scriptural account of a woman possessed by a demon that used her to display the counterfeit gifts of clairvoyance:
Now it came to pass as we were going to the place of prayer that a girl met us who possessed a divining spirit and brought her masters much profit by soothsaying. She followed Paul and ourselves and kept crying out, saying: 'These men are the servants of the most high God and they proclaim to you a way of salvation.' This she did for many days; until Paul, being very much grieved, turned and said to the spirit, 'I order thee in the name of Jesus Christ to go out from her.' And he went out that very moment. (Acts 16:16-18)
The Douay Rheims version of scripture refers to the demonic spirit as "pythonical spirit," as opposed to the more general "divining spirit."

Clairvoyance, the ability to act as a seer or fortune teller, is to be contrasted with the authentic gift of prophecy. As the authors note, the charismatic gift of prophecy is not a prediction of the future as is the case with fortune telling. Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians defines what is authentic prophecy, "But he who prophesies speaks to men for edification, and encouragement, and consolation. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophecies edifies the church." (1 Cor 14:3-4) True prophecy is a gift from God to build up the Church in the communion of saints. True prophecy glorifies God in the Mystical Body of Christ and it is only done in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The authors have included a few examples of those individuals from the Church who received the authentic gifts, spotlighting in the process how they differ from the counterfeit gifts of divination. This list includes: St. John Bosco, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Padre Pio, and Italian mystic Maria Teresa Carloni. 

For the sake of brevity, I will not be elaborating on each individual's life, but I would like to include a few brief points on Saint John Bosco. This saint was given the gift of prophecy and all of his prophecies have all come to pass except those dealing with the end times. A key indication of the authenticity of the "gift" was the fact that the visions and dreams he experienced were given for the salvation and the edification of souls, and for the glory of God. This most humble and obedient saint did not ask for these gifts, nor did he did not try to teach them to others, and he never requested any payment for them; as the gifts of the Holy Spirit are freely given. This is in sharp contrast to the "masters" of the New Age which seek to pass their counterfeit gifts to their "disciples," and many times require payment for services rendered (information).


When it comes to the New Age, the terms "Spiritualism" and "Spiritism" are used interchangeably, however, the term spiritism more accurately represents the core of New Age spirituality. Quoting the Catholic Encyclopedia, the authors provide the reader with the following definition:
Spiritism is the name properly given to the belief that the living can and do communicate with the spirits of the departed, and to the various practices by which such communication is attempted...Spiritism, moreover, has taken on a religious character. It claims to prove the preamble of all religions, ie., the existence of a spiritual world, and to establish a world-wide religion in which the adherents of the various traditional faiths, setting their dogmas aside, can unite. If it has formulated no definite creed, and if its representatives differ in their attitudes toward the beliefs of Christianity, this is simply because Spiritism is expected to supply a new and fuller revelation which will either substantiate on a rational basis the essential Christian dogmas or show that they are utterly unfounded...(130)
To further aid the reader's understanding of Spiritism, the authors have drawn from former Cistercian Abbot, Alois Wiesinger's classic work, Occult Phenomena in the LIght of Theology. Quoting Wiesinger, "The best known and most widely spread form of occultism is spiritualism [spiritism]. This cult not only contains most of the other forms of occultist practice...whose foundation is the conviction that it can establish communication with the dead by means of mediums..." (131) As the authors note from Wiesinger's work, Catholics reject Spiritism because it is not fitting that souls of the dead be contacted through intermediaries.

The authors add further clarity by quoting Father Andrsej Trojanowski, a doctor of theology and exorcist, "Apart from the danger of bringing on a range of spiritual disturbances (including demonic possession), reliance of spiritist mediums leads to fear, feelings of helplessness, a sense of being trapped, and despair. It can also lead to serious psychic illnesses." (131)

Moira Noonan's Personal Testimony

One of the most intriguing sections in Discerning The Spirits is Moira Noonan's personal testimony of her involvement in the New Age. What follows is a summary of her testimony.

