Author: o. Wojciech Mainka OFM,
"Love One Another!" 18/2011 → Magic, idolatry, spiritual threats
Poland today boasts some fifty to seventy thousand “healers” of all stripes. Natural and alternative medicine centers are springing up all over the country and drawing significant clienteles. The unusualness, mysteriousness, and allegedly speedy results of these “therapies” also attract large numbers of people who claim to be believers in Christ.
A missionary priest who recently returned to Poland cannot get over the fact that a country with a thousand-year-old Christian tradition can so suddenly have spawned something that he has been busy fighting in Africa — so-called shamanism and magic healing. An exorcist priest of the Archdiocese of Katowice estimates that out of every ten people requiring his prayers nine have consulted an energy therapist or some other kind of “faith healer.”
People suffer from an ailment and, encouraged by others who claim to have been so helped, turn to energy healers (or touch healers). Desperate for help, they put all their trust in the “therapist.” The healer will lay his hands over his client and impart what is called a “healing energy.” He is the channel through which this “cosmic energy” flows. No one has yet succeeded in determining what kind of energy this is, or if it is energy at all. One simply takes the healer’s word for it — with a belief and trust greater than that implied in God Himself. On the subject of the First Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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” (2117).
People will object that Jesus himself healed the sick by the imposition of hands. So did the apostles. It is certainly true that Jesus works miracles even today. To those who believe in Him He may impart the charism of healing through the Holy Spirit. St. Paul speaks of this charism in the First Letter to the Corinthians (12: 9). But when Jesus does bestow this gift, it is for the good of the Church community; moreover, the person possessed of this gift is merely a mediator of the power of the Holy Spirit. The healings are signs of God’s presence and action in the world.
The question arises: Do touch healers also impart the Holy Spirit and heal by His power? Or do they perhaps impart another spirit? There are all kinds of spirits: good and evil, the Holy Spirit, Satan, angels, and demons. Holy Scripture tells us there is a spirit of madness (Is 19: 14), of harlotry (Hos 4: 12), of lies (1 Kings 22: 23), of deceit (1 Jn 4: 6), as well as others.
As Christians we are meant to be temples of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit should dwell within us, guide us, inspire us, and shine His light upon us. But we can also choose to be abodes of demons, of more or less malicious spirits who direct our thoughts and actions and torment and destroy us in various ways, for such is the nature of evil spirits. Jesus cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:9) and a whole legion from the Gadarene demoniac (Mk 5: 1-16).
By the power of demons
We need to bear in mind that unusual and spectacular phenomena (including apparent healings) can occur though demonic power. The Acts of the Apostles describe one such incident: “A man named Simon used to practice magic in the city and astounded the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, paid attention to him, saying, ‘This man is the ‘Power of God’ that is called ‘Great.’ They paid attention to him because he had astounded them by his magic for a long time” (8: 9-11). Simon practiced the dark arts, that is, he communicated with Satan. Through him Satan worked great marvels, and the people allowed themselves to be duped. “This man is the ‘Power of God’ that is called ‘Great,’” they said — this of someone who acted by Satan’s power.
Are we not also duped in the same way at times? When, for example, we see a crucifix or holy picture hanging on the healer’s wall? The Devil is a cunning spirit. Even the healer can be duped into thinking he is an extraordinary person — chosen by God. It is very easy to be so persuaded by the Tempter. Healing gives us a sense of great power over the lives of others. The healer becomes like God.
Fr. Joseph-Marie Verlinde, now a priest, but in his youth a devoted disciple of a Hindu guru, and later a well-known touch healer in Belgium, gives us an interesting witness: “While in a state of mediumistic docility, I allowed the devil to make use of me. I was not possessed, for while engaging in all these occult practices, I also attended daily Mass, spent much time in adoration, prayed the rosary, and practiced all the pious devotions known to me. This would have been impossible for someone who was possessed.” When Fr. Verlinde began to experience doubts as to whether these newfound healing gifts came from God, his friends convinced him it could not be otherwise, since he was helping people. Only after nine years of prayer and exorcisms was he finally freed from demonic influence. And it was then — he observed — that he lost the gift of healing.
