Questions about discernment of spirits come up from time to time on my daily radio show (M-F from 6-9 a.m. Pacific).
This has prompted me to study more deeply the Church’s spiritual theology and what God has revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition. The more I’ve learned, the more I see how much I need to learn. As a service to my listeners and blog readers (that’s you!), I bring you some teaching on this subject by the late Dominican theologian, Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P., an expert in spiritual theology.
N.B.: This post is part 1 in a longer series I will be posting here devoted to the discernment of spirits, etc. And now, let’s hear from Father Aumann:
Signs of the Diabolical Spirit. We have already enumerated the signs of the divine spirit, but since the devil may disguise himself as a good spirit and even cause what appears to be authentic mystical phenomena, it is helpful to mention briefly the various signs of the diabolical spirit.
1. Spirit of falsity. The devil is the father of lies, but he cleverly conceals his deceit by half-truths and pseudo-mystical phenomena.
2. Morbid curiosity. This is characteristic of those who eagerly seek out the esoteric aspects of mystical phenomena or have a fascination for the occult or preternatural.
3. Confusion, anxiety, and deep depression.
4. Obstinacy. One of the surest signs of a diabolical spirit.
5. Constant indiscretion and a restless spirit. Those who constantly go to extremes, as in penitential exercises or apostolic activity; or neglect their primary obligations to do some personally chosen work.
6. Spirit of pride and vanity. Very anxious to publicize their gifts of grace and mystical experiences.
7. False humility. This is the disguise for their pride and self-love.
8. Despair, lack of confidence, and discouragement. A chronic characteristic that alternates with presumption, vain security, and un-‘ founded optimism.
9. Disobedience and hardness of heart.
10. Impatience in suffering and stubborn resentment.
11. Uncontrolled passions and strong inclination to sensuality, usually under the guise of mystical union.
12. Hypocrisy, simulation, and duplicity.
13. Excessive attachment to sensible consolations, particularly in their practice of prayer.
14. Lack of deep devotion to Jesus and Mary.
15. Scrupulous adherence to the letter of the law and fanatical zeal in promoting a cause. This characteristic readily opens the door to diabolical influence in reformers and demagogues.
Once the spiritual director is certain that a person is acting under the influence of a diabolical spirit, he should: (1) make the individual realize that he or she is a toy of the devil and must resist his influence; (2) encourage the individual to pray to God for the grace to overcome the devil; (3) advise the person to act quickly and with disdain for the devil as soon as the influence is perceived, performing the opposite from what is suggested or felt.
The Human Spirit
The signs of a purely human spirit have been described by Thomas à Kempis in Book 3, Chapter 54 of The Imitation of Christ. His words should be pondered carefully, for he explains the struggle between grace and the human spirit, wounded by sin and strongly inclined to self-love.
The human spirit is always inclined to its own satisfactions; it is a friend of pleasure and an enemy of suffering of any kind. It readily inclines to anything that is compatible with its own temperament, its personal tastes and caprices, or the satisfaction of self-love. It will not hear of humiliations, penance, renunciation, or mortification.
If any director or confessor goes against its inclinations, he is immediately branded as inept and incompetent. it seeks success, honors, applause, and pastimes. It is always a great promoter of anything that will arouse admiration or notoriety. In a word, the human spirit neither understands nor cares for anything except its own egoism.
It is sometimes difficult in practice to judge whether given manifestations proceed from the devil or from a purely human and egoistic spirit, but it is always relatively easy to distinguish between these two and the spirit of God. It will be possible in most cases, therefore, to determine that a given spirit could not possibly be from God and that it must be combatted, even if one is not sure whether it is in fact from the devil or the human, ego.
The following contrasts may serve as general rules for distinguishing between the diabolical and the human spirit. Natural impulses and inclinations are spontaneous; they can usually be traced to some natural cause or disposition; the stimulation of the senses acts upon, the interior powers, and they often persist in spite of prayer.
Diabolical impulse or suggestion, on the other hand, is usually violent and difficult to prevent; it arises unexpectedly or with the slightest provocation; a mental suggestion excites the senses and disappears as a rule with prayer. Self-denial and rectitude of intention are excellent remedies against the spirit of egoism.