After completing her training as a minister in the International Church of Religious Science (an offshoot of Unity Church which itself is an offshoot Christian Science, that came about during the Enlightenment period), she was unknowingly led to the practice of spiritualism; necromancy to be specific. Necromancy is a special mode of divination by the evocation of the dead; a form of channeling which seeks to establish communication with the dead through a medium. She was doing all this at a New Age church called, Teachings of the Inner Christ (TIC) founded by Ann Meyer Makeever. It still exists today and as of this book's publication, it is still going strong.

Heavily influence by Yogi Master Babaji, Makeever and the TIC sought to teach others what she had received from her opened "power door" experience, and help others to grow in awareness of their own Christhood. In essence, all this was spiritism using: spirit guides, table tipping, seances, clairvoyance and every "psychic gift." This list constitutes the demonic gifts of: clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience and other forms of mediumship. Noonan got very advanced in these gifts and experienced the power of the demonic.

The actual teachings of the TIC illustrate how the demonic deception entices unsuspecting and vulnerable souls with manipulative language. For example, Noonan was under the impression that those spirits helping her were all good spirits because the TIC teaches that:
...Jesus is part of the "Great White Brotherhood," that He is one of many "ascended masters" in the spirit world who come here to help us earthbound human beings reach a higher level of consciousness, the "Christ-consciousness," that is within each of us. Through communication with these supposed ascended masters, we are able to learn how to realize our powers and gifts, our God-given innate psychic abilities, to develop for our own enlightenment, by our own authority. (133)
To further spotlight the demonic deception of the TIC's teachings, Noonan quotes from the TIC web site:
We also believe that you create your life through your choices and beliefs. Therefore, we teach how to transform fear into faith, apparent illness into health, and a sense of failure into success and confidence through the effective use of 'Scientific Prayer,' positive affirmations, and the healing of negative thoughts and beliefs. When you know how to heal yourself and to receive your perfect guidance from within, you then know your Self-Authority, which is the key to personal happiness and self-fulfillment. (133)
Instead of revealing the truth of the demonic powers, TIC taught it to be something good which Noonan recounts, was all a bunch of lies taught to her in the New Age Movement.

It is important to remember that Satan mocks absolutely everything in the Catholic Church including the gift of the Holy Spirit. Noonan recounted a personal struggle that occurred when she was invited to and arrived at a Filipino Catholic Mass where in attendance was a visiting young woman from the Philippines, introduced as a "trance medium." This visiting woman was supposedly used by the "Boy Jesus" to speak through her. Noonan had experienced this after she recently converted to Catholicism, describing it as shocking; synonymous to a recovering drug addict being offered just one little "fix." More to the point, it was a temptation from the devil, that if accepted would have drawn her back to that life. Noonan reminds the reader of the much needed warning from Saint Peter, "Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. (1 Pet 5:8)

To illustrate just how difficult it can be for a former "New Ager" to continue the path of conversion, Noonan quotes from exorcist Fr. Andrzej Trojanowski, SCHr, "Former practitioners of divination, the horoscope, and numerology often complain of evil spirits provoking them with 'strange phenomena' which rekindle their interest in the spirit-world and prevent them from facing the concrete realities of everyday life." (133)

Noonan also referred to St. Ignatius of Loyola's Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, where she quotes St. Ignatius, "It is characteristic of the evil raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. Thus he seeks to prevent the soul from advancing." (133)

A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

A Course in Miracles is considered to be the New Age "Bible," which as the authors note, will open you to the occult. Arriving on the scene at a university campus in the United States between 1965-1972, resulting from what the founder, a Columbia University professor, Helen Schucman, referred to as an "inner voice," which according to her was Jesus Christ. This course later became popularized by New Age teacher, Marianne Williamson, capturing the attention of stars such as Oprah Winfrey and Shirley MacLaine.

The course incorporates Hindu and Gnostic teachings, both of which are in direct opposition to Christianity. The authors note that participation in the course slowly erodes Catholic values and will ultimately result in a loss of faith. It does not happen quickly or immediately, but over time with the "365 lessons," a lesson for each day of the year.

