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Jesus Is Lord of All Creation
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Exorcism Needed? Psychiatry?
What Does This Mystery Mean?
Can I Receive Holy Communion There?
Can Widows and Widowers Remarry?

 


Q: I was raised in a devoutly Catholic family; my mother emphasized the mysticism of our faith. Thus, I grew up with a sense of the spiritual world in everyday life. I have also been fascinated by the idea of exorcism.

As a third-year resident doctor specializing in psychiatry, I am very curious about what part, if any, psychiatry does or can play in the world of exorcism and what part the belief in possession plays in psychiatry.

I have been peripherally exposed to several cases where a patient requested that she or he have an exorcism. I have felt sad that, though Catholic, I was not qualified to give the patient’s primary doctor any advice. What resources do you recommend on this topic?

A: I affirm your desire to recognize how the spiritual world impacts daily life. Some people mistakenly think it is a sign of maturity or progress to deny that connection. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have vigorously challenged the temptation to isolate faith from daily life.

The Catholic Church’s basic approach to demonic possession is to admit its possibility but to encourage specialists (including doctors like you) to investigate whether the problematic behavior has some other explanation. A local bishop is obliged to exhaust those possibilities before authorizing a priest to conduct an exorcism.

Canon 1172 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “No one may lawfully exorcise the possessed without the special and express permission of the local Ordinary [bishop in charge of a diocese]. 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.”

Expanding on this point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness” (article 1673).

I recommend The Occult Revolution: A Christian Meditation (Herder and Herder, 1971), by Richard Woods, O.P. The New Catholic Encyclopedia (Second Edition) has a good article on exorcism. Father Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist for the Vicariate of Rome, has written An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories (Ignatius Press).

I also recommend the National Catholic Bioethics Center (www.ncbcenter.org). Also helpful are the Linacre Quarterly, the Catholic Medical Association (www.cathmed.org) and www.CatholicPhysicians.org.

While genuine demonic possession may be fairly rare, there is certainly something demonic about an individual’s reluctance to name his or her addictions or blind spots, assuring friends, co-workers or family members that whatever is being questioned is “no big deal.” Anyone challenging that attitude or activity, however, often finds out that it is, in fact, a very “big deal” to that person.

In his March 1992 column, “The Wise Man Answers,” Father Norman Perry, O.F.M., gave an excellent answer to a similar question. After affirming that angels and devils are real beings and not simply symbols, he wrote: “I would also add my own caution that we do not become preoccupied with thoughts about the devil and attribute all our temptations and the evils we experience to Satan. We have to contend with our own human weakness.

“Another point: No matter how powerful the devil may be, Christ has conquered him and he cannot hurt us unless we abandon Christ.”

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago in order to demonstrate in a unique way how much God loves us, how much God wants us to share in the divine life of grace. No part of creation is ever beyond God’s concern or power.

What Does This Mystery Mean?

Q: What did Pope John Paul II mean when he identified “Proclamation of the Kingdom” as the Third Luminous Mystery? I can understand the other four new mysteries, but not this one because I don’t know to what it refers.

A: In his apostolic letter Rosary of the Virgin Mary (October 2002), Pope John Paul II wrote, “Against the background of the words ‘Mary, Mary,’ the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul.” Later in that letter he explained, “Contemplating the scenes of the rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to ‘read’ Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.”

The four sets of mysteries of the Rosary usually identify events lasting minutes or hours. The mystery you have identified, however, refers to the several years of Jesus’ public life, spent preaching and performing miracles.

Although Christianity borrowed the term mystery from a Greek word meaning “to hide,” Christians have understood these events as public manifestations of God’s overall plan for the human family.

St. Paul spoke of himself as bringing “to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory” (Colossians 1:25-27).

A condensation of Rosary of the Virgin Mary appears in our January 2003 Catholic Update. The luminous mysteries are further explained in “The Luminous Mysteries: Exploring Five Major Events in Jesus’ Public Ministry,” by Father Jack Wintz, O.F.M. (Catholic Update, January 2004).

Q: I recently attended a Coptic Mass at a nearby parish. I did not receive Holy Communion there, but I am wondering if I could have. I know that they trace their Church back to Jesus by way of the Apostle Mark. We believe in the same Lord and celebrate the same sacraments.

A: In fact, there are two Coptic Churches: the Coptic Orthodox Church, which looks to the Patriarch of Constantinople as the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs, and the Coptic Catholic Church, which is in full communion with the bishop of Rome. The Coptic Orthodox Church numbers approximately 57 million members worldwide while the Coptic Catholic Church has approximately 200,000 members. Both groups are concentrated in Egypt but are found in other parts of the world.

As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, you can receive Communion in the Coptic Orthodox Church. They may see that differently, and you should respect their custom.

There is no question that you are free to receive Holy Communion in the Coptic Catholic Church, following their understanding of what being “properly disposed” requires about fasting and other considerations.

In 1996 the U.S. Catholic bishops drew up “Guidelines for the Reception of Communion.” That document, printed in worship aids produced in this country, includes the statement: “Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these churches” (canon 844:3).

Q: Some of my friends say that the New Testament forbids widows and widowers to remarry. Is that true? I cannot find anything to support such a statement, and I have observed that many Christians who are widows or widowers have remarried.

Yes, they can if they observe the Church’s other regulations about marriage (for example, a widowed uncle is not free to marry a niece). Some Christians in Corinth apparently felt that all second marriages were prohibited, but St. Paul affirms the freedom to do so (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Remarriage of young widows is, in fact, encouraged in 1 Timothy 5:14.

Some Christians tend to assume that everything they do not favor must be prohibited somewhere in the Bible. We all know better than that.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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