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.

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