The course fundamentally dismantles the participant's core thought system. To illustrate this, here is what the authors included regarding the first three lessons (the beginning of the brainwashing), "The idea for the first day is, 'Nothing I see...means anything.' The focus of Lesson 2, "I have given everything I see...all the meaning that is has for me." The learning objective for Lesson 3 is 'I do not understand anything that I see..." (134) After undoing the participant's thought process, ACIM then reprograms it with the New Age, Gnostic world view one lesson at a time. The authors note that this reprogramming approach can also be found in Ronald Hubbard's Dianetics, Scientology and Werner Erhard's est and The Forum.

The authors warn not to be deceived by ACIM which is cleverly marketed for the unsuspecting soul. To spotlight the dangers of this course, Noonan and Feaster provide the following testimonial how ACIM infiltrated into a California parish:
I went to my local parish to take the RCIA program. We had to have a meeting with the parish priest before the Easter Vigil. We had individual spiritual counseling with him. While in the monsignor's office at the parish, I noticed he had a copy of A Course in Miracles on his desk. I was surprised as it is considered the New Age 'Bible.' I asked him how he happened to have it. He said he got it because he couldn't sleep. He went to a sleep clinic and they assigned him a therapist who wasn't Catholic. This New Age therapist gave him the book telling him that reading it would help his sleep disorder. This Monsignor, a priest for 25 years, who had also been the director of Catholic charities even for the LA archdiocese, ended up leaving the priesthood and the Catholic Church for good at the close of the parish RCIA program after Pentecost. (135)
What ACIM teaches is that if you raise your self-consciousness, you can do all things and; therefore, there is no need for a Saviour. Jesus is reduced to a "teacher," and as the authors noted, the course teaches that God does not forgive because He never condemns. In essence, ACIM promotes the breaking of the First Commandment by promoting the idolatry of self. Other teachings include a complete denial of original sin; the need to be humble; that there is no punishment, but only consequences because the law of cause and effect always brings with it the consequences of the action or mistake. (136)

Clairvoyance and Telepathy vs. Word of Knowledge and Prophecy

In the section with Moira Noonan's testimony, you may have come across the following practices that were unfamiliar to you: clairvoyance, clairaudience, and clairsentience. The authors define these and other forms of clairvoyance and spotlight the error of engaging these practices with what is true from the Holy Spirit.

Clairvoyance is the supernatural ability of seeing persons and events that are distant in time and place, of which there are two kinds: clairvoyance in space and time. Clairvoyance in space gives knowledge of things that are distant or hidden. Clairvoyance in time is concerned with the future. The authors explain that if someone is clairvoyant, it is synonymous to viewing movies in their head; that is, they see another person's "life string." 

Clairaudience is the ability to hear sounds that are audible to the physical ear, such as "spirit" voices. Clairsentience is the ability to sense psychic information. The clairvoyant can see things from the past, present and the future.

Mental telepathy is similar to clairsentience and can be described as "feeling at a distance," where one mind influences another in a way that bypasses the senses. Telekinesis involves moving objects with the mind.

Clairvoyants teach each other, from "master" to "apprentice." All this is in sharp contrast to someone who has received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which is received in humility and docility, allowing one to be taught. The Holy Spirit never serves as an "information bank" independent from our minds, nor is it the source of any kind of fortune telling and divination.

Psychics get their information from demons; knowledge from counterfeit gifts aimed at deceiving unsuspecting souls. Authentic prophecy is always from the Holy Spirit and is given for the benefit and building up of the entire Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

Second Species: Divination by Tacit Invocation and Signs Found in Nature

Even though the practices listed in the second species do not involve the express invocation of demons, they nonetheless are considered to be morally reprehensible. These practices offend God with the sin of idolatry, which is against the First Commandment, "...You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3); a commandment that Jesus reiterated, "...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Mt 22:37) These practices are also against the virtue of religion as they give authority to the demonic, opening up a portal in the soul for further demonic activity.

