Praying for Healing - The Challenge
When reflecting this morning on the writing of this chapter, I found myself thinking: What am
I doing writing on this subject? People have been praying with me for inner healing since 1972. and I still suffer
from anxiety, fears, guilt, and anger. Who am I to write on this subject? Then I realised with gratitude how much
healing of anxiety, fears, guilt, and anger had taken place in me since 1972. I also remembered that our inner
healing will only be complete when we get to heaven. Finally, I was reminded that the most obvious way in which
I personally am used in prayer by Jesus is in bringing people peace. Thousands of people have said after I have
prayed with them that they experienced peace or sometimes great peace. Indeed, I have at times felt frustrated
that there was apparently no physical healing after prayer, and I have had to remind myself that the peace they
experienced was perhaps more important or at any rate what God wanted to do. (I once was invited to pray one morning
with a married man in his fifties who was going to have a serious cancer operation in the afternoon. He died in
or just after the operation, and I felt rather a failure. Some time later a priest who was a close friend of the
man who had died thanked me warmly for my ministry to him. He said that his friend had been full of fear until
we had prayed together. Afterwards he had felt full of peace and the fear had left him. So much for our impressions
of when we have failed and when we have succeeded!)
Perhaps my qualifications for writing this chapter are largely that I have personally experienced much anxiety, fear, guilt, and anger, and thus understand and sympathise with people with these problems, which are still mine to a much lesser extent. There is also the fact that Jesus seems to use me to heal anxiety, fear, guilt, and anger and to bring his peace to people. (All this may be very relevant for quite a few readers who feel that their own need of inner healing means that they cannot be used by Jesus to heal other people. Jesus does not wait for his followers to be fully healed before he uses them to bring release to others!)
What are we to do with these wounds? We can ask Jesus, who was present with us during each difficult experience - because he is always with us, loving us, caring for us, watching over us - to heal the wounds, to pour forth the balm of his healing love on our painful memories, to make up for any lack of love or understanding in the past on the part of our parents or other people, to supply whatever support and help were lacking. Catholics can also ask Our Lady to pray for the healing of these inner wounds, especially any caused by the absence of maternal love and understanding. We can ask her to be a spiritual mother for us and to make up for what was lacking in our earthly mother - perhaps unavoidably, as when the mother dies gwing birth. We are not wanting to judge or condemn our earthly mothers, who perhaps could not have done otherwise in difficult circumstances.
When praying for the healing of the difficult and painful memories, wounds, and relationships
of the past, it is normally a great help if we can to pray explicitly for the painful memories and relationships
in question. So if fearful memories of a drunken father are involved, we should pray for the healing of those specific
memories and for the relationship with the father. However we quite frequently do not know what it is that has
damaged us, because the wounds and painful memories can be buried in our subconscious minds. Jesus can heal wounds
which never do come up into the conscious mind. So it is good to pray for the healing of all the painful memories
and wounds of the past, including those of which we are ignorant at the conscious level.
However, the Holy Spirit will sometimes give someone a 'word of knowledge' or a picture which can give us the clue to the cause of the wounds. Some people who are particularly gifted in this field may receive a very precise picture or 'word', such as a picture of a child with a brown dog if the death of a brown dog or the child being attacked by a brown dog is the difficult memory that needs to be healed. The age of the child at the time might also be given. I myself when praying for inner healing with a person Sometimes find that a word like 'father' comes strongly nto my mind, and this will influence the way I talk and pray with the person. Recently I was praying With a man for various things including inner healing when to my surprise the word 'beware' came strongly into my mind. This put me on my guard, and before long I realised that some of the things which the man was telling me about himself and his past were pure fabrications.
