I had the privilege of listening to one of the bravest homilies I have ever heard on Sunday. Father John rolled up his sleeves (figuratively. I guess chasubles don't really have sleeves) and took on a topic that is not very easy to speak about, nor that is usually received well. He spoke about breaking the first commandment. There are the obvious situations and the ones you think about in Sunday school. Basically, when we let the things of the world come before our relationship with God. Money, sexual pleasure, drugs can all become the gods of our life. Father took on the other aspect of this. The actual act of worshiping at the altar of another god. This list is by no means comprehensive but it includes fortune telling, tarot card reading, ouija boards, transcendental mediation, mediums, practicing magic, etc. I think you get what I'm getting at.
So why do I think he was so brave for broaching this topic? It really comes down to two things. It's hard to talk about this stuff without sounding like a kook. We've relegated so much of these activities to entertainment, that most people think of it as something harmless. He went out on a limb, hoping that people would realize that he has real experience in the negative effects these activities have had on people. Priests get to see a really dark side of the human soul. I can't imagine how it must weigh on them to hear the horrible things that get brought into the light in the confessional; or the serious problems that they deal with when they are sought out by truly tortured souls. The second part is that it makes people really uncomfortable to talk to them about their transgressions. No one wants to be the finger pointer. No one wants to be the guy that has to tell someone that they are out of line. Especially when that person doesn't think they did anything wrong. But I think he was finally moved, after seeing too any people in bad places, that he finally had to speak up. He even told us that he has never spoken of this topic in a homily. Knowing him for that past couple of years, I've known him to not be afraid to speak about spiritual warfare, but in those cases, he knew his audience.
So here it is. Here's my brave moment. The devil is real. Demons are real. Demonic possession is real. So please be careful. I've known enough people who have dealt with the negative effects of inviting the devil in. Perfectly good people, mind you, people of faith, have gotten too close to things they thought were innocent enough and paid a horrible price for their curiosity. Father spoke of the popularity of two things that, I agree with him, is currently growing. The first are mediums. These are the folks that claim they can speak to your dead loved ones. I think for the most part, they are snake oil salesman, using parlor tricks to make you believe they really can communicate with the hereafter. They want to use our gullibility to make a buck.Then there are the really dangerous ones, the ones that actually believe they have the power to speak to the dead. Jesus tells us in the Lazarus story that there is a huge divide between the two worlds, and that the dead cannot cross over. Any perceived communication with the departed must be a trick of the devil. Only angels and demons have the power to come into our world from the beyond, not souls. Even the prophets in the Bible cannot see the future. Prophet simply means "witness". They understand God's divine plan and try to warn others that they are off the path.
The second thing is new age healing. I am not all that well-versed in the world of alternative medicine, but I know I don't have to go into detail. Things that involve fixing your chi, aligning your chakras, or directing positive energies are fallacious at best. The majority of these practices have shown to have a placebo effect at best. I was going to link to studies that support this, but then I realized you believe what you believe, and I'm confident in your ability to use Google. Once again though, if we place our faith in something other than God and provable science, we are wandering into the world of the occult. Our psyche is a delicate and highly nuanced thing. It doesn't take much to convince us of something if we want to believe. These things may have some real effects, but the benefits should frighten us even more. I'm a naturally skeptic, so when something unrelated events produces an unexpected result, I get freaked out. I want to know what exactly is causing it. If you tell me that you're whistling because it keeps tigers away, and that Levittown is happily tiger free, I start to question the real connection between the cause and the effect. In an Occam's razor sort of way, I look for the simplest explanation. If you tell me that putting crystals on my back will relieve my lower back pain, I'm going to assume that it's either my mind playing a trick on me, or something much more malevolent is playing a trick on me. Oh boy, I hope it's the former.
I feel like a should put a disclaimer here, that I'm not writing this as a holy roller, or that I'm trying to win you over to start attending daily mass or go to confession weekly. I'm just someone who has seen the dark side and knows it is real. I'm sorry if I scared you or made you uncomfortable. I'm sorry if you think I am a crazy person now. I just know what I know, I felt compelled to share it. If I can save one person from ending up in a very bad place, then this blog entry was worth it. If you do believe me and are nervous, go to confession and then renounce the practice in the name of Jesus of whatever you are currently thinking has put your soul in jeopardy. If you're not Catholic, please talk to a person of spiritual authority. I feel the need to apologize again, but the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the only rite I know of that guarantees fixing what is broken between you and God. If you aren't Christian, then you probably feel like you'd like the past 15 minutes or so back. Again, sorry.