Here is another in our weekly series from Father Al Durrance. All of Father Al’s messages can be found here.
PREVENTIVE SPIRITUAL CARE
I once had someone ask me for an aspirin because they had a headache. When I told them I didn’t have an aspirin, but I would be glad to pray for them, their response was, “No! It’s not that bad.”
We have a tendency to pray for healing as a last resort. When normal remedies fail and the medical profession has given us a poor prognosis, prayer is the “when all else fails” therapy.
It may well be that we would profit from seeking God earlier in the game. If we could begin treatment of the dis ease before it became uncontrollable, we might well escape the pain of finding that our lives are at the mercy of the dis ease. It has been my experience that God is infinitely more merciful than dis ease.
The question seems to be, “Are we willing to appropriate to ourselves the grace of God that the Gospels indicate is ours in the Kingdom of God, which is at hand?” If we are willing, we might dispel the causes of most sickness before they begin to get a toehold in our emotional and physical lives. A great deal of our illness stems from the stresses that beset anyone who lives in our modern world.
Someone once gave me a T shirt that has STRESS written in large letters across the chest. In smaller letters beneath, it says, “What happens when your gut says no, and your mouth says, of course, I would be glad to.”
Stress is not always noticeable. If I have been under stress since my youth, I will feel like something is wrong if it is suddenly removed. The sources of stress are manifold, but they are primarily our own inner prejudices that are in conflict. There are few who are not stressed by the conflict between my own will, and what I feel “they” are demanding of me. The conflict is not always evident, but it is there beneath the conscious level until it breaks through to the conscious level when we don’t get something we believe we deserve.
I know that I have a part of me that has a clear idea of what I deserve. It has always been there. I am convinced, after rearing four boys in my household that the first words that children speak, are, “That’s not fair.” When something is so obvious to me, it is hard for me to understand why everyone else doesn’t see it. At the same time I know that they have the same capacity that I have. I have never been able to discern the origin of my knowledge of what I deserve. It just seems to have been there with me when I was born.
When the conflict is called to my attention by some demand that comes from the outside of my world, I tend to turn on the person or situation making the demand. I place the blame on the outside person or event that triggers the conflict, and I fail to see the situation as one in which I have some access to the problem. As long as I blame my problem on my dysfunctional family, or my inequitable boss, or my disobedient children, I have placed it beyond my reach.
As soon as I claim the problem as my own interior conflict, I have access to it, and I can seek to move toward a solution. As soon as I can identify the conflict, I can invite God into the situation to work out the resolution by changing my prejudices, and thus removing the conflict that is within me. That is not to replace the prayer of intercession for the outside person or event; but it is an adjunct of prayer that sets me free from the outside person or event. It is the sorting through of the data of life so that I might seek freedom from stress, and that I might develop a peaceful relationship with the one who triggered my inner conflict.
Prejudices have been given a bad name in our society, but the truth is that they are necessary to our functioning as human beings. They are not all good, or there would be no conflict with resulting stress in our lives. They are the pre judgments that enable us to make decisions, to evaluate data that is fed into our lives, and live without a constant effort to recreate our world at every moment of decision. Our prejudices define our kingdom of self. They comprise our perceptions that we call reality in our kingdoms. They furnish us with the reality testing processes we use to evaluate all things that are involved in our decisions. In fact they define our religion, the system of values that we use to make decisions.
When I am born into this world, I acquire the prejudices of my family. It is not a matter of choosing at that point. I am imbued with them from the womb. It is later when I realize that I am not my parents, that I am a person who has a life of his own that I begin to acquire prejudices from another source.
Humans seem to have an inner characteristic of fair play. Since we don’t seem to agree, we can hardly call it justice, but it enables us to recognize the presence of injustice. Perhaps it is a vestige of memory from the Garden that still haunts the human race. Perhaps it is the meaning of Original Sin, the realization that there is a good and evil, but not being able to agree on what it means. Perhaps it is the feeling that we are right, and all who disagree must therefore be wrong.
Whatever the origin, our prejudices define our lives as we know ourselves, and as we present ourselves to the world in which we live. The inner conflicts that we have accumulated, endow our lives with the stress that pursues us as we run, and drives us when we seek to move ahead.
Stresses that stem from our prejudices, are not simply mental aberrations. They impact every area of our lives. I am convinced that St. Augustine was correct in saying that we are born in Sin. We are born self-centered, seeking to build the kingdom of self. In essence we are trying to become god in our world. We begin with the effort to control our selves and we seek to extend that influence and control as far as we are able.
When we come to a place in our lives where we realize that we cannot be god effectively in our lives, we begin to look for a god outside ourselves. If we do this at a conscious level, we have an opportunity to select a god that we may try out. This is what frequently happens when an alcoholic turns to AA, and has to find a higher power. The criterion is simply that the higher power be able to restore me to sanity. I find that the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is the only one I have heard of that is adequate. He is able to bring integrity to my interior.
If God exists as He has revealed Himself in Jesus, He is the one who designed and created me. He knows my weaknesses, and is able to supply His strength in the areas of my weakness. He is able to bring about the change within that enables me to live with myself. He provides a Kingdom that delivers me from the responsibility of being in control of the world, or even the kingdom of self. I can begin to release the inner demand that I fulfill my own expectations, and stress begins to diminish as I am able to release.