People are quite often mistaken as to which wound. or relationship is the main cause of their difficulties. Recently three of us were praying with a very cultured and gifted middle-aged lady who was suffering from depression. She thought that the basic cause of the depression was the break-up of a relationship with a man whom she had hoped to marry. She also thought that memories in connection with her mother needed healing. However, when we started praying for the healing of the memories and relationships of the past, she collapsed in tears when our prayers were concerned with her father, who had been a cold and aloof man. It became apparent to us and to her that it was this relationship not the others which was the basic cause of her difficulties.
'From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"' (Matthew 4:1 7). Jesus is still calling us all to repentance, and this can be the gateway leading to much inner healing. We have all reacted to the wounds and pressures of life imperfectly - often very imperfectly. Sin has entered into our reactions, sometimes at a very deep level, so that our emotional wounds have been affected and infected by sin. And repentance is the way to receive Jesus' healing and forgiveness from sin.
When we have been deeply wounded in life it is very easy just to blame other people, circumstances and even God for our pains and difficulties, while feeling very sorry for ourselves. This is very understandable - and very unhelpful! A great step forward has been taken when we realise that we need to repent and not just blame other people and circumstances. Sins like unforgiveness, anger, pride, lack of faith and hope - and others as well - inevitably play their part in our emotional wounds and problems. If we had perfect faith, hope, and love, which of course no human being can have in this life, then we would not be afraid or anxious, because we would know that Jesus is in charge and that with him at our side there is nothing to fear: 'perfect love casts out fear' (1 John 4:18). So, without judging other people on account of their fears, we can repent of the lack of faith, hope, and love present in our own anxieties and fears. We can also repent of the lack of faith and hope present in our false guilt. The Christian gospel teaches us that when we repent our sins are forgiven. Many Christians have truly repented of a sin but do not feel they have been forgiven, which shows lack of faith in Jesus' promise to forgive (cf. Luke 24:47).
We also need to repent of the way in which pride has influenced our emotional wounds. People
can be depressed and feel suicidal because their worldly ambitions, status, and reputation have collapsed. Not
a little emotional sickness can be linked with wounded pride. To repent of our pride and to grow in humility can
be very healing emotionally, and can transform painful memories of the past.
So often in practice our ideas on forgiveness are COnditional: 'I
would forgive him if he apologised'; 'I Would
have forgiven her if she had not done it deltherately'; 'I
would forgive him if he had not done it 50 many times'; 'I would forgive her if she were
not continuing to do it'; 'I would have forgiven him if it were myself
and not my child who had been attacked'; 'I would
forgive if the offence had not been so deliberately cruel and malicious'; 'I would forgive her if she had not ruined my whole life'. But
the teaching of Jesus is clear and simple: we are called to forgive everything always, without any exceptions.
Whenever we have failed to forgive fully we need to repent and ask for the grace to do so. We are also told: 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' (Matthew 5.44). The test as to how far we have really forgiven
those who have hurt us is often how truly we are loving and praying for them.
I remember a man telling me that he had only just learned to forgive his mother for dying when he was three. What did he mean, for his mother had not committed suicide or anything like that? He knew with his rational mind that there was nothing to forgive. But deep down in him there had remained a little boy of three who was furious with his mother for disappearing when she was greatly needed. Hidden within many of us there are still angry children who have not fully forgiven.
Forgiveness is fundamentally an act of the will, so we can basically forgive even when we are feeling very angry at the level of the emotions. However perfect forgiveness involves the emotions also, and we must often pray that our forgiveness will flow from the will into the emotions and into the subconscious mind.
I know a deeply spiritual priest who says that he tries to forgive an offence within ten seconds - while many of us are still floundering around ten minutes, ten hours, ten days, ten weeks, ten months, or ten years later! It is a great grace to learn to forgive quickly. When we do not forgive we are the first victims of our unforgiveness, for we cannot experience the peace, joy, love, and healing which Jesus wants to give us if we are not at least trying to forgive.