“He helped me. I was sick and now I am well.” We often hear people say this. But such testimonies are not proof that the healer really helped the person. For many years Fr. Verlinde and a group of scientists from the University of Lyons studied people who had undergone energy therapy. He noted the following consistencies:
Many people who felt they had been healed developed other, more serious illnesses later on. Instances of death ensuing directly after such therapies were not uncommon. (On the night following the October 8, 1989 airing of a television program by the famous Russian faith healer Anatoly Kashpirovsky, four times more people died in Moscow than on other days. Coincidence?)
Many energy therapy patients developed negative psychological symptoms: anxiety, phobias, depressions, suicidal thoughts, belligerence, aggression, etc.
In addition, there were negative spiritual effects: insistent blasphemous thoughts, neglect of prayer and other religious practices, aversion to the sacred, demonic torments, etc.
To determine the effectiveness of this or that healer’s efforts would require comprehensive, time-consuming tests as rigorous as those required to bring a new drug onto the market. Some healers are officially authorized to practice, but in these cases one would need to know if such authorization were given on the basis of solid scientific research or if this were merely a registration formality for tax purposes. After all, faith healers receive payment for their services, and substantial payment at that. This is in itself a telling fact. The healers we see in the pages of the Holy Scriptures never demand any sort of payment. When giving His apostles the power to heal, Jesus said, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mat 10:8). Just imagine St. Francis or St. Padre Pio receiving the sick on an assembly line and hiring a cashier? The eighth chapter of Acts chapter recounts another characteristic incident in connection with the magician Simon: “When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money’” (8: 18-20).
No one can buy God’s gift of healing. And yet the press and the Internet run all manner of advertisements for courses in the art of healing. This is a tempting proposition. In a week (often after an initiation ceremony, prayers, and special rituals presided over by the guru), you can attain what it takes a physician six years of arduous study to achieve. And in a week you can earn as much as a doctor earns in a month. Most such courses are a racket — and it is better that they should be so. How much worse it is, on the other hand, when the course participant becomes a real magician or shaman — a tool and channel of evil spirits.
What to do in case of sickness?
The following three excerpts from Holy Scripture adequately reveal how a disciple of Christ should act in case of sickness: “My son, when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you: Flee wickedness; let your hands be just, cleanse your heart of every sin….Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; for you need him too” (Sir 38: 9-12). “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up” (Ja 5: 14-15). “A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.’ Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’ And from that hour the woman was cured” (Mat 9: 20-22).
We must ask to be cured through confident and persevering prayer. Others, especially priests, should also pray for us when we are sick. Jesus heals us through His sacraments: first, the sacrament of penance (known as confession), since sin can cause sickness (John 5: 14 also mentions this); thus conversion is necessary; then the sacrament of the sick, which, as the name suggests, was instituted expressly for healing and strengthening the sick; finally, the Eucharist, for this sacrament is so much more than the hem of Christ’s garment. But for this we must believe. When faith in Christ weakens, we begin to believe in anything, as someone aptly observed. God also gives us doctors that we may seek healing through them. Doctors! Not magicians and sorcerers. Holy Scripture condemns magic on numerous occasions.
Correcting the problem
What to do if we have resorted to unconventional medicine and ensnared ourselves in the occult? We can become trapped in the occult without meaning to, just as we can contract a contagious disease. There will be less chance of this happening if we take the trouble to deepen our awareness of the spiritual dangers by reading Holy Scripture and Catholic books and magazines. Reading has enormous significance these days. The atheist media say or write nothing about the dangers of the occult. On the contrary, they even promote it.
If we have consulted a touch healer, we should confess it in the sacrament of penance (it serves as an effective exorcism), especially if we observe disturbing phenomena. We should then renounce evil in simple language, as, for example, “I renounce Satan and all occult connections that link me with an unclean spirit. I entrust myself to Jesus who is my Lord and Savior.”
Resorting to various practices of so-called unconventional medicine brings with it numerous physical, psychological, and spiritual dangers. To tell oneself, “If it doesn’t help, it won’t hurt,” can sometimes be a fatal mistake.
Fr. Wojciech Mainka OFM
The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in August 2016.
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