In this respect the spiritual director and confessor will do well to keep in mind the general rule for discernment of spirits: if there is a possible natural or diabolical explanation for a given phenomenon, it cannot be presumed that it is supernatural in origin. The following are the principal doubtful reasons or situations:
1. To aspire to some other state in life after having made a prudent and deliberate selection for the existing state.
2. To be attracted to rare phenomena or to singular exercises not proper to one’s state in life. When God desires such things he will give unmistakable proof of his will; the test is obedience and humility.
3. An inclination to practice extreme corporal penances. God has demanded them of some souls, but this practice is not in the workings of ordinary providence.
4. A desire for sensible consolations in the practice of prayer or the exercise of the virtues.
5. The “gift of tears” or the strong inclination to concentrate on the sorrowful and penitential aspects of religion.
6. Exclusive devotion to some particular mystery or pious exercise, which easily leads to a distortion of orthodox theology.
7. Extraordinary favors, such as revelations, visions, stigmata, when they occur in a person of little sanctity. The extraordinary graces do not necessarily presuppose sanctity or even the state of grace, but God does not ordinarily grant these gifts except to his servants and friends.
By way of conclusion, we again warn directors and confessors to proceed with great caution in making judgments in matters involving the discernment of spirits. It is easy to make a mistake. In cases of extraordinary phenomena, it should be noted that, as a rule, when these things proceed from God, the soul first experiences great fear and humility and then peace and consolation. If these things come from the devil they often begin with
feelings of sensible consolation and satisfaction, but later they cause confusion, anxiety, and restlessness.
Lastly, apropos of the inclination some persons experience to change their state of life (and usually to go to a higher and stricter form of life), the director will bear in mind that it is quite possible that a grace is given by God but without God’s wanting the person actually to change one’s state in life.
For example, a priest who is actively engaged in the apostolate may experience a strong desire to spend more time in prayer and solitude. In trying to understand the reason for this strong inclination, he may erroneously judge that it is God’s will that he enter the Carthusians or the Trappists. Such is not necessarily the case, however, for it may be that the only thing that God is asking of the priest is that he be less involved in the whirlpool of activity and that he dedicate more time each day to prayer and recollection.
We would state the following as a general rule for the solution of such cases: if an individual has prayerfully and seriously selected the state of life in which he or she is, then he or she must present a serious positive cause for changing this state of life. Otherwise, the will of God is the present state of life. Another practical test is to see whether the individual is performing the duties of the present state in life with all fidelity; if not, the person should not even think of changing to another state. (To be continued . . .)
The Crusades = Jihad? Nice try, but no dice.
Maybe you saw or heard about that notorious National Prayer Breakfast speech in which Mr. Obama attempted to equate the Catholic Crusades with violent, murderous Muslim jihad (watch video specifically at 2:00 mark). Well, nothing could be further from the truth. He said,
“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
Maybe you aren’t sure how to explain why there really is no moral equivalence — ZERO — between the Crusades and violent jihad. #fact
Well, this powerful 5-minute info-graphic video does it better than anything I’ve seen yet.
Please watch this video, have your children watch it, and share it far and wide on your social media sites. It’s that important. We need to set the record straight for the sake of truth.
Also, I explained in greater detail what the Crusades actually were (and what they weren’t) on my radio show this morning (February 6, 2015).
Behind the scenes at the Envoy Institute’s Apologetics Summer Camp
I always look forward to some rest & relaxation during the summer months, and the past several summers have proven to be among the best opportunities I’ve had to do that in a long time. That’s because each summer I have the privilege of hosting a large group of eager Catholic teens, young men and women ages 15-18, at the Envoy Institute’s annual Apologetics Summer Camp, held at Camp Kahdalea in Brevard, North Carolina (www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com).
These camps are a blast, and I’d like to take a minute to tell you all about them.
The whole week is fun and rewarding for me personally, what with daily Mass, the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the camp (which is nestled in the foothills of the Pisgah National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina), and enjoying the company of my colleagues, Envoy Institute team members, and the camp staff, especially the warm and wonderful Catholic couple who own and operate the camp facility, David and Anne Trufant.
