Letter to Kerry Zmatick, (Could it be? Yes! The end!!!)
There are a few more phenomena to discuss before I quit fulminating.
Healing. I have seen real healings, but for a Catholic this is nothing new. We have always believed in healing. We just don’t understand it. Have you ever noticed that Jesus didn’t heal everyone in the Holy Land? He just healed a few. If Jesus could alleviate suffering, why didn’t he alleviate everyone’s suffering? My guess is that his healing ministry is meant to be a foretaste of heaven and not just a cheap medical plan. Not only did Jesus heal only a few, but all those he healed eventually got sick again and ultimately died. Even Lazarus whom he raised from the dead eventually died again.
What can the point of healing possibly be if it is only a stop gap measure? In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the “Lord, bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” (Acts 14:3) Miracles and healing are exactly that: “signs and wonders that bear witness to grace.” They are not given for the sake of convenience, but for the sake of the Gospel.
I once had a friend who had been stricken with polio in the great polio epidemic of the early 50's. He was severely paralyzed from the waist down. His family took him to the healing shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre in Canada. He was waiting in his wheelchair to be taken forward for prayer when a severely crippled young woman was brought forward before him and as she passed him, their eyes met. There was a great commotion up in front and the girl whom my friend had just seen was completely and instantly healed. She strode back past him walking on two good legs and their eyes met again. In that moment he realized he would not be healed and that was alright. God’s grace would be sufficient in his life. And so it was.
There isn’t time to tell you about all the people I have seen healed, and all the people I have seen not healed. The message is the same. It is that grace that is sufficient even though health in this world is of limited duration.
The hunger most people have for healing is understandable. The suffering and pain that is the common lot of human beings is not to be taken lightly. People long for healing, especially the parents of sick children. It is hard to accept that, as the Lord said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to depend on grace. Healing is given to increase our dependence on grace, not to lessen it. Most people want healing because they want not only an end to their suffering but the freedom that health confers. I remember a neon sign on a west side Pentecostal church that billed itself as a healing church. The sign brightly proclaimed, “Why should you suffer when others are being healed?” Nothing about Christ, just an end to suffering.
That is not the point of healing. Healing is a sign and a wonder meant to draw us into a deeper trust in the Lord. How often have I been asked to offer healing Masses? I cringe at the request. Every Mass is a healing Mass. “Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” It is a beautiful thing to see a few believers gathered around a sick person praying for healing. It is a sad spectacle to see people lined up around the block waiting to get into the church because the faith healer is scheduled to do his thing at 7PM.
Just this morning I saw something that moved me deeply. I go to the gym every morning and chug around in circles like some moribund hamster. As I passed the whirlpool for the umpteenth time, I saw and old Korean man holding his wife’s hands as they sat in the pool. Their eyes were closed and he was quietly praying. I knew what was going on. He was praying for his dear wife’s aches and pains. He understood that God’s grace was better than the warm water. He was commending her to the Lord. It was beautiful to watch his tender affection for his wife. That is what healing is about.
There is a corollary to healing; it is called “being slain in the Spirit.” It is a wonderfully goofy manifestation which is only vaguely alluded to in the Bible, but we Pentecostals and Charismatics just love it. And, like all of this, it is real and it is easily abused. In the Gospel we read that those who came to arrest Jesus fell to the ground, just as St. Paul fell to the ground on the Damascus road. Saul fell to the ground in the Books of the Kings when he met the prophets. It often happens that when a person is being prayed for a very disorienting peace comes over them and they collapse.
This has happened to me many a time and I must say it is one of the most peaceful feelings I have ever had. One just totally relaxes. You don’t lose consciousness. You’re standing, but you realize there is no really good reason to be standing and over you go. You usually just lay there for a while wearing a silly grin on your face. It’s has no great purpose as far as I can tell, and it is completely unimportant. It is a very gentle experience of resting in the Lord’s presence.
Needless to say, it is all the rage at faith healing services, Charismatic Masses and spirit filled conferences. If you didn’t fall over, there must be something wrong with you. Or, if the faith healer/conference speaker is really good, they fall over by the busload when prayed for. That’s how you can tell that the conference speaker is the real thing. You fall over. If there is not sufficient falling over, it’s obvious that the Holy Spirit hasn’t really shown up. What you get then are people who keep coming up for prayer until they fall over. Or even worse you have the pushers and the catchers. A pusher is a faith healer who as he prays over a person gives them a shove on the forehead when he’s done. The catcher is someone who stands behind the “pray-ee” to keep them from cracking their heads open when they go over. I have often cringed at the thwack of a cranium hitting the cold marble of a church floor.
