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Saved from the Occult

The life of Fr. Jacques Verlinde makes for an exceptionally interesting story. As a young scientist, he worked for the National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS), one of Belgium’s most famous research institutes. At the age of 21, he abandoned his prospects of a brilliant scientific career and went to study under a Hindu guru.

After spending several years in Hindu ashrams, he returned to Europe to announce the New Age and explore the mysteries of the occult. Following his conversion back to the Catholic faith, he made a complete break with occult practice, joined a religious order and was ordained a priest.

Father Verlinde was born in 1947 into a deeply religious family. He enjoyed a happy childhood in an atmosphere of lively religious faith. His early relationship with Christ was a deep and beautiful one. “Paraphrasing what Curé of Ars said about Our Blessed Mother,” he wrote, “I would say that I loved Our Lord in His real Eucharistic presence even before I understood the meaning of the word transubstantiation! My most beautiful and intense childhood memories are associated with those heart-to-heart encounters before the tabernacle, which filled me with inexpressible joy. I was fortunate enough to make my First Holy Communion at the age of five, and this encounter made a deep, burning impression on me. I loved serving at Holy Mass and was so taken up by the greatness of the mystery unfolding before me that I would at times forget to ring the bells.”

In his adolescent years he came into contact with books steeped in the spirit of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud, who dismissed belief in a personal God as something beneath Man Come of Age. Jacques was persuaded that to live a responsible life you had to reject God and walk through life alone. Thus began his great crisis of faith. It would take another full year before he would make a clean break with Christianity. One fine day he decided not to go to Holy Mass. In his desire to grow up as quickly as possible he resolved to put an end to all religious practice. He stopped praying and closed himself off from the life, love and joy that flows from God through prayer. Jacques crossed into the land of death and spiritual darkness.

He began his higher studies in Ghent. He was only 16 years old. After defending his master’s thesis at the age of 20, he commenced his doctoral studies in the field of analytical chemistry at a nuclear laboratory. On obtaining his doctorate, he became a research fellow at the FNRS, the most prestigious research institute in Belgium. Despite his considerable scientific successes, Jacques retained an insatiable thirst for the absolute. In an attempt to slake this thirst, he became deeply involved in his scientific research, the student movement and political activism. Yet he could not satisfy the sense of emptiness gnawing within him. After his re-conversion to Christianity, he would characterize this life without God in this way: “Freedom degenerates into willfulness as man resolves to follow a path without God, despite God and even in opposition to God, setting in motion that astonishing capacity for self-destruction which resides in us on an equal footing with our capacity for self-construction.”

These were the ’60s, when the world was experiencing its great crisis of authority in all its forms, political, social and moral. In his desire to rid himself of traditional values and satisfy his hunger for happiness, Jacques took an active part in this struggle; but his sense of inner emptiness only deepened. Despite his youth, academic success and promising scientific career, he was still unhappy. He wrote: “I could not find the happiness that I knew before breaking my Covenant with God. Concerning Judas, St. John writes in his gospel [after his decision to betray his master], ‘He went out. And it was night’ (John 13:30). I experienced the same thing: from the moment I rejected the presence of the One, who is the light of the people (John 1:4), I found myself in the darkness of night. Of course, it was within my power to come out of it and return to the Lord, but I was drunk with pride, the pride of a man without God who by the very fact of rejecting Him takes His place and sees himself as equal to God.”

It was only after experiencing the existential pain and loneliness attendant upon his nihilistic worldview that he came to realize how meaningless a life without God was. Rejecting as absurd the claims of atheism, he undertook a new search for God; but at the time he saw no possibility of returning to the Catholic Church which, in his view, was nothing more than a religious museum. He sought God in Hinduism. He went to a transcendental meditation meeting. Already by the second session he wanted to pass the initiation rite and, for this, he had fork out a sum of money equal to his monthly salary. With extraordinary ardor he devoted himself to daily meditation. He practiced several hours a day, repeating the mantras that were supposed to suppress mental and critical activity and curb the influence of the personal “I.” After a while he began to find it hard to concentrate. He began to suffer from insomnia and lose interest in his surroundings. He had difficulty engaging in conversation. Every day his life became more and more unbearable. Through the technique of meditation he sought to reach a state of “unity consciousness,” and thereby surmount the obstacles that prevent man from realizing his divinity. The Hindus have a very different concept of God. Unlike the God of the Christians, He is not a living and loving personal divinity but an impersonal cosmic energy. God is creation in its totality. Man can merge with the godhead through the technique of meditation. All pantheistic religions claim that man has a divine nature. All we need to do is to become conscious of this and merge with the godhead. But is this not the temptation presented to our first parents, “you will be like gods” (Genesis 3:5)? Intense meditation brought Jacques Verlinde to such a mental state that he lost contact with reality and became incapable of carrying out his scientific work. Taking a leave of absence he traveled to India to perfect his meditation technique under the guidance of Guru Maharishi. He would spend the next four years in India.

One day he met a European tourist in the ashram. Verlinde recalls: “The man asked me if I had ever been a Christian. ‘Yes,’ I replied. Then he asked me, ‘And Jesus? What is he to you now?’ When he mentioned the name Jesus, something strange happened to me. It was as if that name penetrated to my heart and awoke in me the most profound longing for God. In one moment I felt that Jesus was present in all His infinite mercy. The God whom I had feared no longer existed. The only God that existed was the One that overflowed with mercy and tenderness toward me. Jesus had come looking for me in the Himalayas. With great patience he had waited for my return. When I realized how near He was and how great was the love and mercy with which he embraced me, I burst into tears of joy and sorrow: joy because the God whom I had been seeking all along had found me Himself, and He was a God of tenderness and mercy; sorrow because I realized how much Jesus must have suffered on my account. I saw the great pain I had caused Him by seeking living water in fissured cisterns, when I could be drinking it directly from His love-filled Heart. With absolute certainty I knew and understood that Jesus lived. Not only did He live, but He was my whole life. No longer was there a question of merging with cosmic energies. All I had to do was acknowledge Jesus as my life, light, happiness. It was enough simply to reach out to Him — my Savior.”

(to be continued)

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