But best of all is that I get to spend time with the young Catholics who attended the camp, helping them learn the basics of their Catholic Faith, teaching them the art of apologetics, and mentoring them on how to successfully explain and defend their Catholic beliefs when they get to college and move on into adulthood.
That in particular is a truly inspirational and energizing experience, for which I am grateful to the Lord. I should also mention that I also have a huge time white-water rafting each year with the kids. But that’s another story for another time . . .
In June, 2010, when I announced that the Envoy Institute had launched its new Apologetics Summer Camp, the reaction from Catholics who heard about it fell into two general categories.
The first was, “Wow! That sounds like fun. How do we sign up for that?”
The second was, “Wow! What a great idea. How come no one ever thought of that sooner? How do we sign up for that?”
Judging from the rave reviews we received from the young people who’ve attended our first three summer camps, as well as the reactions we received from many grateful parents, the Envoy Institute Catholic Apologetics Summer Camp sure does live up to everyone’s expectations that it be both fun, educational, and spiritually life-changing. And that’s great, because that was our goal.
We promise the young people a beautiful, peaceful, fun place where they can enjoy plenty of exciting summertime activities (you know, things like archery, hiking, rock climbing, high-ropes, swimming, campfires, whitewater rafting, and more), as well as deepen their love for Jesus Christ and their knowledge of the Catholic Faith. Please check out our camp picture gallery to see what I mean!
In addition to all the outdoor activities the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camp offers, our campers all take part in the week-long series of apologetics seminars presented by some of America’s leading Catholic apologists and authors, including teachers such as Mr. Jim Burnham, Mr. Ken Hensley, Dr. Paul Thigpen, Msgr. Stuart Swetland, Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Mr. Steve Wood, Mr. Ken Davison, Mrs. Melanie Pritchard, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. I also teach several courses each summer.
Our faculty of fascinating and erudite presenters teaches the young people each year the basics of hands-on, real-world Catholic apologetics on subjects including:
- “Apologetics 101: A Crash-Course in Explaining and Defending Your Faith”
- “Keeping Your Faith While Earning Your Degree”
- “The Godless Delusion: How to Prove Atheism Is False”
- “Have You Been Saved? And Other Questions About Salvation You Will Be Asked in College”
- “How to Answer Society’s Misconceptions About God and Religion”
- “Faith, Science, Evolution, and the Catholic Church — What You Need to Know!”
- “How I Almost Lost My Catholic Faith in College, and How YOU Can Avoid That”
- “10 Bible Passages Every Catholic Should Know When Talking to Protestants”
- “The Catholic Church and the End Times: What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture, the Anti-Christ, and a Bunch of Stuff Like That”
- “Evangelization by the Ounce: 10 Small But Very Effective Ways to Share Your Catholic Faith”
The lineup of topics offered each summer changes, depending on our roster of speakers, but the above list will give you a good idea of the kind of teaching the young people receive.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the students who have attended our first 3 annual Apologetics Summer Camps were spell-bound by the presentations and by the lively, free-wheeling question-&-answer sessions the presenters had with them after each talk.
But rather than my telling you how the young people react to the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camps, I’d rather let them tell you about it in their own words.