The authors quote Saint Thomas Aquinas who in Summa Theologica described the second species as, "The divination which is practiced without express invocation...with a view to obtain knowledge of the future, observations in the disposition of certain things." (145) This species pretends to foretell the future through natural signs, such the movement of the stars (astrology), omens and chiromancy or palm-reading.

Astrology and Horoscopes

Astrology might be confused with astronomy. Astronomy is the proper science that legitimately studies the stars, solar systems and outer space. To further clarify, Noonan and Feaster quoted from Fr. M. Piostroski, the Society of Christ Provincial:
Astrology is a divining practice that dates back to antiquity. It still has deep roots in the culture and customs of modern paganized societies. Astrology is superstition. It claims that human life and destiny are influenced by the stars. The watershed events of a man's life such as his birth, marraige and death are supposedly determined by the  position, configuration and properties of the stars. We need to remember that astrologists show scant regard for the real positions of the stars as determined by modern astronomers equipped with state-of-the-art telescopes. (145)
What is also important to remember about astrology is that it undermines our relationship with God. As Christians, we are to recognize and trust in God's providence, something that astrologists negate with their promotion of pantheism.

The authors ask the reader a very pertinent question, what about reading your daily horoscopes. If you thought it was okay and harmless, think again. The practice of reading horoscopes is also a superstitious practice; horoscopes are based on astrology. Many read them "just for fun," have a cup of coffee and then attend Mass. Is it any wonder why the prayers of such individuals are not answered. Such individuals simply do not realize that the sin of idolatry interferes with God's grace.

If Christian's knowingly use horoscopes intentionally, which Church teaching forbids (CCC, 2115-2116), then why do people continue to do these things, why is there such an attachment. To bypass God's plan in one's life and not trust in His divine providence is to the detriment of each individual that knowingly chooses to rebel against God.

Third Species: Divination by Tacit Invocation and Signs Prepared by Man

Like the second species, the third species, are divination practices without express invocation. Such practices include geomancy (dowsing, astrocartography, Feng Shui) and hypnotic techniques.

From her many speaking engagements in rural North America, Noonan shared how many have failed to understand that it is wrong to seek water sources through dowsing and the services of a diviner. Dowsing is also known as divining or "water witching" using a rod and constitutes a form of divination by which one attempts to tame occult powers. (146) Noonan's response for the need to acquire water, "...[Y]ou get a priest to bless those lands, and even enthrone them to the Sacred Heart of Jesus." (146) As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "All forms of divination are to be rejected." (2116) Noonan also recommended prayer to the Holy Spirit for assistance to finding water sources.

Astrocartography is a type of astrology which uses maps to determine actual land locations that suit individuals' needs and wants, such as where to live, vacation or build their home. Geomancy is divination by configurations of objects and lines on the land. The eastern counterpart to this is Feng Shui. One example of Feng Shui, is Hong Kong Disneyland, who hired diviners and fortune tellers to ensure the success of the theme park.


Hypnosis is a controversial practice in which there are certain guidelines for its proper use. The Catholic Church is concerned about hypnosis because of the potential opportunity for misuse, manipulation, exploitation and maltreatment. As the authors note, hypnosis can only be considered morally licit if necessary for grave reasons, such as the need to operate on someone who, due to allergies, can not be anesthetized.

In addition, the consent of the person being hypnotized is required, so as to not violate the free will of the person. In case of children or mentally disabled individuals, the consent of parents or guardians is required.

All necessary precautions should be in place, taking into consideration who the practitioners are; their background and beliefs; his or her skill level and character; all should be evaluated. Also, it would be prudent to have a witness present to present both the physician and subject.

Hypnosis becomes dangerous when used with malicious intent. The New Age and occult practices use hypnosis to place subjects in a state of vulnerability, an "altered state of consciousness," to be exact, which makes an individual susceptible to the usurping of his or her free will.