I remember a very distressed woman asking my advice after a meeting. She was worried that God hadn’t blessed her because she hadn’t fallen over. When I used to pray for people at these services, I would have them kneel at the altar rail or sit so that they couldn’t do much damage as they fell. This falling out business is a fine thing, if it’s real. If it’s contrived it’s just silly. Healing is real, but when it becomes a cottage industry, it’s time to move on to more important things, like repentance.
Three more gifts and I’m done. They are related, the word of knowledge, discernment of spirits and prophecy. St. Paul sums it all up when he says “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols...” (1Cor. 12:2) That’s the amazing thing about the Lord. If we are ready to listen, He speaks. If an individual or a congregation sincerely wants to hear the Lord, they will hear him. No one ever hears him perfectly. Remember that St. Paul says, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (1Cor.13:9) Still, if we get Him wrong, but our desire to obey is genuine, I have found that He makes up the slack.
Most of the prophecies that I have heard are pretty much hokum. I cannot count the number of times I have heard that the Lord is returning next Tuesday, or some such nonsense. I have heard endless soliloquies that claim to be prophecy. They are usually just filler in a boring prayer meeting. A real prophecy, as St. Paul tells us, cuts to the heart. The only real prophecies I have heard have been very personal and very much to the point. No soliloquies.
Once I walked into a prayer meeting, and a real prophet looked at me and said, “Father is going to be sent to work with the poorest of the poor.” I had been asked that very day to move to a very poor parish in very bad part of town. I was “praying” about it and planning to say, “No thanks.” The Lord threw His two cents in by means of someone who had a real prophetic gift, even though I was not very interested in the Lord’s opinion at that moment. I was so jolted that I told my superiors that I would accept the assignment and was at that parish for twenty of the happiest years of my life.
Prophecies are not sweet nothings whispered in our soul’s ear by the Holy Spirit. They are marching orders. They are usually not about the future, they about the sovereignty of God in our lives. I believe that God has people in every congregation who can read souls, who can tell when a spirit is from the Lord or from the enemy, and that He has given people who can help us to know His will for us. If any clergy are making the mistake of reading these rants, know that if the Lord has given you prophets in your life, you are a very blessed person. I will always be grateful to the Lord for the honest prophets He has sent me. When they speak, they do so with authority. They have never been afraid to say what they think I don’t want to hear, and the few times I have been wise enough to listen, they have been blessings form the Lord.
One more thing. There is a phrase that one finds in Scripture and that Pentecostal/Charismatics love to bandy about: “In the Spirit.” I have pondered its meaning for years, and I think I understand it a little, now that I am old. The Greek New Testament word that is usually translated “Spirit” is “pneuma”. It means breath or wind, as in “to have the wind knocked out of you.” We get words like pneumonia and pneumatic drill from it. When you go into a church and stick your hand in the holy water fountain and say “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, you are really saying “In the name of the ... Holy Breath.” The third person of the Holy Trinity is the called Holy Breath. In confirmation one is anointed with oil for the strengthening with the Holy Breath, and so on. The Holy Breath.
Think about it. We have theology and dogma and ritual and buildings and committees and church suppers and fund drives and second collections and ministry programs and religious education programs and and and. Do we have Holy Breath? Are we breathing? Is the church breathing? When Christians gather for worship or a meeting of any kind, whether a committee or a prayer meeting, can one smell the sweet aroma of Holy Breath?
The Holy Spirit doesn’t bother to show up at most church meetings I attend. There is no Holy Breath. There is great deal of bloviating. To be “In the Spirit” is to be surrounded by the Breath of God. It is real. It is palpable and it is essential. If the Church doesn’t breathe with the Breath of God, it is just going through a pointless exercise. Without the Breath of God, the Church is an “it” and not a “she.” If a thing is not begun, conducted and ended by means of Holy Breath, it may be a fine event enjoyed by all, but it will change no lives and soon be forgotten. If you are not filled with the Breath of God, all your piety is an external exercise. You cannot reach Heaven and Heaven does not reach you, expect by the Breathing of God.
So I ask you, have you ever been filled with Holy Breath? If you haven’t, ask the Breath of God to fill you. What have you got to lose?
Lord, breathe on us once again, as you did that first Easter Sunday night. Fill our sails with Holy Breath once again as you did on Pentecost so long ago!
So that’s it. I’m done. Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal is very real and desperately needed. It’s just that there isn’t much of it out there.