Here are just a few of the many comments we’ve received:
“This camp has been one of the most influential experiences of my life, for sure. I confess that my mom had to push me to come to this camp, and I wasn’t completely willing to come. But I am so glad I did. The speakers were amazing and spread their zeal and love for Christ and the Church to me and the other campers. This camp has inspired me and reawakened my love for God. . . . The memories will stay with me forever. Meeting peers who share my Catholic Faith has been such a blessing and I have forged so many genuine friendships. THANK YOU for this incredibly enriching experience!” — Anja
“It was wonderful to learn how to better defend my Faith and meet other committed Catholics. Everyone at the camp had a really fun time!” — Virginia
“There is no way for me to thank you enough for what you have given me and the rest of my new friends. This camp and the speakers have given me something that has and will strengthen my Faith and my love for God. The trips we took helped me to learn about myself and the love God has for me. I can guarantee that I will be back!” — Jonah
“This has been an awesome experience I will never forget. I have become strong in defending my Faith. Thank you again.” — Danitza
“Thanks for making this possible. The talks were profound and made a big impact. We had so much fun.” — John
“Thank you so much for giving us this amazing opportunity to grow in our Faith in the Church and in our love for Jesus. It has been an educational, mind-opening, experience — but most of all, FUN!” — Jesse
“I learned so much on how to explain my Faith this week! I’m actually excited to go home and share my Faith with all those who need to hear. Thank you again. I made so many friends.” — Emily
“I had a terrific and holy week! I can’t wait to start reading the books I received, written by the inspiring speakers I’ve been listening to.” — Reid
“I learned so much more about my Catholic Faith than I had ever known before. Thank you!” — Katie
“Thank you so much! It was such a blessing to be able to spend time with God and other like-minded Catholics in the North Carolina mountains. The talks were amazing and were filled with so much good information. I’m looking forward to going home and reading & studying my new apologetics books.” — Matthew
“This camp has truly been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. It has helped me grow spiritually and allowed me to do so many new things.” — Bethany
“Thank you! The camp strengthened my faith as never before!” — Monica
“I have grown deeply in my love for Jesus Christ and the Church, His bride. Much thanks.” — Heather
Now, just imagine your teenager (15-18) learning how to explain the Catholic Faith more intelligently, defend it more charitably, and share it more effectively.
Sounds pretty good, huh?
Well, that’s not a “pie in the sky” idea, because the Envoy Institute’s Apologetics Summer Camp is here for you. Your kids will have a blast in the great outdoors, in a setting that’s close to heaven.
If you’d like to send them to our 4th-annual camp (August 8-14, 2013), please go to www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com and check out pictures, informative video and other helpful info on the gorgeous camp Kahdalea.
Then, contact the Envoy Institute’s reservation department by calling 855-305-8982 (9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EST, M-F) and reserve a spot for your son or daughter (or sons and daughters!).
Our booking representatives will be happy to provide you with all the information.
The Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camp is open to Catholic students ages 15-18. I lead the apologetics training, along with our superb team of experienced, qualified Catholic teachers. Apologetics books, informational handouts, and other reading materials are supplied to the students during the camp at no extra charge to the campers, as part of their camp tuition.
In between sessions, they’ll have ample opportunities to enjoy fun activities like whitewater rafting, rope climbing, hiking, archery, Ping-Pong, swimming, or just relaxing with a good book in the shade of a tree.
As you can imagine, now that the word is out about how great the Envoy Institute Apologetics Summer Camps are, you’ll want to act quickly and register your child(ren) as soon as possible, because we can only accommodate a maximum of 135 campers, and registrations for our 4th-annual (2013) Camp are filling up quickly. So, don’t delay!
God bless you!
Patrick Madrid, President and Founder
The Envoy Institute
Catholic Apologetics Camp
P.S. If you’d like to register your son or daughter (or sons and daughters) for this year’s camp, please act quickly! Call 855-305-8982 today (9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EST, M-F) or make the reservations at www.CatholicApologeticsCamp.com. Thank you.
Over the last 25 years that I have traveled around the country speaking at Catholic parishes I have had the occasion to listen to countless sermons from countless Catholic priests. Some of those sermons were limp and lackluster, a great many were quite good — rich in scriptural and practical wisdom and insights — and a few were so compelling that they remained in my mind. This sermon is one of those. Perhaps some of you will agree with me.
This sermon contains no flashy rhetoric. In fact, quite the opposite — the delivery is calm and sedate. But its content was electrifying. I know, I was present in the church, sitting in the back pew, and I saw how it caused everyone in the church to catch his breath (“can he really be saying these things?!”) and listen.
The uneasiness of the parishioners was palpable. I was actually surprised that no one got up and stormed out or stood and shouted defiantly at the priest. After Mass I told him, “I’ve been Catholic for 52 years now, and that was one of the most courageous sermons I have ever heard. Thank you for being willing to stand up and say what you said.” I was told that day by a parish staffer that there were many Catholic Democrats in the congregation. I wonder if this message will affect the way they vote in two weeks.
The priest is Father John Fitch. The church is Epiphany Cathedral in the Diocese of Venice. And the subject of his sermon is, of all things, politics. Politics and moral issues and how so many Catholics today have become more Democrat than Catholic and more Republican than Catholic. It’s a powerful message. I hope you’ll not only listen to it and think about it but also share it.