We are called to forgive in three directions: other people, God, and ourselves. Of course we know that objectively there is never anything to forgive our infinitely loving God. But we can be very angry with God for having allowed this or that to happen in our lives: the break-up of a marriage, the death of a child, financial disasters, the collapse of our health. So we have to repent of all bitterness and resentment over the hard knocks we have received in life.
Many people cannot forgive themselves for their past sins (e.g. an abortion), for their past mistakes, for having made a mess of their lives. Well, we have all I sinned, we have all made mistakes, we have all made a mess of our lives in one way or another. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to save and heal sinners, not 'good people' - the greatest saint is basically a saved sinner! We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, and this involves learning to forgive ourselves. If Jesus can forgive us when we repent, then we can also forgive ourselves.
Unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, and wrong anger are not only spiritual and emotional sicknesses,
they can also affect our physical health. The statistics show us that during the eighteen months after the death
or departure of a spouse, when there can be much unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, and anger, people are considerably
more likely to get cancer than at other times. And there have been cases of cancer disappearing when people learned
to forgive. Frequently we find that there can be a link between arthritis and unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment,
and wrong anger. So forgiveness can also often be the key to physical healing. On many
Chapter 8: Praying for Deliverance
According to the Code of Canon Law (Canon 1172), 'No one may lawfully exorcise the possessed without the special and express permission of the local Ordinary. This permission is to be granted by the local Ordinary only to a priest who is endowed with piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life.' So in the Catholic Church solemn exorcism may only be carried out by a priest specially appointed by the local bishop.
In this chapter I am not writing about solemn exorcism of the possessed, which would in any case be beyond the scope of my competence. However, the need for deliverance from demonic possession is relatively rare, while deliverance from various degrees of demonic oppression is very much commoner. To understand the whole question of trouble from the devil perhaps I can make a comparison with physical illness. We can say that someone is suffering from sickness, and that can be anything from the beginning of a sore throat to the last stages of terminal cancer. So it is with trouble from the devil or 'demonisation'. John Richards sees it as a long thin wedge. At the thin end of the wedge there are the 'flaming darts of the evil one' (Ephesians 6:16) by which we are all attacked frequently - it may be a stronger than normal temptation or feeling of fear or depression (the 'flaming dart' is often directed at and adds to an existing spiritual or psychological weakness). At the thick edge of the wedge there are things like demonic possession and deep involvement in Satanism.
When someone says to me that they think they are being attacked by the devil and need deliverance ministry, I quite often reply that we are all being frequently attacked by the devil, that we all need deliverance from these attacks, and that every time we say the Our Father we are praying for deliverance: 'But deliver us from evil' - which certainly includes deliverance from evil spirits.
The important question is not whether we are being attacked by the devil or other evil spirits, which we all often are, as we can see when reading the lives and spiritual writings of many saints, but how seriously and in what ways we are being attacked. Some people are very frightened at the idea that they may be being attacked by the devil and need deliverance ministry. It can help to take away this fear if we explain to them that we are all involved in spiritual warfare, that 'fiery darts' are shot at all of us, that this is a normal experience in the Christian life. St. Paul is saying to us all: 'Put on the whole annour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places' (Ephesians 6:11-13) (cf.also 1 Peter 5:8-11).
We can often be delivered from less serious attacks of the devil and lesser degrees of demonisalion
by the normal practices of the life of prayer, such as going to confession or receiving Jesus in communion, or
participating in a prayer meeting. Frequently someone will go to Mass feeling spiritually oppressed and burdened,
and after Mass they will be at peace and spiritually refreshed. In many such cases there has, I think, been some
deliverance from evil spirits.
Indeed the ways to receive deliverance from evil spirits and to receive inner healing are often largely the same. In both cases repentance, forgiveness, praise, and the use of the sacraments can play a key part. This is not surprising, for there is much overlapping between psychological and emotional sickness on the one hand and demonic attacks and bondages on the other. A sickness which is basically psychological or emotional can be aggravated by the fiery darts of the devil; and a problem which is largely demonic will have its psychological and emotional repercussions. So in practice I think we often have to be aware that we are dealing with a problem which involves both inner healing and deliverance from the attacks of evil spirits.