An example of the New Age's manipulative use of hypnosis is "past-life regression therapy." The authors explain that this practice: 
...[U]ses hypnosis to guide patients through their memories of past lives which for Christians is completely erroneous and very misleading. Regression therapies are, of course, only meaningful if one believes in reincarnation, a belief that is fundamental to New Age thinking. Past-life experiences tend to be either imaginary or are drawn from experiences earlier in a client's life. Some may involve dark forces, but most like they do not. Not all forms of hypnotherapy are dangerous. What makes it perilous is that a person under hypnosis has surrendered his will and is completely left open to suggestion at the subconscious level. So it is critical to know the background, belief system, and training of anyone who provides you with hypnosis therapies. (149)

Crystals for the New Age Movement are similar to the sacramentals (holy water, blessed salt and oil, medals, rosaries) used by the Catholic Church. The New Age uses quartz crystals (not glass crystals) which can be used for communicating with demons and it is precisely for this reason that crystals were so popular in the New Age and witchcraft. Sadly, there are readily available, some of which can be found in contemporary jewelry. Crystals are used for: channeling, Feng Shui designs, in massage therapy, and in the use of pendulums, in energy healing and several other New Age, Wiccan and occult practices.

Noonan and Feaster provide an example of their use, the "Emerald Shapery Building," a high rise building in San Diego, California. The design of the building was based on Feng Shui principles. According to this New Age thinking, the universe is a fully integrated energy system and a hexagon was chosen for its structural integrity; the hexagon is comprised of interlocking triangles which are the building blocks of nature. The "Emerald Plaza" was created by a study of crystals, consistent with the New Age thinking which considers nature to be a series of clusters of hexagons.

The authors provide further details about crystals and the deceptive use of them in society:
Quartz crystals can be conduits for evil spirits when they are cursed, or 'programmed' by witches, warlocks and Satanists. They can be used for demonic purposes and disguised as ornaments on properties such as quartz crystal doorknobs in homes and buildings. Former occultists and victims of satanic rituals have attested to the fact that Satanists curse crystals and insert them into the bloodstream. They are the size of several grains of salt and are used to insert into babies delivered on satanic altars, usually through the umbilical cord. Both mother and infant can be demonized by these Satanic rituals. (147)

Pendulums can be used for divining and are often made from quartz crystal, wood, glass or metal. A pendulum swings in one or the other direction, and for New Agers, this signifies either an answer given to a question or the acquiring of secret knowledge. Pendulums are also used to contact spirit guides (the demonic).

Tarot Cards

Tarot cards are used to tell peoples' fortunes. For the practitioner it arouses an ever increasing desire for knowledge and skill, which they believe to be part of a constant road to spiritual enlightenment. The reality is that any knowledge gained is from the demonic, and practitioners are the equivalent to loud speakers for demons to communicate through. Here is part of a testimonial that the authors have included, illustrating the demonic deception of tarot cards:
...It is important to understand that the Tarot is a door leading into the realm of magic. The cards have been designed in such a way as to open up a very large area of our lives for the demonic forces to act upon and by which to enslave us by playing the role of an all-knowing being. The use of tarot cards is tantamount to the use of spells for calling up spirits...The Merciful Jesus forgives all sins and frees us from enslavement to the occult...While we live on earth, we can win eternal life. The stakes are indeed high: salvation or damnation. (148)
This concludes my second post on the selected sections of chapter eight's Discerning The Spirits. The next post, the final in this series of posts on this chapter will include: principles of discernment, the Holy Spirit vs. demonic spirits, recommendations for pastoral care, and a segment on guidelines for healing.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Discerning the Spirits: Warnings Against the New Age and Occult Practices and How to Recognize the Action of the Holy Spirit

Divination tools
Divination tools and occult practices

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 that reveal the infiltration and influence of the New Age and occult practices 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 these practices 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.

The 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's 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, do they possess the truth about New Age principles. Many engage in these New Age and occult practices without having acquired any knowledge about them, unaware of their dangers!

Noonan and Fester also spotlight how 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 stark contrast to Christianity which teaches that union with God is a gift from God, and not the result of 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 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 Exercisesthe 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.