Matt called one of those psychic hotline numbers
advertised on television. His parents didn't find out until
they saw the whopping charge on their phone bill.
I asked Matt why he did it and he says he was
just curious. He's still delivering pizzas to pay off his
Jessica had some friends who were experimenting
with witchcraft. She was curious too. It was just something
to do, she says.
Tony went to a meeting of a satanic group. He
got out of there as quickly as possible. He tells me he knew
he wasn't supposed to do it, but "wanted to see what
it was all about."
What's happening here? What does the Church
believe about these things?
It's natural to explore the supernatural, especially
during your teen years. After all, you have a spiritual soul
as well as a body. Now is the normal time to ask honest questions
about God and the spiritual world, and about life after death.
The Church wants you to ask these questions so you can grow
in your knowledge of God and set priorities in your life.
But like everything else, there's a right way
and a wrong way to explore. When you were two years old, you
were curious about electrical outlets and probably wanted
to poke your finger into one. When you were 10, you were curious
about firecrackers and cherry bombs. When you're 16, you might
be curious to see just how fast your car will go if you "open
At each of these stages someone guides you and
teaches you about these unseen forces so you don't harm yourself.
If they do a good job, you grow up without exaggerated fear
of electricity or fireworks or cars. But you also learn not
to mess around!
In a similar way, the Church wants you to grow
up with neither an exaggerated fear of the supernatural nor
an unhealthy curiosity about it. The temptation to mess with
the occult (o-CULT) has been around for centuries, which is
why clear teachings have been set up to help you. In general,
the occult is anything that claims to have secret knowledge
from supernatural sources.
Is the Devil Real?
Yes, the Church says, the devil exists. But
the first thing to remember is that the devil is not the equal
and opposite of God. There is no equal and opposite of God.
If the devil is the equal and opposite of anyone, it would
be Michael the Archangel. But even so, Michael has the power
of Almighty God behind him and the devil does not. No contest.
The Church teaches that the devil is a fallen
angel called Satan and "the father of lies." There should
be no exaggerated belief in the power of the devil. With Jesus'
death and resurrection "the ruler of this world" was cast
No baptized Christian needs to fear the devil
and the lesser demons sometimes called goblins, because by
our Baptism we share in Jesus' death and resurrection. Your
Baptism is more important than you think!
The Church doesn't want you to fool around with
the occult, but neither does it want you to be afraid that
the devil lurks behind every bush. It's true that satanic
cults exist. You may have heard of groups in your area by
word of mouth, the way Tony did. Maybe you've seen classmates
drawing upside-down stars (pentagrams) on their notebooks.
Don't worry that they're satanists. Maybe they're just doodling!
But if these same friends become withdrawn,
if their grades drop, if they say things that are truly bizarre,
then you should probably mention it to your guidance counselor
or to your pastor. Most likely, the local police and your
pastor already know about any active cults in your area.
What about exorcisms? Do they exist? Videos
and song lyrics sometimes provoke a fear of demonic possession.
Yes, the Church provides for exorcisms. Exorcism is the formal
expelling of the devil, performed only by a priest with permission
of the bishop. It is not taken lightly. Evil is not trivial.
In September 2000, the pope performed an exorcism
on a teenage girl right in St. Peter's Square. It was definitely
not as sensational as the movie The Exorcist. He simply
prayed with authority over her, commanding the demon to leave.
Most people at the weekly audience didn't even know it happened.
Besides exorcism, the Church provides other
ways that are so ordinary you may not have noticed. Some of
these are noted in a box on the last page of this Youth
Update. Others include the "deliver us from evil" phrase
in the Our Father and the Sign of the Cross with holy water
when you enter and leave the church, another reminder of your
No New Temptation
Whether you think the devil is a real person
or just a symbol, his temptation is the oldest one in the
world: power and control. "You will be like God" were the
serpent's words to Eve (Genesis 3:5). The ultimate power is
"to be like God."
God alone has power over the future. God alone
knows what's in store for us. How tempting it is to want to
know the future and try to control it! Who wouldn't
want this, at least to some degree? Especially in this millennium
when technology is moving so fast nobody can keep up with
it. Especially since traditional values have been thrown out
the window. Especially for young people who feel powerless
in the face of it all.
It's hard to put ourselves completely in God's
hands. No wonder fortune-telling has become a multimillion-dollar
business! The psychic hotline charged $4.99 a minute to Matt's
phone bill. His so-called psychic was trained to keep him
on the phone as long as possible, to draw him out. She was
paid according to how long she could keep him talking. Matt
talked for an hour, even though he knew she was fake. You
do the math!
You've seen advertisements for palm readers,
crystal-ball readers and astrologers, who tell your future
from your sign of the zodiac. You've heard about "white" witches
who practice "wicca" to influence the future as Jessica's
friends were trying to do. You may have seen a ouija (wee-jee)
board which has a marker moving across letters. You know that
"channeling" doesn't mean surfing with a remote.
All this stuff flirts with wanting to control
the future. The Church tells us flatly to reject it as a sin
against the First Commandment. These things "conceal a desire
for power over time, history and other human beings" (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, #2116). They feed into the temptation
to be like God.
What About ESP?