When possible it is good to deal with demonisation by praying for inner healing and for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. I remember Abbot David M. Geraets OSB of Pecos in New Mexico (USA) saying that many cases can better be dealt with by praying for inner healing. They could be dealt with by casting out demons but there is less danger of problems arising if the inner healing approach is adopted. The Pecos monastic community has seen very remarkable healings from even very serious cases of demonisation by the inner healing and infilling approach.
Perhaps this is the right place to say that I agree with those people who think that 'fiery darts of the evil one' can sometimes affect our physical health, as was the case of the 'woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years' and concerning whom Jesus said: 'And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosened from this bond on the sabbath day?' (Luke 13.10-17). I believe the devil will sometimes try to stop people doing the work God wants them to do by attacking their physical health - I think that this has happened to me at times. 'Fiery darts of the evil one' can sometimes aggravate an existing physical weakness or sickness, or even perhaps cause a physical illness. So I believe that there is sometimes a place for rebuking an evil spirit of infirmity troubling oneself or another person. However, it is important to add that all sickness is not of course directly the work of the devil.
Not all cases of demonisation seem to respond to the inner healing and infilling approach, and this appears to be especially true of the more serious cases. In England and probably in many other countries also, involvement in things like Satanism, Voodoo, Witchcraft, Spiritualism, violence, and perverted sexual activity seem to be on the increase, and this is surely causing a growing number of heavily demonised people. Here we need to remember that Jesus has given to his Church a ministry of casting out devils, a ministry which, I think, is very much neglected by Catholics in many places.
What is happening in some areas is that more and more Catholics are going to members of other churches in order to receive deliverance ministry. I personally know of Anglican clergy who are gifted and have experience in this ministry to whom a considerable number of Catholics go. I heard of a case in the USA where a Catholic layman was seeking deliverance ministry. The diocesan authorities dithered and delayed over the matter for six months, with the result that the man in question lost patience and went one evening to the local Pentecostal church down the road, where he received effective deliverance ministry within half an hour!
I consider a big part of our problem is that the Catholic clergy in general have received no training in this field and have no experience in it - whereas every Pentecostal pastor would have received practical training in the deliverance ministry. When studying for the priesthood I listened to learned lectures for many hours on the heresies of the first few centuries in the Church, but no one gave me any instruction on how I might recognise whether or not a person was in need of serious deliverance ministry.
There is a further problem for Catholics. If it is judged that the demonised person may be possessed, then this case will be referred to the diocesan exorcist - if there is one - who will minister to the person probably after they have been examined by a psychiatrist. But all this takes quite a lot of time to arrange, and some demonised people may need urgent attention. I know of a case in which an Anglican priest experienced in this ministry was asked to minister to someone in another diocese. The Anglican bishop of the diocese insisted that the person in question should see a psychiatrist first - and the man committed suicide before this could be arranged! Suicidal or violent cases may need immediate attention.
Catholic bishops and priests are understandably and indeed rightly cautious when it comes to serious cases of demonisation. In the ministry of casting out demons things can go wrong, and indeed very wrong. A few years ago in the London borough in which I live a wandering evangelical preacher and his friend attempted to exorcise a woman at her request. In trying to get the demons out of her they stamped on her body - and this killed her. They then prayed for twelve hours for her resurrection, which needless to say did not happen. They then handed themselves over to the police. So it is obviously important not to let just anyone and everyone loose on the ministry of casting out demons.