The key to the release is to come to know God as He has revealed Himself. I was not able to do that with study alone. It required a willingness to test that God in my own experiential arena. It is only when I come to know Him that I am able to trust Him with the controls of my life, and relinquish the stress that binds me.
HEALING OF THE SOUL
When I find that God is faithful, then I can embark on allowing Him access to my inner life. Inner healing, or the healing of the soul involves three different types of ministry.
Confession is a way to purge the soul of guilt. It is a simple matter of taking an inventory of my sins, as I perceive them, and confessing them to God in the presence of a Christian who will act as God’s mouth to communicate His forgiveness of the things I confess. For a further look at Confession, you might obtain the OSL tract on the Healing Power of Confession.
The Healing of Memories has to do with the redemption of the past by inviting Jesus into those areas of memory where we might have recorded some sort trauma to which we still react in the present. It is a ministry that sets us free from reacting to the past in order that we might be able to respond to God in the present. It is not a matter of changing history. It is a matter of changing our perception of our history by adding the presence of Jesus to the record. It is a matter of adding to the perception that reality which we had missed the first time around.
The third area of healing for the soul is the practice of casting out demons. It is one of the Commissions that Jesus gave to His church when He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, heal the sick and cast out demons. It is a ministry that receives little attention today, but which is as necessary today as in any century in the past. There are spirits which inhabit humans that cause destructive actions if they are not removed, and replaced by Holy Spirit.
All of the forces that oppress people are not spirits in the sense that they are something to be cast out. There are spirits that are satanic in nature, having a mind to be destructive to their host. There are spirits that answer to the names of what Paul would call the works of the flesh, such as anger, fear, adultery, etc. There are spirits that are apparently ghosts, people without a body who have not yet found rest. There are alters that have come into being through dissociation when a person is under some sort of threat. These are actually parts of the personality of the host person. This state is called multiple personality disorder or MPD. There are also incantations by people who seek to bring curses and spells against another person.
While these things are usually relegated to the category of superstition, they are in fact real forces that are operative in the world today. Indeed, when we simply make an arbitrary decision to relegate such spirits to the realm of superstition without seeking to try casting them out, we run the risk of adopting a false view of reality ourselves, which is the true meaning of superstition.
The positive side of the healing of the soul is the infilling of Holy Spirit, who comes to impart to us the character of Jesus. He comes to bring forth within us the Fruit of Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, humility and self control. They are to displace the original motivational forces of pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust, the seven deadly sins; and to enable us to escape from the bondage of unforgiveness and resentment, which block the flow of God’s love within us.
When we begin to recognize our inner conflicts as the source of our stress, I may then seek prayer for the purpose of dispelling the conflict through the healing of the prejudices. The first step toward healing demands that I be willing to give up the kingdom of self for the Kingdom of God. It means that I recognize that my own reality is not yet conformed to the reality of God.
When I was a child, I was constantly told that I was not to do certain things because of what people would think. It instilled in me a fear of “they”. An even greater problem arose when I moved from one group of people to another. I had to be one person at home, another at school where my teacher was looking, and still another when I was with my peer group.
I believed that I had the capacity to behave in such a way that people would like me; but that all hinged on saying the right things, doing the right things, and wearing the right clothes. When I became an adolescent, I had to add, drink the right drinks and smoke the right smokes. My life was caught in the stress of wanting to be myself, and having to please other people at the same time.
Today when we put such stress on having a good self image, we multiply the stress that children face to turn an acceptable face to the world. When I had a good self image, it almost killed me trying to live up to it; and eventually did lead me to alcoholism.
It was when I found a good God image that I was able to release the end of the stress that demanded that I present myself as acceptable to every “they” that I encountered in my life. The process was not immediate; but it has continued to work in my life, and in the lives of many who have adopted the principle belief that God is able to do what we cannot do.
For me it was a matter of deciding that I would seek to please Him, and let Him worry about pleasing others. I first made the decision in self defense, knowing that I could not please the people in the parish to which I had been assigned. I did not realize until later that I did not have to please them, consequently, I did not have to change them. Therefore, I was free to love them. In that relationship, I found that God began to work with His grace in my relationships.
LOVE AND STRESS
The Christian answer to stress in human relationships is love. That does not mean that we can equate human love with God’s love and find the same result. It is rather a call to bring our human love into the light of divine love.
Human love may be the most precious of gifts, but it is fraught with all sorts of prejudice. If I love someone with human love, I always extend a conditional demand. I love you as long as you respond the way you ought. Most of our differences are expressed in arguments in which we demand the others justify themselves, and we seek to justify our own actions and feelings.
God’s love in unconditional. He loves us, as is, warts and all, and He will love us until the warts fall off. When we see that we are loved unconditionally, we are able to love others with that same love. We no longer have to change them to meet our specifications, and the stress level that comes from our relationships drops sharply. We can leave them in God’s hands to change them.
When we are able to turn all things over to God for His love to change them, and bring them into His will, we are turning loose the ends of the stresses that tend to stretch us to the limit.
When we forgive, we release the bondage we have let bind us to other people. When we are willing to seek God’s will in all things, we do not have to impose our own will on others. When we trust God to work His loving will in our lives, we find that He brings us into an integrity wherein we can live with Him, with ourselves, and with those who puts in our world for us to love