Does the Church think there are ever people
who can see the future for real? Yes, says the Church. Our
tradition is full of prophets and saints who have seen the
future. This didn't stop when the last ink dried on the Bible.
In the 500s, St. Benedict had an ESP experience
when his twin sister died. He "saw" her soul rising to heaven
in the form of a dove. He was so sure of his vision that he
sent some monks to bring her body back to be buried at his
In the 1800s, St. John Bosco had so many ESP
dreams that the pope ordered him to write them down. He dreamt
not only about people's deaths and the future of his Salesian
Order, but also about geography, of all things. He described
valleys and mountains in the Andes that weren't even guessed
at in his day. (He had missionaries in South America.) Experiences
like Benedict's and John Bosco's were special graces and not
something they could turn on and off like a spigot.
It's not uncommon to hear an ESP story about
the death of a loved one. Love is stronger than death, the
Bible tells us. My son, for example, knew exactly when his
grandfather died even though he was 500 miles away. It's important
not to stretch the truth if this happens to you. Pray for
your loved one and don't be afraid.
What about ghosts? Does the Church believe in
ghosts? If you're thinking about creatures with sheets over
their heads, of course not. If you're asking whether spiritual
souls live on after the body dies, though, the answer is a
These are not the same as angels but the souls
of human beings like you and me which will live forever. At
the end of the ages we'll get our glorified bodies back again
in the resurrection of the body, but nobody claims to know
how that's going to work. We all just hope that our glorified
bodies will be better looking than the ones we have now!
The communion of saints is one of the most fascinating
teachings of the Church. All of usliving and dead, official
saints and ordinary sinnersare united in the Body of
Christ. Jesus' love unites us in a love so strong that death
has no power over it. We don't communicate with the dead like
in a s—ance.
We don't worship them. But we do pray for each
other. We offer prayers for those who have died. We ask those
who have died to intercede for us while we're still here on
earth. The love that flows back and forth goes beyond space
Heads-up on Halloween Symbols
Around Halloween it's important to get your
head straight about these things. Halloween (the "e'en" or
evening before "All Hallow's," or all the "Holy Ones," the
saints) is the vigil of two feast days. All Saints Day is
November 1, and All Souls Day is November 2.
On All Saints we celebrate the lives of the
saints, especially those in heaven. On All Souls Day we remember
those who have died, especially in our immediate family.
Stories of ghosts first became associated with
Halloween in Ireland. It was said that if someone had died
the previous year and you were still holding a grudge against
that person, he or she would appear to you on the evening
before All Saints. You'd be so startled you'd run to do whatever
would make your forgiveness complete. Not a bad reminder any
time of the year!
Skeletons and skulls are naturally symbols at
Halloween because of All Souls Day, "the Day of the Dead,"
as some countries call it. It doesn't hurt us to think about
death once a year. We're all going to die someday. Skeletons
and skulls remind us of this. Figures of devils and witches
can also remind us of the ever-present temptation to be like
Halloween is not "of the devil," as some fundamentalists
say. Many denominations don't teach about the communion of
saints, so naturally they don't celebrate All Saints Day or
All Souls Day. All they have left of Halloween is pre-Christian
superstition about the dead.
All the same, if I had to pick decorations for
a Halloween party, I'd go with skeletons and skulls rather
than devils, just to separate the symbols. Since the holiday
sometimes brings out warped people who commit copycat crimes,
I'd stick with friends and places I know. It's always good
to choose carefully how you have your fun.
Magic in Media
Four Harry Potter books are on the best-seller
list. J.K. Rowling has given the world a character who received
an invitation to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
on his 11th birthday. Each book tells of one more year in
Are these books evil because they use wizardry
as a background? Let me answer a question with a question.
After you finish a Harry Potter book are you tempted to dig
into the occult so you can be like God, or do you admire Harry's
truth, courage and loyalty to his friends? Do you want to
change a teacup into a mouse or do you want to change your
habits so you won't be like Harry's rich and bratty enemy,
You could ask the same question about other
fictional creations such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy protects her friends and "saves the worlda lot"
in a universe threatened by evil and ghoulish creatures. Do
you admire Buffy's commitment and self-sacrifice, or do you
wish you could turn yourself into a ghoul?
A lot of people get nervous about fiction that
involves the forces of evil. You've already learned in English
class that there are different categories of fiction, like
mysteries, fantasy, westerns, science fiction, Stephen King-type
horror. Fantasy almost always includes magic and wizards the
same way that westerns include cowboys. Whatever the category,
the best works of fiction will lift the human spirit.
But if anything gives you nightmares, stay away
from it. If a TV program or a book or a song lyric gives you
weird ideas, switch the channel, close the book and turn off
the song. You're the only one who knows what's getting stirred
up inside. Trust your gut. If it's good for you it'll inspire
you to be a better person and to love God more.
Up or Down?
When you are weighing your choices and the value
of your activities, I'd like to suggest the "upward and outward"
or "downward and inward" rule. In other words, do songs, books
and games lift your heart up (to appreciate God's love and
care for you) and out (to widen your compassion and understanding
of other people)? Or do they pull you downward (diminish your
trust in God's care, make you depressed) and inward (make
you more self-focused and even morbid)?
See the difference? You're old enough to notice
such things about yourself and to quit taking in the garbage.