For two decades now, I have read with gusto many of P.J. O’Rourke’s articles and almost all his books (Parliament of Whores, Give War a Chance, Age and Guile, Driving Like Crazy, All the Trouble In the World, etc., etc., etc.) and I, like his myriad of other avid readers, not only chortle, laugh, and wine-shooting-out-of-my-nose guffaw my way through his unrelentingly funny social commentaries (read any of the aforementioned titles to get the gist of this), I almost always learn something in the bargain.
It’s the subtle stuff that often knocks me for a parental loop. Like when my good, conscientious, Christian family doctor offered birth control pills to my twelve-year-old daughter. I’m not making this up. Jody said I should write about it so other parents would be prepared. We were definitely unprepared.
It was time for Jody’s seventh grade check-up so I made an appointment with my own doctor we’ll call Dr. X. Dr. X is a Christian, someone I trusted to be sensitive with a twelve-year-old. I told Jody that everything would be fine even if it felt a little embarrassing. I explained about my own yearly physical, and that hers wouldn’t be nearly that extensive. It was just a school physical, but because of her age the “growing up” topics would probably come up.
And indeed they did. I went with Jody into the examination room. Doctor X was friendly and kind. When Dr. X asked if Jody had any questions about puberty, she smiled and said, “My mom has already told me everything I need to know.”
“That’s wonderful,” said the doctor and then proceeded to check Jody’s heart, lungs, ears, and throat. When Dr. X asked me to leave the room for a moment I didn’t think twice. I winked at Jody and left, honoring her privacy and modesty.
Not five minutes later the doctor called me back in. One look at Jody and I knew she was distressed. My motherly alarm system kicked in and I felt my heart speed up. Dr. X left the room and I said,
“The doctor asked me about birth control,” said Jody. “I don’t even know what it is.”
Stunned is an inadequate description. I felt my face turning red with rage. Dr. X returned and I literally bit the inside of my cheek to keep from spewing forth loud invective. I knew I needed the whole story before I did or said anything. When Jody and I got to the car she told me everything.
Here’s the gist. When they were alone the doctor asked Jody if she was drinking or using drugs. Jody said no and the doctor then told Jody in a firm way how important it was to keep drug- and alcohol-free. Then the doctor asked if Jody had a boyfriend. Jody said no. Then the doctor said, “If you ever get a boyfriend, and you’re having sexual relations, I can give you birth control pills.”
I told Dr. X that both Jody and I were offended and that what had been said to my daughter violated the physician’s oath to “do no harm.” Dr. X apologized for offending, but told me that it was a routine
girls Jody’s age.
Pause a moment and let that sink in.
In the calmest voice I could muster I told Jody, “The doctor was totally out of line to say that to you. It was wrong, it was inappropriate, it embarrassed you and I am so sorry I left you alone.” I then explained very briefly what “birth control” means, to which Jody replied, “How stupid.”
I prayed and fumed. When we got home I phoned the doctor. In a calm, divinely-assisted tone of voice, I asked for the other side of the story. It squared exactly with what Jody had reported. Then I told Dr. X in no uncertain terms that both Jody and I were offended and that what had been said to my daughter violated the physician’s oath to “do no harm.” Dr. X apologized for offending, but told me that it was a routine conversation for girls Jody’s age. “It’s part of a community-wide effort to cut down on teen pregnancy.”
I told Dr. X that offering to prescribe dangerous hormonal drugs to a preadolescent child behind her parent’s back was a horrific practice (I really said “horrific”) and that the message on premarital sex should be as firm as the message against drugs and alcohol. “You passed up a perfect opportunity to help a child remain committed to chastity.” The doctor didn’t say much.
I don’t know if that conversation did any good. That doctor is a product of our culture and I’m just one of those ultra-brainwashed Catholic mothers who naively assumes that her children can and will abstain from sex before marriage. I can only hope that some of my words sunk in.
Jody wanted me to write this down so all Catholic parents would know to be careful. Even a good doctor with good intentions can point your child toward the path of destruction.
Consider yourself forewarned.
Speaking in an interview published Tuesday by Cybercast News Service, Judge Bork discussed the contentious nature of modern politics.