However, cautiousness by itself is not enough. If we only play safe, which I suspect is what many of us Catholic priests are doing, then seriously demonised people who are in desperate need of help are not going to receive it, at least not from the Catholic Church. Doubtless many Catholics have been wonderfully helped through deliverance ministry from members of other churches. Some Catholics however have not found this ministry helpful. And there is a danger that Catholics who go to other Christians for this ministry may imbibe along with it teaching which is not in accord with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. I am worried when Catholics, sometimes influenced by some non-Catholic literature or preaching, seem to have developed 'demonitis', the, seeing of demons where there are none, the blaming of all our troubles on demons, endless talk about demons. (Our minds need to be fixed on God, on Jesus. Too much thinking and talking about demons are to be avoided.)
All this underlines, in my opinion, the need for the Catholic Church to wake up to the problems of serious demonisation in our society. In his book, Renewal and the Powers of Darkness (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983), Cardinal Suenens has a heading, 'The necessity of a new pastoral teaching on the subject of exorcism' (page 96). Surely there is such a necessity, for some Catholics, including a few priests, do not even believe in the existence of the devil and a few other Catholics have caught 'demonitis'. Of the two problems, I believe the failure to face up to the needs of seriously demonised people is much bigger and more widespread than the excesses of 'demonitis', serious though the latter can be.
In his book Cardinal Suenens raises an interesting possibility:
We need to recognise that some people have special gifts in the area of exorcism - and I do not consider myself to be one of them - that laymen and women are sometimes gifted in this way (not only the clergy), and that authentic gifts of this kind should not be wasted, especially at a time when the needs are so great.
Teaching people how to cast out demons goes beyond the scope of this book, which is concerned
with praying for healing in general. Apart from the fact that there are other people more qualified than I am to
write on the ministry of exorcism, I would be somewhat fearful of indiscriminately encouraging people to go round
trying to cast out demons, which could lead to many casualties. On the subject of casting out, may I recommend
the excellent booklet by James McManus CSSR, The Ministry of Deliverance in the Catholic
Tradition, obtainable from Good News Books,
St. Michael's, Shenley Lanes, London Colney, Hemts, AL2 1AF. In this booklet the author
goes through the five stages of the prayer of praise, the prayer for protection, the prayer of binding, the prayer
of casting out, and the prayer for the infilling of the Holy Spirit (page
26). He also makes the valuable point that 'the
prayer for deliverance is ordinarily made in silence' (page
30), which can help to avoid all sorts of problems.
My second plea is to those Christians who are aware of the dangers of involvement in the occult.
Please do not exaggerate the limits of the occult, for this leads to classifying as demonic things which are not,
and causes some other Christians to regard all warnings about the dangers of the occult as ridiculous. There are
some Christians who are saying that all osteopathy, homeopathy, hypnotism, acupuncture, jujitsu, yoga, water divining,
psychoanalysis, and extra sensory perception are occult and therefore demonic. Doubtless, in varying degrees, there
can be dangers in some of the practices listed above, and people may sometimes need to be warned of the dangers.
But that is no excuse for simply describing them all as demonic! Otherwise a good Christian whom God has healed
through the hands of an osteopath will simply think we are fanatics.
So we Catholics must not be surprised if we find that we do not always agree with Pentecostals
and Evangelicals on the subject of the limits of the occult and the demonic, just as we do not agree with them
on the rightness of asking Our Lady to pray for us. If Catholics involved in the Charismatic Renewal adopt a Pentecostal
rather than a Catholic position on certain subjects, this will put other Catholics off the
On the whole question of the Catholic attitude towards non-Christian religions and towards various
forms of unconventional healing and alternative medicine, may I very strongly recommend three excellent articles
by Fr. Michael Simpson SJ in Good News, numbers 76, 77,
and 78, 1988 (obtainable from The National Service Committee for Catholic
Charismatic Renewal, Allen Hall, 28 Beaufort Street, London, SW3 5.AA). Having pointed
out various very real dangers in this field, Father Michael ends his last, wise, and well-balanced article by saying:
'We must not dismiss as demonic or dangerous what, if practiced with wisdom
and in a way centred on Christ, may in truth be part of God's creative plan for our growth to wholeness in body,
mind, and spirit.'